Last week in New York I had the fortune of being able to attend the monthly workshop at the original Jivamukti center which is held each month in turn by one of the founders of the school - Shannon Gannon or David Life.
In case you're not familiar with Jivamukti, it is a style of yoga created by the couple in 1984 and incorporates vigorous, flowing physical practice with a strong emphasis on the spiritual and ethical side of yoga. It has 5 tenets of shastra (scripture), bhakti (devotion), ahimsa (kindness), nada (music), and dhyana (meditation). I emphasize these elements and stress how they genuinely do care about aspects of life such as animal rights and the environment, while at the same time being popular among celebrities from Kate Moss to Sting.
The center is close to the insanely busy Union Square on the third floor of an office block, but once you're through the doors it really does feel like a spiritual haven. The staff are direct, efficient and friendly. There's a vegan cafe, an interesting shop with gorgeous mala beads and class DVDs you can buy for $10, enough space to change and a few studios.
I get changed and enter a large room (two adjoining studios have been converted into a single space), and predictably, the it is tightly packed with mats in a haphazard fashion. A crowd has already gathered around David Life, as he wastes no time talking about our focus for the day: alignment of fingers, toes and chin as we flow through sun salutes and vinyasas (we're subsequently each given a line to draw on the mat and a quarter coin and encouraged to explore this alignment). While he jokes and speaks confidently, he seems like a quieter, humbler man than I expected.
Now for practice. But first, we chant Om and recite the mantra as is customary in a Jivamukti class. This might put a lot of people off but I'm used to it. The class joins in enthusiastically and there's a strong sense of community in the room at that moment. Pretty soon it's over and we embark upon several rounds of sun salutes to get the body heated.
For the majority of the class, the flow is pretty standard. David provides minimal vocal guidance, for the most part simply uttering the Sanskrit name for the pose over his headset mic as he wanders around adjusting, aided by no less than three assistants. What is most notable is the music, or soundtrack, I should say.
It's an odd mix to say the least, ranging from spiritual passages narrated in the quaintest of English accents for a wearing length of time, through to a burst of reggae or RnB, an absurd Monthy Python song to a rock ballad, followed by general screeching or electronic sounds, and then another narrated passage. It's hard to describe the effect of these sounds on the practice, but it occurs to me that this is similar to the treatment that the CIA may have administered to prisoners as part of brainwashing experiments in the 70s. As they jar with sounds of the traffic or a busker singing opera outside, as the room heats up further on a sunny day, as I strain to hear the next sanskrit command, each time waiting longer as he starts holding us in poses for less and less tolerable durations, I somehow start to lose myself in the midst of the cacophony. Meditation becomes not a choice but a necessity. The culmination is the longest headstand I've ever held in a class, although couldn't say how long we held this for.
There is no doubt, this is a yogi's yoga workshop, like a 'hit' of yoga. Those not quite so into it but with a relatively strong practice and an open mind would also appreciate the workshop for the unique experiential art-like quality to it, and of course, the workout. But as I say, those not comfortable to 'Om', for example, would be better off staying with their regular class.
I emerged back into the midst of the city feeling calm, strong and clear-headed, brain and body thoroughly yogafied. My thanks to David.