The (Jivamukti) Yoga Scene in New York City
Written shortly after 9/11/2001 this article from NY Observer gives an inside look at the hippest Yoga scene in NYC. Jivamukti devotees include celebrities, financiers, and supermodels. What I read from the article is a community that (without intending to be so) has become somewhat exclusive. It also strikes me as a bit odd that its co-founder agreed to the “spiritual” name “beautiful woman”.
“Yoga is about so many things,” says Sharon Gannon, the shockingly young-looking 50-year-old who co-directs Jivamukti with her on-again, off-again lover, David Life. “It’s about how you relate to the people you live with. It’s about how you relate to the animals you live with. It’s about the food that you eat, the things that you choose to buy, and who you vote for.”
Both Gannon (whose Sanskrit name is Tripura Sundari, meaning beautiful woman) and Life (Deva Das) were little known avant-garde performers before they opened a yoga studio on Second Avenue in 1990. Shortly after, Life was initiated into an order of celibate monks as Swami Bodhananda, taking lifelong vows of poverty, celibacy, and simplicity. It didn’t last: He renounced them in 1993. “It just didn’t work in New York,” he says. “People were treating me like a guru, and I never wanted to be that.”
Nevertheless, glamorous pictures of Gannon and Life looking very much like gurus hang throughout the center, and the influence of the couple is felt in every class. Each month has a different focus, which can range from Siva to vegetarianism, from death and dying to “speciesism” (Gannon has even published a book, Cats and Dogs Are People Too). In a mandatory fifteen-minute dharma talk at the beginning of each class, teachers stress the rule book of yoga: the five yamas, usually translated as non-harming, non-lying, non-stealing, non-attachment, and celibacy (Westerners have updated this to mean not too much sex). Many students also participate in Jivamukti’s weekly satsangs (devotional gatherings), which include guided meditation workshops, discussions of scripture, and kirtans (chanting sessions).
Not surprisingly, Bikram isn’t the only person who has thought about intellectual property protection. After all popular Yoga teachers spend years putting their materials together, and many want to find ways to support themselves doing what they love: teaching yoga. I’m sure John Friend, the founder of Anusara, would sue anyone who uses the Anusara name.
… At Jivamukti in New York City — the downtown studio with 2,000 students per week and a website that lists 51 celebrity clients, from Steve Martin to Monica Lewinsky — owner David Life complains that several former teachers have set up shop nearby, offering the same method he painstakingly developed with co-owner Sharon Gannon during the last 17 years. “They’re not calling themselves Jivamukti, but the staff is almost 100 percent certified through our training program,” Life says, adding that he might consider taking action if they start using the word Jivamukti — which, naturally, the couple has trademarked.