Sharon Gannon of Jivamukti Yoga in padmasana
Martin Brading

1. Q: When and where did you first start to get interested in yoga?

SHARON: When I was 16 I moved with my family to Seattle Washington, a city in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. I lived there until moving to New York City when I was 32. When I was 18 I started to practice meditation, after attending a lecture by a student of Krishnamurti, where the simple instructions “close your eyes, sit still and quiet for a few minutes,” were given to the members of the audience. During my early twenties I studied laboratory Alchemy, which shares some kinship to yoga in that it deals with transmuting the gross to the refined. My Alchemy teacher, Randy Hall encouraged me to meditate as well as to study metaphysics and ancient scripture and to that aim introduced me to the Theosophical Library, which had a branch in Seattle. The library provided me with a wealth of books about alchemy and metaphysics as well as yoga, religion, spirituality and biographies of Indian and Tibetan yogis, saints and their practices. When I attended college as a dance student, I continued to study Indian history, spirituality, art, music and dance.

2. Q: Why did you start to practice yoga?

SHARON: Initially I wanted to get closer to God, I wanted to become a better person. I felt stupid and incompetent as well as out of control of my life and had deep self-loathing. I had an idealized concept of what enlightenment was and I wanted to investigate. In 1982 I saw a film—The Animals’ Film—a British documentary that probed into the relationship between human beings and other animals. Those 2 hours and 20 minutes in that movie theatre altered my life like no other single incident. The film explored the many cruel ways that we exploit animals. The movie caused me to rethink everything I was doing with my life. I knew that I had glimpsed into a reality that not many people had seen or cared to know about. Right after the film, I devoted my life to doing something that might change what I saw in the film. I wanted to stop the insanity and suffering I saw in that film. I wanted to help to free the animals and to free the minds of human beings who were abusing animals. I wanted to find out if we could live in a different way—a way based on kindness, not degradation, cruelty and slavery. I realized that for a whole society to change I had to be willing to change myself. I became a vegan. But I was still unable to speak effectively to others about animals—as I was too filled with sadness, anger, blame and self-righteousness.

About a year later I broke my back in an accident and went to see a yoga teacher to help me with my pain. During that first class I realized that yoga was going to be my way to change myself, and if I could change myself—then that was the first step to changing the world. Only through the power of love can we discover the ability to truly change.

3. Q: What does it mean to you to practice yoga?

SHARON: Yoga practices are practices to wake a person up to who they really are. I am interested in waking up, which entails dropping who I think I am and letting go of my ignorance, negative emotions and all that separates me from reality—from others and from God. I want to experience the Truth. I pray every day that I can be humble enough and focused enough in order to let go and allow myself to be open to transformation.

4. Q: What motivated you to begin to teach yoga?

SHARON: When I lived in NYC during the early 1980s, I was an artist, musician, dancer and painter and had been studying and practicing yoga for some years. Many of the people who would come to my performances knew that I also practiced yoga. They began asking me to teach them some yoga practices. Very quickly I had more requests for yoga than I did for my music, dance or art performances. So I realized that if I was going to be helpful to others—it was through the medium of yoga that I was going to be able to do that, so I should become better at what I was doing—so as to benefit others.

Sharon Gannon is a 21st-century Renaissance woman, an animal rights and vegan activist and a world-renowned yogini, perhaps best known as the founder, along with David Life, of the Jivamukti Yoga Method. She is also an accomplished writer, dancer, painter, musician and chef. Sharon has devoted many years exploring the role of diet in promoting physical, emotional and mental well-being as well as spiritual development. She lives in a 125-acre wild forest sanctuary in Woodstock, NY.

A student of Brahmananda Sarasvati, Swami Nirmalananda, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Shyam das, she is a pioneer in teaching yoga as spiritual activism and is credited for making yoga cool and hip—relating ancient teachings of yoga to the modern world. Sharon's book Yoga and Vegetarianism has been called the "seminal" work on the subject, exploring the relationship of veganism to the teachings of yoga.

Sharon is a musician and is a featured vocalist on many CDs including Sharanam, which is her 2010 solo album, produced by Frenz Kallos. She has produced numerous yoga-related DVDs and is the author of several books, including Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body & SoulThe Art of Yoga, Cats and Dogs are People Too!, and Yoga Assists. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Toward 2012, Arcana V: Music, Magic and Mysticism, What comes after Money, Semiotexte, Yoga Journal, Mantra, and Origin. She writes a monthly essay called the Focus of the Month.