Introduction to the Book: Jivamukti Yoga

by Sharon Gannon |
May, 2002
It's kind of fun to do the impossible.
Walt Disney

It is said that two people cannot satisfy their thirsts from the same fountain and have a different taste in their mouths. There is only one yoga, even though there are many brand names for it. Some “brands” of yoga are based on breaking apart the various yoga practices such as asana (postures) and pranayama (breath restriction) and studying them individually. This can help the beginning practitioner build a sound foundation. But if our practices are only deconstructed, how will the joining of the mortal and finite self to the eternal and infinite Self that is the true aim of yoga take place?

Jivamukti Yoga is our brand name, but our method is not based on deconstructing the yoga practices. Jivamukti Yoga is our attempt to reintegrate the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of yoga for Western practitioners. We are dedicated to teaching yoga as a spiritual practice, and to reminding our students that they are committing themselves to a demanding mystical journey toward enlightenment. We have created a yoga method that provides direction for this journey.

When you were a child, perhaps you took apart a clock or a radio, or some other mechanical device. You probably soon realized that it was easier to take it apart than to put it back together again! In general, taking things apart is easier than putting them back together but you don’t really know how something works until you can put it back together. In this book we are going to put yoga practices back together that were taken apart (some were even discarded) by curious Americans when yoga was first brought to the United States.

Swami Vivekananda introduced yoga to the West in 1893 at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. He described practices developed thousands of years ago by the sages called rishes who were seeking to experience a blissful state they called “yoga”, meaning union with God. They realized that they were not separate from God, but their practices helped them experience Yoga by shifting identification from body and mind toward the Divine or Cosmic Self. The identification with the body and mind is called “ego”, and constitutes the small self. The rishes were seeking Self-realization, which is also called God-realization, enlightenment, samadhi, or bliss. They wanted to put themselves back together.

Although many great Indian teachers visited the United States after Swami Vivekananda, they found it difficult to communicate the full physical, psychological, and spiritual scope of yoga to a culture in which the existence of God was a debatable subject. Some of the yoga practices did take hold. The practice of asana postures for example, was accepted as a useful exercise program that could increase flexibility and mobility, rehabilitate injuries and encourage weight loss. Meditation was promoted as a stress-reduction technique. But the true aim of yoga was glossed over.

Spiritually, we Americans were children when the yogis came to show us their practices, and, like children, we took them apart to examine them. In doing so we discovered some useful exercises that can improve one’s quality of life. But studying yoga as disparate useful exercises is rather like taking a camera apart and wondering why the disassembled parts aren’t enabling you to take a picture.

We hope to encourage you to move beyond studying the various interesting shapes and attributes of the yoga practices and start fitting them back together. After all, the aim of yoga is not a better body or a calmer mind, even though the practices may improve your body or calm your mind. The aim is enlightenment, the state in which everything fits together.

Introduction to the book Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon and David Life