Yoga in the West

by David Life |
June, 2002
The jivanmukta is not transformed by pleasure or pain.
Joy does not exalt the mukta, nor is the mukta depressed by pain.
The jivanmukta no longer regards the world as real...
The jivanmukta is pure like akasha...
The jivanmukta is neither subject to attachment, nor to egoism.
The jivanmukta does not fear the world,
Nor does the world fear the jivanmukta
The jivanmukta is at peace with the ways of the world.
The mukta is free from worldly-mindedness...
Finally, the jivanmukti maintains a cool head.
Vidyaranya, The Jivan-Mukti-Viveka

Jivamukti Yoga incorporates traditional yoga practices into a modern lifestyle without losing sight of the ancient, universal goal of liberation. We believe that liberation is possible even while living a modern urban lifestyle anywhere in the world. We believe that the ancient teachings and techniques of yoga, as laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, are as valid and exciting today as they were over five thousand years ago.

If you explore yoga yourself by reading the texts, chanting practicing asanas and meditating, you will begin to feel that it’s not foreign or separate from you. It is not not of you or of your culture. You do not have to be Hindu to read the scriptures or practice yoga, although familiarity with Hinduism and the history of Indian philosophy is certainly helpful.

Yoga is not a religion; it is a school of practical philosophy. Yoga practices, however, are inextricably linked to the development of both Hinduism and the philosophical schools, including Yoga, Vedanta, Samkhya, Jainism, and Buddhism, which developed in ancient India. Their co-development in the modern era has commonality in language, myth, root teaching, practices and beliefs.

When we began teaching yoga, we set ourselves this challenge: to relate the ancient teachings to modern experience without dumbing down the yoga practices or sacrificing their original aim, which was always and only to experience union with the Divine Self. We also asked ourselves: Is there anything in our own culture that could help us in our quest for enlightenment? Let’s look at the lyrics in the Beatles’ music; let’s listen to what Van Morrison is singing about; let’s be inspired by the fusion of Eastern and Western influences in the music of John Coltrane and Bill Laswell. What about the essential, idealist nature of the United States? Freedom, liberation through unity in diversity – that’s what the Founding Fathers were all about. Teaching yoga based on ancient Indian scriptures to New Yorkers began to seem not only possible, but exciting.

Excerpt from Chapter 1, Jivamukti Yoga, by Sharon Gannon and David Life