When I first entered the studio for my Jivamukti yoga workshop, I brought with me zero expectations. I hadn’t had the slightest idea what Jivamukti was about, much less what it taught. I was curious, intrigued, and slightly nervous. How different is Jivamukti from the styles of yoga that I was used to?
As I sat in class, I glanced around. Our class was made up of no more than 15 students – mostly yoga teachers who shared the same curiosity as me. Jivamukti yoga isn’t a popular yoga style in Southeast Asia, so naturally none of us knew much about it.
At 2 p.m. sharp, our yoga teacher entered the class. He was a tall and lean man who went by the name Andy Tenpa. Andy, a Taiwanese born and bred, studied Jivamukti with its gurus Sharon Gannon and David Life in New York. He was the epitome of a modern yoga teacher – clad in fashionable men’s yoga wear from head to toe – Lululemon if my eyes didn’t fail me. Without saying another word, he connected his phone to speakers and turned on soothing yoga music – here, the age-old practice of yoga merged almost seamlessly with modern technology.
But once he sat on the mat, the façade of a modern yoga teacher disappeared. He sat in a meditative state, closed his eyes and uttered:
“Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”
This Sanskrit mantra translates, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.” Unbeknownst to me at that time, this Sanskrit prayer formed the essence of what Jivamukti yoga is all about – love, compassion and peace for others.
As we began our asana practice, Andy asked that we dedicate and project our energy outwards to the wellbeing of someone, be it our loved ones, friends, pets, our world leaders or even the world in itself. I was bewildered at this thought. Having been a realist all my life, I can’t seem to accept the idea of directing my energy to someone else through my yoga practice. It sounded, for the most part, too far-fetched. Secondly, isn’t my practice a time for me to look inwards instead of outwards? To find the peace within myself rather than to focus on giving it to others?
These burning questions were answered within the two days of our workshop, and I walked out feeling empowered. Though Jivamukti isn’t a yoga style that I practice, I will certainly take its lessons to heart and apply them to my life. In those two days, Andy taught me three valuable Jivamukti lessons that will shape what I do in the future.
It is not About Me, It is About Others
Image credit: Andy Tenpa
One of Andy’s exercises during the workshop was for us to sit and look into another person’s eyes – a meditative state of some sort. He asked for us stare and then take note of what we felt afterwards. As I stared into my partner’s eyes, the first thing I noted was how uncomfortable it is to stare for a lengthened period of time into somebody else’s eyes. But as I got over my awkwardness, I fell into a meditative state. I felt calm. At the end of the session, the class reported back what they felt when staring into another’s eyes. Some felt their partner was nervous, others felt joy, and some others felt burden.
I was curious at what the exercise would mean, and boy was I surprised to find out! Andy dismissed all our answers and told us that our feelings and thoughts are nothing more than our mind’s own projections. What we were staring in front of us, is in fact ourselves. Our partner had the same physical characteristics.: two eyes, one nose, locks of hair, arms and legs. We are one and the same, but our mind projects that we are different.
In Jivamukti yoga, asana is believed to be the connection between us and everyone else. Practicing yoga thus connects us to all forms of being. Jivamukti yoga stresses that our relationship with others should be one that is mutually beneficial and come from a place of joy and happiness. The more we practice yoga, the more we improve our relationship with others, leading us to enlightenment while reducing and ultimately erasing a sense of separation and difference between us and others.
In Jivamukti, believing that it’s not all about me and practicing with the intention of the wellbeing of others helps eliminate our selfish nature and egoistical self, helping us view the world not through our eyes, but the eyes of others.
Everything is Perception
Image credit: Andy Tenpa
Where is your left and your right? Where is the front of the room? Why am I a teacher and you are a student? These are the kinds of questions that Andy frequently put on the table for us to think about. Andy presented the idea that everything we hold true is just perception and the projection of the mind. There are no absolute truths or absolute wrongs. There are just perception and our worldview.
To further hone in on this point, Andy asked us to think of someone we loved while doing the Warrior II asana. He asked that we focused on that person at the tip of our finger for the entire time that we held the pose. I thought of Isaac, my son.
When we switched to the other foot, Andy asked that we thought of someone we hated. I thought of an acquaintance I didn’t care much for.
At the end of this practice, Andy asked whether there were differences in the pose when we held it for the person we loved and for the person we hated. I thought long and hard, and realized, there were no differences. True to Andy’s point, love and hate are the projection of the mind. Focusing on either of it changes nothing to what we are doing. And if that is the case, then isn’t it better to focus on the good and not the bad?
Yoga Starts Beyond the Mat
Andy ended the workshop by saying, “Your Jivamukti yoga starts now”. This took me aback a little as I contemplated on what he possibly meant by that. What does that mean for Jivamukti yoga and its practitioners? Isn’t the purpose of a yoga practice is to get on the mat daily? If Jivamukti truly began beyond the mat, then what does the practice on the mat actually mean?
For Jivamukti practitioners, yoga is about the connection between us and others. It is about having love and compassion, and thus offering love and compassion to others. Only by living in kindness and connection to all can one truly find enlightenment. That said, your interaction beyond the mat with others is far more important than your asana practice on the mat. Just like many other yoga styles, asana is a means to an end – for Jivamukti in particular, it is to establish and strengthen the connection towards other beings. Practicing frequently solidifies the connection as well as helps one achieve a sense of awareness of the connection with others.
Off the mat, Jivamukti practitioners are asked to live their lives by these principles. They can achieve this through many means, the most important one being to foster ahimsa, or non-violence. Similar to other yoga styles, Jivamukti yoga practices veganism and stresses a non-violent and compassionate lifestyle towards animals, the environment and all living beings.
Go to the heart of Jivamukti yoga when you go on a Jivamukti yoga retreat in the USA!