The Peaceful Radicals

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The Peaceful Radicals

YOGATHREADSDeepen your practice + Inspire your lifeBRIDGET LAUDIENThe PeacefulRadicalsOn October 27, Sharon Gannon feltlike a front-runner on Election Day. Herfirst solo album was climbing Amazon’slists of best-selling music. It reachedNo. 1 on the New Age chart—no surprise.But here was something unexpected: Sharanam,with its clubby takes on ancientmantras, had also broken into the top fiveon the pop chart, where it was keepingTaylor Swift’s latest album company.Best known as the co-founder ofJivamukti Yoga, Gannon has beenmaking music for longer than Swift hasbeen alive. It was through music thatshe met David Life, her partner in lifeand in Jivamukti, in 1983. Gannon’sSeattle-based art-rock band played hiscoffeehouse in New York’s East Village.She still remembers how generous hewas that night, helping the band set up,bringing them drinks, and giving themall the money he collected at the door.That summer, Gannon and the band’sguitarist relocated to New York at theurging of musician friends. She beganworking at the coffeehouse, a boho magnetthat inspired a scene in the PulitzerPrize–winning musical Rent, and Lifejoined her band, creating one-of-a-kindinstruments, such as a lyre made out ofa human skull. Both had encounteredyoga as early as the 1960s, and theyincorporated “lessons” into their performances.“We would get people tochant in Sanskrit, for instance, as well aslead simple pranayama practices,” saysGannon. “During some performances,we would pull people into meditationbefore they knew what hit them.” >>Life and Gannon at theirhome in Woodstock, NY.©2011 Yoga International. All rights reserved.spring 2011 yogainternational.com 9


YOGATHREADSprofileIn the late ’80s they opened a basement-levelyoga studio in the East Village.Life made a sign: “The Jivamukti YogaSociety.” They derived the name fromthe Sanskrit term jivanmuktih, meaning“liberation while living.” Though knownfor its intense physicality, their brandof yoga is unequivocally spiritual. “Weteach yoga as a means to enlightenment,because we believe that that is the onlyworthwhile activity to be involved in,”Gannon says. “To me,” Life adds, “thephysical health side is mundane whencompared to cosmic consciousness.”Life and Gannon emphasize ahimsa,or non-violence, perhaps more than anyother yogic precept. Their 2002 book,Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for LiberatingBody and Soul, includes photos ofcaged hens, rabbits in a cosmetic-testinglaboratory, and a collapsed dairy cow,in addition to those illustrating asanasequences. Veganism is an essential partof the Jivamukti method. “We live in aculture based on enslaving animals andexploiting the earth,” Gannon says. “Inorder to attain enlightenment, which isthe realization of the oneness of being, aperson must first recognize every otherbeing as their own self.”In 2003, the couple purchased 76acres of forestland in upstate New Yorkto save it from development. The WildWoodstock Forest Sanctuary, as theycall the property, has since grown to 120acres. When they’re not teaching aroundthe world (their 2011 schedule includesBLESS YOU: A Jivamukti Practicea retreat in Kenya as well as visits tothe eight Jivamukti centers in NorthAmerica and Europe), they live on thesanctuary, where they have a house, ayoga studio, and a vegetable garden.They feed the many wild animals organicgrains, seeds, and nuts. They teach thereevery day in August, opening their hometo dozens of students. At least once ayear, they go into retreat—meditating,fasting, and practicing mauna, or silence.“We emerge with more clarity and energyto meet the demands of our intenseschedule,” Gannon says.At 59 and 60, respectively, Gannonand Life show no signs of slowing down.And what’s more, they remain impossiblyhip. When their current New Yorkyoga center celebrated its grand openingin 2006, rock star Sting and wife TrudieStyler, hip-hop impresario Russell Simmonsand then-wife Kimora Lee, andactresses Uma Thurman and ElizabethBerkley were in attendance. Asked toenumerate the hallmarks of JivamuktiYoga, Life put “hipness” first: “hipness,artistic, potent, heretical, radical—aswell as traditional.” —Anna Dubrovsky >>UNLESS YOU’RE IN THE CLERGY, you’re probably not in the habit of dispensing blessings—exceptwhen people sneeze. But blessing others can have a profound effect onyour life, Gannon says. “There is great power in giving blessings, not just for the recipientof the blessings but also for the one giving the blessings,” she says. “Over time itcan transform you and the people in your life into holy beings.” Don’t worry, she’s notsuggesting that you make like the Pope. Instead, she suggests incorporating blessingsinto your yoga practice. Giving blessings anonymously is not only more practical thangiving them aloud but also eliminates the risk of inflating your ego.To begin the “blessing meditation,” take a comfortable seat, close your eyes, andbecome aware of your breathing. Call to mind the people you love. With each inhalation,silently say: “Blessings to...” As you exhale, silently say the name of a loved one. Continuefor several minutes, extending blessings to family and friends. Then move on to others,such as neighbors, co-workers, and past boyfriends or girlfriends. Be sure to includepeople you have or have had a difficult relationship with. “You will find that as you saytheir names, their images will appear to you,” Gannon says. “With consistent practice, youwill be able to not only see them but also to feel their presence. Over time, difficult issuesthat you may have with them will begin to resolve themselves. You will find that if you encounterthem, your relationship will have magically and dramatically changed.” —A.D.BRIDGET LAUDIEN10 yogainternational.com spring 2011

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