Tag Archives: Jivamukti

Join the club

Groucho Marx famously said he wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have people like him as a member, and Katie Manitsas, the director of Jivamukti Yoga in Sydney’s hip inner-west suburb of Newtown, tends to agree.
Tattoo you.  Photo by Michelle Newton

Tattoo you.
Photo by Michelle Newton

Jivamukti is a style known for its strict adherence to its founders’ principles of veganism and commitment to environmental issues, animal rights and political activism. It’s also known as the yoga style of choice for the famous and fabulous.

Musicians, supermodels and actors frequent Jivamukti’s New York studio – the model Christy Turlington, actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman, Michael Franti, and you don’t get much more famous than Sting.

Katie believes that Jivamukti has been pigeon-holed as being elitist – it has a “reputation as being young and hip” due to its founders’ Sharon Gannon and David Life’s background in performance art. Gannon started out as a dancer and musician, while Life was an artist and café owner before finding yoga and founding the Jivamukti method.

Katie says, “As soon as yoga starts to become like a club that you get invited to join because you’ve got the right tattoo, that to me is like something’s gone wrong. I’m very interested in how we can be a bit wider.”

I’ve not come across too many – or any – celebrities in the classes in Newtown, though it’s a pretty hip and funky place. Jivamukti’s classes are famous for their pumping soundtrack of uplifting indie music. More than once I’ve wanted to get hold of the playlist that has accompanied the class.

The on-site vegan café, Sadhana, serves treats made with hipster-friendly ingredients like raw cacao and goji berries, many of the clientele do sport serious tatts and piercings, and there’s less Lululemon being worn than I’ve ever seen in a Sydney yoga class.

To be honest, it is the sort of place where you feel ever-so-slightly intimidated when you walk in.

Katie, who has been teaching yoga all her adult life, says the scene can be somewhat judgmental.

“That can feed into the sort of thing where we judge ourselves and then we start judging everyone else, and that’s not what yoga is about.”

But the flipside of that is the community – the sangha – that is created when people come together to practice yoga.

Katie says, “There’s this lovely word “satsang” which is like to gather together, and seek for the truth, and I think there’s something really beautiful in that, that we do come together for one common purpose.”

To that end, Jivamukti Newtown runs community yoga classes for just $8.00 – a miniscule amount when you consider a drop-in class in most yoga studios in Sydney can be as much as $20.

So, far from Groucho’s refusal to join the “club”, yoga is a club I’m happy to be a member of. Yoga is like coming home. Even casually dropping into a class reignites a feeling of belonging – for me anyway – even if I haven’t been practising much. I can create a little club of one – just me – a sangha and satsang.

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Good foundations

Foundationn1. that on which something is founded. 2. the basis or ground of anything. 3. the natural or prepared ground or base on which some structure rests.

– The Macquarie Dictionary

Grounded

Hands. Feet. Sometimes forearms, sometimes knees, or the crown of the head. But usually hands and feet. These are the foundations  of any yoga pose, from which our bodies find their stability. Only from a stable foundation can a structure be solid.

In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says:

Sthira sukham asanam 
(II.46)
TKV Desikachar translates this as: “Asana must have the dual qualities of alertness and relaxation.”

Hands and feet serve as the foundations of a pose; they ground you in a physical sense. But they also ground you in a spiritual sense, when you are grounded you feel safe, mentally and emotionally stable.

Hands

For many, yoga provides a sense of stability, or groundedness, of coming home.

There’s a reason why calling someone “grounded” is a compliment.

Hands 2 

Padangustasana

Feet w bubbles

Katie Manitsas from Jivamutki Yoga in Newtown says, “Jivamukti would say that the foundation to any aspect of yoga, whether its the physical asana practice or the spiritual discipline or ethics, is connection to the earth. Patanjali says the connection to the earth needs to be steady and joyful. We take that to mean literally – physically – the asana needs to be well connected to the earth so you don’t fall over but also the relation to the planet earth should be steady and joyful.”

Tattooed

Katie says that’s where Jivamukti’s environmentalism element comes in – it’s the foundational philosophy of Jivamukti Yoga.

“When we become comfortable in our own bodies and secure, confident then we become externally comfortable and confident but if we are filled with insecurities in our relationship to our body, or form, then we can’t have good and sustainable relationships outside of ourselves.”

Soles

Yoga has helped Christiane Steinward enormously with a sense of grounding.

She says:  “I often teach about our connection with the earth. These things have been so beneficial to me personally. Energetically I think the [physical] yoga practices work on the lower chakras, balancing the energies there, which naturally makes us more effective in the world, then after some time we move into the energies of the higher chakras. People often start with the physical practices but are gradually enticed into the spiritual side by developing feelings of love, compassion, joy, peace which may lead to the person connecting to the divine.”

Heels

“That has been my experience – I started off by getting my life together in a practical sense then I have gradually gone more into the higher chakras towards more devotional practices. It is an ongoing journey for me and I keep working on the lower chakras through my practice.”

Strong hand

Ankle

Urdhva dhanurasana

Good pair of hands

Altar

All photographs by Michelle Newton (c)

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