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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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