One of the assignments for my yoga teacher training programme was to explore 5 different styles of yoga. As a regular practitioner of Hatha Yoga and not living in the centre of London, I did wonder initially how difficult a task this might in fact be, but a little research later and I discovered a whole host of local classes, within driving distance at least, offering many and varied styles of yoga.
One style that I had an opportunity to try was Jivamukti yoga. I attended a British Wheel of Yoga workshop entitled “The Journey of Jivamukti” which was led by the wonderful Andrea Kwiatkowski who is an advanced Jivamukti yoga teacher, having trained with the Jivamukti founders Sharon Gannon and David Life. I didn’t entirely know what to expect from the day other than the slightly ominous warning “Remember that Jivamukti is a strong practice and be prepared to work your body vigorously.” Unperturbed(-ish) by the prospect of working hard, I went along to the day held in a village hall in Kent.
We had been advised that the workshop would explore Patanjali and the Yoga sutras and that the day would include “vigorous asana sequencing, sanskrit chanting, meditation, hands-on adjustments, music and relaxation” so I knew the elements that the day would hold but not necessarily how they would all string together.
There were about 34 of us in the class, all but one women, and all with a degree of yoga experience, some teachers, some student teachers, others just exploring on a personal level but having a regular practice and we started the workshop with a discussion about Jivamukti. Andrea explained that it is the idea that we can be liberated while we are alive and that we don’t have to wait for the death of the body, with “Jiva” meaning individual soul and “Mukti” meaning liberation.
Philosophy comes first in the Jivamukti style of yoga followed by asana. The yama of ahimsa is an element that comes into play in Jivamukti meaning “non-violence” towards all things, a restraint of attitude towards all beings enabling us to live in a world in which we – as individuals – create as little violence as possible. Andrea also explained that meditation is very important as is bhakti, which she explained as chanting and also the use of ‘china gel’ applied as a muscle relaxant on the neck and lower back to help people to let go, the last element she discussed was the use of hands-on adjustments which are used to enable the individual’s energy to flow correctly.
As the day unravelled all of these elements did indeed come into play. We began with some sanskrit chanting as a group, chanting “Om” and then a handful of sutras from Patanjali’s yoga sutras whose themes were relevant to the day – this took place in call and response format and definitely created a group energy and vibrations within the room. Then we moved onto the asana practice which was indeed a vigorous flowing sequence. Certainly no time to stop and rest in between! It was certainly a challenging practice both in terms of stamina and also the inclusion of quite challenging asanas. In reality as far as I can tell all yoga styles offer the same asanas it’s just the way they are combined that differs. This was no different from my usual hatha yoga class on a physical level other than the speed of the flow. It felt good to be challenged though and to take away some new asanas and ways of approaching these. What was interesting was that Andrea suggested that any restrictions that we might feel in our bodies in any given asana could in fact be coming from samskaras or the dormant impressions – or conditioning – that lay an imprint within us, i.e. a residue from past karma which needs to be released – and which sometimes is – during practice. I loved this idea that the challenges we face on a physical level on the mat are in fact showing us a residue from a past karma that is deep inside and needs to find release through our asana practice! The notion that the body is the way to work out our past karmas.
One element of the session that was quite different to my regular classes was the use of loud music. It was very loud at times and quite distracting in a way, also because the music used was not necessarily “yoga” music but was more the personal favourites of the teacher. I imagine this must be part of the style of Jivamukti and while it’s always good to try new things, I did feel personally that gentler, more yoga-type music would have been more to my taste. Another element that I don’t have so much of in my regular classes was the use of hands-on adjustments which I personally love. It’s not for everyone and Andrea did suggest that if it wasn’t for you then you could put something at the end of your mat to indicate this, but I just enjoyed the opportunity to have an experienced teacher helping me into the right position – allowing my body to feel where it needed to go and enjoying the momentary sensation of going deeper into a pose.
At the end of our practice during savasana Andrea took the time to apply the “china gel” onto each and every one of us and this was a wonderful intimate element to the practice – a real feeling of connectedness with your teacher and the fact that she took the time to include everyone.
A curious thing that happened to me was that whilst laying in savasana I felt overcome with emotion which is not a regular feeling in my practice. At the start of our asana practice, we were asked to devote our practice to someone, whoever that might be, and I chose to devote it to a friend who is unwell. At various times during our asana session we were asked to keep that person in our minds and then during savasana my friend’s face came to me and I felt overwhelmed with emotion and quite tearful. What I was feeling was an immense gratitude at having yoga in my life, that I have this outlet for physical and spiritual expression and this ability to connect with myself and others in this deep spiritual way. I felt that I wished my friend had this too and that this might help her through her battle with illness. When we moved into meditation I could see her sitting opposite me and visualised sending her healing energy. It was strange how powerful it felt to devote one’s practice to someone. It needn’t have been to someone unwell, there was the suggestion of devoting it to someone you don’t understand perhaps in order to understand them a bit better or move past the feelings. It felt like a very positive way to share one’s practice. Andrea did actually ask us at the end if anyone had felt emotional, her explanation being that the combination of music, massage and adjustments within the practice all contribute towards heightening one’s senses, enabling us to feel deeply relaxed in savasana, centred in meditation and then connected in the group chanting.
The day itself lasted for six hours so I can’t really write everything down here but an in-depth discussion of Patanjali’s yoga sutra 1:33 followed which maybe I will find time to write about on my blog at some stage and also mention of the fact that Jivamukti differs from other styles in that it teaches both the classical yoga texts, such as the yoga sutras, and the Vedanta texts, such as Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, etc. whereas other yoga styles tend to focus predominantly on either classical OR Vedanta texts and not both. Obviously we couldn’t cover everything in the time we had either but it was very interesting to learn something new and certainly is a style that appeals to me, maybe not so much for teaching but certainly to explore in more depth on a personal level.