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May 1996
The Satya Interview: Sharon Gannon of the Jivamukti Yoga Center

By Sara Renaud


To many people, Sharon Gannon is much more than the co-owner (along with David Life) of Jivamukti Yoga Center, which has grown to be one of the most thriving and popular yoga centers in New York. Sharon has had a profound impact on many lives. Insightful and humorous, one of her talents is drawing together spiritual and metaphysical teachings and delivering them in a manner that applies this wisdom to the student’s everyday life. Together with the staff at Jivamukti, Sharon and David have also been able to further awareness surrounding ecological issues like animal rights and consciousness of diet.

Q: What is yoga?

A: Yoga is your natural state, union with the divine, happiness, bliss. The various practices of yoga and the techniques we teach here are only ways to help a person become aware of their resistance to that natural state. In New Age terminology, people are always talking about trying to center themselves. Yoga practice is about finding the center or suk. Suk or sukam means happiness, but it also means the center of a circle. If we think of it like a bicycle wheel, the middle part is the suk and from that everything else comes. If you can situate yourself in the center, you’re not going to feel all those little bumps on the outside. Now, most of us fall into the habit of becoming attached with the printout from the center, and we think that’s who we are. But these practices of yoga, meditation, asana, pranayama, devotion to God, yamas, niyamas, all of these practices are to allow us to fall back to the center.

Q: Why do you think yoga has recently become popular in the United States?
A: That is a very common question that’s asked of yoga teachers, and I’ve heard many of the answers. I’ve heard answers, like people are tired of the aerobics thing; they’ve done the step, they’ve done the Jane Fonda workout, they want something that is not only for their body but for their mind. Well, those answers are really way off the mark, because yoga practice is about getting beyond the body and the mind. Its about realizing that we are that which animates the body and the mind. We are the essence behind the form.

You’re not following a teacher or an image in a mirror. You’re feeling yourself from inside out. So there’s a feeling of strength and self confidence which doesn’t rely on outer form. That’s why I think yoga has become so popular. Our culture is so based on catching the eye — advertising, fashion, magazines, movies, TV. These aren’t bad things. It’s just that we’ve become addicted to that mode and it can make us weak because we’re then pulled in a reactionary way by what we see.

Q: One of the things you’ve said that I found very inspiring is that when you become vegetarian, your yoga practice improves.
A: Eating is a daily practice for all of us. So to make your eating part of your practice, part of your sadhana, part of your way to realization, means that you can’t pretend you don’t know where the food came from. If you eat animals, you start to feel the reality of that. You can even feel the pain. If you’ve eaten that pain, you’re going to feel it when you start to uncover and strip down the resistances to your divine state of being. Diet has a great effect on all practices. That’s why it always says in Vedic scriptures that you should eat foods of a satvic nature, meaning foods that are light and that bring a condition of clarity to the mind. Because all of these practices have to do with enlightenment.

When you ingest foods which are of a tamasic nature, meaning they’re dead, dead corpses, your energy is literally pulled down. It’s very hard to transmute that energy into prana and let it move upward, because it’s already moving down toward death and decomposition. Not only is it a corpse, but in the reality of society today, the animals that are used for food, for human consumption, are not just slaughtered, killed, cut up, packaged and sold, but are also put through tremendous suffering and treated with no respect for their life.

It’s going to keep you less than who you are, which is divine, because it is not a relationship based on love. It’s a relationship built on profit and power and "I need this...I need to eat this," and "Your life’s not worth it, my life’s worth it." Not only that, but also that money’s behind it. Money is behind the meat and dairy industry, nothing more. Health is not behind it. Love is not behind it. Respect for life is not behind it. That’s why our cultures are so rampant with disease. This is the karmic reaction.

Q: A common perception is that you must be thin and vegetarian to do yoga practice. Is this true?
A: You just have to have an attitude of limitless possibilities. The practice itself will reconstruct you physically, mentally, and emotionally. You start to realize that it’s not all about you, and that you are connected to everybody. You realize that your yoga practice affects everybody and that your food choices affect everybody. You start to become aware of your own power as a being who has a divine source. See, that’s the sad part about most so-called "normal" people. They don’t realize that they are really God inside this form, and they identify with the form instead of with God.

Q: It can be very difficult for someone to become a vegetarian in our society. One can encounter a lack of understanding, which can be very disheartening. How can this be handled?
A: Yes, a common thing that happens is perhaps someone wants to become vegetarian, but they are not yet secure in the practice. Then they hang out with old friends and family and are ridiculed. Perhaps they give up because to be loved is more important than to change. When you surround yourself with the people who are trying to achieve the things that you are, you become strong and eventually you’re old friends and family will come to you for advice and teaching.

Never try to force ideas on anyone. The missionary or proselytizing approach is totally foreign to the Hindu approach. The student must be eligible and open to the knowledge.

Q: Why are there more people alive on the planet than ever before, given the principle of reincarnation?
A: Because we’re killing off all the other life forms and they’re incarnating into human form. That’s my theory. We only want humans here. I mean, that’s what it looks like from the massacre and the annihilation that goes on every day.

Q: Do you believe that animals have a higher consciousness?
A: I believe that consciousness is the same. It manifests in different forms.

Q: Why is our society so resistant to the truth? For example the facts that surround environmental concerns, vegetarianism, and animal rights issues.
A: Fear. Fear on many levels. In March, the focus at Jivamukti was on animals. The most common question by students to teachers was: "I’m afraid to be vegetarian because how will I get enough protein?" That’s fear. Our culture capitalizes on this fear, through advertising and the media. They capitalize on those feelings of inadequacy and impoverishment. The state of being so needy should be questioned by anyone who wants to raise their consciousness. When you start to realize who you really are, then all of those needs, cravings, and compulsions start to be less interesting. You become free.

Sara Renaud would like to say thank you to: Michelle Chang, Andy Lyman, and Annie Jubb. Photograph of Sharon Gannon by Michael Lavine. Jivamukti Yoga Center is located at 149 2nd Avenue between 9th and 10th Sts. Tel.: 212-353-0214.



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