Visiting the Jivamukti Yoga Centre in Union Square, New York

Visiting the Jivamukti Yoga Centre in Union Square, New York

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When I had the opportunity to visit New York City, I knew that I wanted to practise yoga in New York and I knew where I wanted to practise it. I’d heard about the Jivamukti Yoga School in Union Square from a friend and when I looked at the Jivamukti Yoga NYC website, my mind was made up. I had no experience of Jivamukti Yoga and New York seemed the perfect introduction.

I’d made arrangements to attend a class and have a tour and conduct an interview, but my travel plans went awry due to fog and I ended up turning up at the Centre unannounced two days later than anticipated. I was given a warm welcome by Jay Dorne, Digital Content Editor for the School and a 800hr Cert. Jivamukti Teacher. He invited me to join a class that was just about to start, led by Juan Sierra.


His classes are filled with “crisp” humor and endearing humility, skilful hands-on assists and thoughtful choice of music. Jivamukti NYC website

Yes, I can attest to that. I found the class physically challenging and yet spiritually uplifting. The studio was called the Goddess Room and there was a sense of the divine. The only downside was the repeated testing of the fire alarm: the wailing siren and flashing lights were an assault on the senses and did not add to the experience in any way. Although as Jay Dorne explained after the class –

Practicing yoga in New York City is certainly a unique experience! There seems to be a distraction around every corner. Many NYC yogis say if you can practice yoga here, you can practice anywhere.

jivamukti 3After the class, I chatted to some other students and had a good look around. The cafe was full and bustling, the shop fascinating, the photos and images inspiring. I met this little fella in a quiet corner! And afterwards, I got to put these questions to Jay Dorne.

What defines Jivamukti yoga? What makes it different?

Jivamukti Yoga is a path to enlightenment through compassion to all beings. The Jivamukti Method is unique and very effective because it’s a truly integrative practice. Although asana is the main focus – classes are known to be challenging and vigorous – our teachers seamlessly blend 5 Tenets that comprise our core philosophy: Ahimsa (non-harming), Bhakti (devotion), Nada (music), Dhyana (meditation) and Shastra (scripture).

Some yoga methods may not emphasize meditating, music, or teachings from the ancient yoga texts during the asana class. Rather than viewing these as separate from the physical practice, Jivamukti brings them together to create a well-rounded experience. Practitioners gain a first-hand understanding of how these practices are connected, and that can be transformative.

After all, the Sanskrit word yoga means to yolk or bring together.

What do you expect of your teachers in terms of lifestyle? And the students?

Jivamukti teachers are expected to teach with authenticity and compassion. Teachers strive to embody the 5 Tenets in and out of the classroom, and encourage students to do the same. More importantly, teachers are expected to respect and honor where each student is at in their practice and lifestyle. Yoga works when we see the best potential in each other and avoid being dogmatic. Teachers are encouraged to remain students themselves and keep in mind the yoga practice is just that: a practice.

What is the demographic of students who visit the studio?

Being located in Manhattan, the student body is incredibly diverse. It includes students, seniors, attorneys, artists and everything in between. On any given day, you’ll hear several languages in the hallways and have the chance to meet people from all over the world. What makes that really special is that all of these people have a common interest in Jivamukti Yoga.

jivamukti 4How do you build a strong sense of community in the heart of the city?

Jivamukti NY offers a place to practice in the middle of a chaotic city. NYC can often be an impersonal place where you don’t make eye contact on the streets or in the Subway. Classes are designed to inspire, and that naturally brings people together. The Sanskrit word satsang means being around people who share similar goals. Through authentic and inspirational teachings based on the Focus of the Month, Jivamukti cultivates a strong sense of community both in NYC and globally.

What role does teaching about life off the mat play in Jivamukti yoga? Why is this important?

Yoga is designed as a set of practical philosophies about how to live harmoniously with the world. To become stronger, more flexible and mindful on the mat, we must also examine how to do that off the mat.

Does each teacher have a different style of teaching? Are students encouraged to commit to one teacher? How does the role of the guru work in our modern society?

All Jivamukti classes touch on the same major points, but each teacher adds their own style and personality. It is completely up to the student whether they want to work with one teacher or many. We offer a variety of classes around the clock with a large teacher roster.

Jivamukti defines guru by the classical Sanskrit definition: remover of darkness (gu=darkness, ru=to remove). The term guru is often misused, and we emphasize that a teacher can come in any form which helps shed light on new discoveries through the yoga practice.

Jivamukti has a rich lineage, as our founders, Sharon & David, had three main gurus. We encourage students to follow Jivamukti’s teachings, but to ultimately do so in the way that works best for them.

Is yoga political? How is social activism built into Jivamukti yoga?

Yoga, by its nature, is political. As Sharon Gannon says, yoga is about living harmoniously with the world. In order for that to be possible, your relationship to the Earth and its inhabitants must be mutually beneficial. Politics is a means of ensuring that certain groups of people do not suffer as the result of another succeeding.

By teaching from a perspective of human rights, animal rights and environmentalism, we can see how political issues and yoga are connected. By practicing strength and courage on the mat, we can bring those qualities out into the world and become the change we want to see in it.

Why did you personally choose Jivamukti yoga? What does it bring to your life? How
has it transformed you?

Jivamukti Yoga brings out the best in you. Its integrative approach helps you realize what aspects of your practice or life may be out of balance, and then provides you with the tools and a way to improve it.

Yoga teaches that if you want something in your own life, you have to first be willing to provide it for others. Teaching Jivamukti Yoga is an amazing opportunity to help others remove physical and psychological barriers, allowing for major breakthroughs to become possible.

The next day, I was interviewing someone in a completely different context, who turned out to have practised Jivamukti Yoga for many, many years. She was delighted that I’d visited the School and wanted to hear all about it. She enthused about Jivamukti Yoga over a cup of tea. I came away wondering if the universe may be trying to tell me something!


Helen Redfern

Helen Redfern is Yogamatters very own in-house writer. Living life to the full for her currently includes Yoga, Pilates, running and contemporary dance and she enjoys encouraging everyone around her to embrace the new.