Jivamukti Yoga advocates veganism as an expression of a central principle – non-violence. Senior teacher Emma Henry tells us why…
What is Jivamukti Yoga and how do animal rights and veganism form part of the philosophy behind it?
The yoga method of Jivamukti is a form of hatha yoga devised by my teachers Sharon Gannon and David Life. Both come from a background in the arts and are animal activists. When Sharon and David first started teaching in New York 30 years ago, yoga classes weren’t integrated. Yoga classes in the West emphasised asana (postures). There was no chanting, meditation or spiritual teaching weaved throughout the practice. So, they put together an integrated method with five pillars at the foundation:
- Bhakti: the yoga of devotion; bringing love and devotion to our spiritual practice.
- Dhyana (meditation): witnessing thoughts and not identifying with them – all Jivamukti classes will hold a meditation.
- Nada: the yoga of sound. The development of a sound body and sound mind through deep inner listening. This also includes call and response chanting, and the use of uplifting music throughout the practice.
- Shastra: the study of ancient teachings such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Jivamukti classes have a focus each month where there is a suggestion of a scripture, and wherever you practice globally, the class will have this theme.
- Ahimsa: a non-violent, compassionate and ethical lifestyle. This is where veganism really aligns with a yoga practice, as a vegan diet causes the least amount of harm to all beings, the planet and ourselves.
Can you tell us more about Ahimsa?
The scriptures teach us that non-violence is the foundation of all yoga practices. Even though these ancient teachings are from a different time, it is very inspiring to see how other practitioners responded to the cultural imbalances of their time. Patanjali teaches us that if we are firmly established in non-harming, then hostility is removed from the environment and others will cease to harm us.
Within a Jivamukti class, this teaching could come from a breakdown from a Sanskrit verse, a short reading in class or a positive message at the end of class, like enjoy your vegan brunch, or don’t forget to feed the birds!
Are films about veganism shown during Jivamukti teacher training?
During our teacher training we show a range of films, including some on animal rights and veganism. They are very difficult to watch. We encourage students to watch the films as they are such an eye-opener, even if you are vegan already. They really bring awareness to how food is brought to our plate, when a lot of people haven’t made that connection yet. Shocking, yet inspiring, as it reinforces that I can’t be ignorant or in denial as an excuse for my actions and when I see the suffering that goes on I have to ask what can I do about this? Films like Earthlings and The Witness are so powerful and literally wake you up to what is going on behind the scenes in the food industry. We also show Cowspiracy, a brilliant film made by Jivamukti yoga teacher Kipp Anderson.
Can you tell us a little about your own journey toward veganism?
I have never enjoyed the taste of meat or fish and my mother is vegetarian, so the concept of veganism is not alien to me. Although my yoga practice started as a physical practice, I was firstly drawn to Jivamukti because it was dynamic, the sequence of asana felt so intelligent on my body and I loved practicing with music. As my body opened and my practice ripened and I felt more in tune with myself, I felt more in tune with life. It literally makes you more sensitive, so the practice of asana feels no different to any other practice, such as what I eat or how I speak or think about others. When I practice pigeon pose, I realise that birds also want safety for their family, clean water and a safe habitat. We are all in this together, we all want happiness.
Advocating a particular diet is often shied away from, even in yoga – why is it so important in Jivamukti?
Yoga and Jivamukti have enhanced my life and it feels natural to share what I have learned and students are very open to it. I have never shied away from communicating my views on the meat and dairy industry and feel blessed to have this platform to share. Communication is key and it has taken time to refine how I deliver in the classroom, but the results seem positive. Not everyone is ready (yet) to hear it, but I have never had a negative reaction. I hold retreats in many strange and wonderful places and team up with the best vegan chefs to work closely together to tailor menus that are nourishing and simple to enhance the practice.
Emma Henry is based in London but teaches workshops internationally. She is a senior teacher for Jivamukti, facilitating the teacher trainings.
Photo credit: Karen Yeomans