Meet the Teach: Rima Rabbath

A War-Torn Beiruti Becomes One Of Jiva's Most Popular Teachers

There is something special about Rima Rabbath that shines through the minute you meet her. Born in war-torn Beirut, where she would often spend days or weeks taking shelter underground, she offers insightful dharma talks blending ancient and modern teachings and then teaches a kick ass asana class. Not surprisingly, she has been entrusted with carrying on the Jivamukti lineage. Sharon Gannon and David Life understand that it is a rare teacher who can combine the hip, contemporary and wisdom traditions as well. Lisa Dawn Angerame decided to find out more.

Lisa Dawn Angerame: When did you start practicing yoga?

Rima Rabbath: My very first class was in the summer of 2000. A colleague at Colgate Palmolive where I was working in Brand Management told me about the Jivamukti. For about 6 months, the address sat on my desk then one day, my best friend, Monica Jaggi (who is now also a Jivamukti teacher) and I walked into a 6:15pm open class. We were a little overwhelmed – in a good way. The energy was palpable and the students were really into it. The teacher was Ruth Lauer Manenti. I listened deeply to her instructions. Even though I couldn't get into most of the postures and I felt weak, there was great encouragement in the way she instructed us. I could see how there was potential for me to have a practice and a teacher one day, something and someone I could come back to regularly, whenever I needed it.

LDA: Why did you start teaching?

RR: What I experienced in a yoga class from the very beginning was very special – people from all walks of life coming together, chanting in Sanskrit, a foreign language, yet a language that felt universal because it vibrates and resonates within us all.

It's that feeling of sameness that we so often try to deny ourselves as we seek to be different. That feeling was there. So I wanted to be part of that movement and I knew that if I started teaching, it would be part of my life and I would be part of all these people's life.

LDA: What is NYC Underground Yoga?

RR: NYC Underground Yoga is a vision that is still shaping up. It's a series of yoga events that will take place in spaces or places that are atypical, that we might not be exposed to on an everyday basis. My idea is to provide practitioners with a journey that triggers their senses in an unexpected and unusual way while allowing them to go underneath the feeling or the experience.

The first event took place last October, at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, a historic temple in New York City’s Lower East Side. Sasha, an incredible DJ and music producer, literally "rocked the casbah.” Proceeds went to the LowLine Project, an underground trolley terminal under Essex and Delancey that is being turned into a green space. The turnout of about 200 students was a testimony of what yoga in New York City is really about. Getting together, sweating together, removing layers and layers of accumulated stuff so as to discover what is underneath.

LDA: How did you come up with the concept?

RR: A main teaching in yoga is that there’s something underneath the surface that we have to look deeply into things to uncover what is beneath, what's essential. The essential is not always readily available to the naked eye. In fact it seldom is. It’s only when we go deep that we realize the essential nature of everything. As a frequent clubber in the New York scene in the late 90s, I would nap from 10pm to 2am and then go out to meet up with people who, like me, were extremely excited about the music. We would spend hours and hours dancing without ever having the feeling of wanting to be anywhere else. It’s a rare thing. It was all about the experience. It was different each time.

And, I grew up in Beirut during the civil war and we would spend days, sometimes weeks and at other times months at a time, in a basement, away from windows, underground. And in there, we had no choice but to interact with people, neighbors and other people who I would not have necessarily befriended out in the open. But there we were in a confined space, bonding.

Putting together all of my life experiences thus far, I came up with NYC Underground Yoga because there is always something of the same that we find in others if we are willing to go underneath the surface and are open to the experience.

LDA: What is your goal?

RR: I want to create an ongoing experience (a few times a year) and firmly establish the concept in the city. A portion of the proceeds will always go to a charitable organization to support the community whether local or a yoga-related organization abroad. While there will be always a musical component, because it is underground, there will also always be an unexpected component.

LDA: How have you, the teacher and student, evolved over time?

RR: As a new teacher, my natural tendencies, such as my type A, passionate, overly enthusiastic qualities came out. Class was acrobatic and I tried to fit in a lot. But over time, I refined my own practice and so my teaching has taken on a more balanced quality. Class is still challenging and vigorous but there is more spaciousness within the postures and in the transitions.

I also have come to realize that the more we, as practitioners, listen to the teachings and share them with others, the more the teachings’ wisdom can become part of every cell and tissue of our being. Wisdom doesn’t make one more serious. It actually makes one more playful.

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