Jivamukti means free spirit, so it was fitting that I kicked off my Independence Day weekend at Jivamukti Union Square with Tamar Samir. Auspiciously, I discovered that July 4th is also the birthday of Jivamukti founder Sharon Gannon. Tamar Samir began class with reverence to Sharon. “She dedicates her life to helping others be free,” said Tamar who then led us in call and response and then unison chanting of a mantra honoring the guru.
As Tamar shared the English translation, I learned that the guru is not only a literal person who guides us, but also the inner presence that is always with us, leading us toward enlightenment.
“Enlightenment means residing in our true nature,” Tamar told us as we hovered in Plank Pose.
I tried to connect with this inner guru throughout class as an antidote to my common feeling that I am somewhat lost and in need of outer guidance.
We also chanted Patanjali’s Sutra 2:29 listing the eight limbs of the yogic path. “Dedicate your practice to the benefit of someone,” Tamar suggested as we paused in Tadasana. As we lengthened into our first Downward Facing Dog, Tamar translated the eight limbs for us. “The first four are active, having to do with our outward relationships with self and others,” she said. This was a lot of information to take in, and she let it settle while we moved more vigorously through Sun Salutations, including Warrior Poses and Chair.
Then Tamar continued, “The second four, beginning with ‘Pratyahara’ are less physical; they relate to control of our senses, concentration, meditation, and ecstasy. Pratyahara, which means drawing our senses inward, is the focus of the month at Jivamukti. In yoga class we intentionally choose to limit our sensory input. This can inform our choices in life. We are always deciding what to take in and what to avoid, and we can do so consciously.”
Having given us this rooting in yoga philosophy, Tamar left off from talking and led us into a meditative flow. Her hypnotic music, the poses, and the rhythm of breath became my focus. She guided us calmly into challenging poses including Firefly and a seated variation of Marichyasana that involved wrapping our leg behind head (“just try,” Tamar said encouragingly).
In keeping with the theme of Pratyahara, the class included a lot of inward-focused forward bends and deep hip stretches like Pigeon and Ankle to Knee. I especially enjoyed a variation on Lizard where we turned the front leg in and out for extra sensation. This preceded an intense version of Tortoise Pose, where Tamar invited us to cross our ankles and wrap them behind our head, once again admonishing us in a gentle voice to “just try.”
She seamlessly wove in a reference to the Bhagavad Gita 2:58: “When she draws in her senses as a Tortoise withdraws her limbs into her shell, she becomes established in wisdom.” By this point I seemed to be more established in sweat - but I hoped that this might also somehow lead indirectly to freedom. Sitting back up, we moved into Blossoming Lotus and a Balancing Straddle before descending to the floor for Bridge and then fifteen breaths in Full Wheel.
In a Jivamukti class you’re guaranteed to get some kind of juicy assist, and mine came fortuitously in Uttanasana and Salabhasana where I can always use a little help. We lingered for several minutes in Shoulderstand, and then Tamar told us to choose either Fish or Goddess for our counterpose.
As we finished with Headstand, Tamar guided those who were unfamiliar with the pose. With legs overhead facilitating a fresh perspective, she tied the theme of Pratyahara to our everyday choices, noting that “eating is an intimate act. Each choice we make about what to eat can fuel compassion or cruelty.”
The inward focus of the class and the music without lyrics facilitated a deep restful state during Savasana. I was able to sit more quietly than usual in meditation too. After chanting OM three full, long times, Tamar thanked us for practicing with her on Independence Day, and concluded by serenely saying, “May all beings be happy and free.”
-Lauren Tepper for Yoga Sleuth
Single drop-in classes are $22; discounted class cards available.