• Dom Catto

Where do the teachings come from?

After a thought-provoking post and subsequent conversation with Ndivhudzannyi Mphephu about the cultural appropriation of Yoga, I started thinking about my lineage, my teachers and the great respect and pride I hold over where my teachings come from. I have done a number of different Yoga trainings over my 16-year career. But it wasn’t until I walked into Living Yoga in Johannesburg and was introduced to Jivamukti Yoga that I learned how important lineage is and the huge difference it makes to you as a Yoga teacher as opposed to an asana or stretch class instructor. I did my second teacher training with Living Yoga in 2010, which was a vinyasa training, with classes and lessons heavily influenced by the Jivamukti tradition. In 2011, I was able to travel to New York and take the Jivamukti teacher training with the co-founders of the tradition David Life and Sharon Gannon, along with some of the most amazing teachers and mentors such as Jules Febre, Lady Ruthji and Jeffery Cohen.

“The Jivamukti Method is a path to enlightenment through compassion for all beings. The Jivamukti Method is grounded in the original meaning of the Sanskrit word asana as “seat, connection” – relationship to the Earth. Earth implies all of life. Citing Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, which states that asana should be sthira and sukham, Jivamukti Yoga maintains that one’s relationship to others (asana) should be mutually beneficial and come from a consistent (sthira) place of joy and happiness (sukham). This is a radical idea that, when put into practice, can dismantle our present culture, which is based on the notion that the Earth and all other animals exist for our benefit and to be exploited for our own selfish purposes. So the practice of asana becomes more than mere physical exercise to keep one’s body fit or to increase strength or flexibility; it becomes a way to improve one’s relationship to all others and thus lead to enlightenment – the dissolution of the sense of separateness, the realization of the oneness of being, the discovery of lasting happiness.” https://jivamuktiyoga.com/the-jivamukti-method/

When I first arrived at the Omega Institute in upstate New York after a whirlwind tour of New York City I was beyond overwhelmed by meeting my beloved teachers and being able to participate in this teacher training. To have the opportunity to learn these teachings form Davidji and Sharonji themselves was a privilege I do not take lightly. There was a point when I built up my courage and went to introduce myself to Sharonji. I walked up to her and said “Sharonji, my name is Dominique” She looked at me with her gentle, unconditionally loving gaze and simply said “Dominique, I know who you are, you’re from South Africa” I was floored - I couldn’t even continue with what I wanted to say. This amazing teacher knows who I am! My heart was exploding with joy and happiness and I knew I had chosen the right path for me.

Right from the start Davidji and Sharonji introduced themselves, their gurus and reiterated the importance of our lineage. No teachings come from a teacher in this day and age. All the teachings of Yoga have been handed down from guru to student for millennia so Yoga teachers in this age cannot claim these teachings and this knowledge.

David Life and Sharon Gannon met in 1983 in New York City and in 1984 created Jivamukti Yoga. In 1986 they travelled to India and met their first guru, Swami Nirmalananda. On subsequent trips, they met their guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and later in upstate New York, they met their guru Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati. Each of their gurus guided them further on their individual spiritual paths, and the teachings of their gurus helped shape the development of Jivamukti Yoga. Sharon and David studied with their gurus for many years and received their blessings to incorporate their teachings into the Jivamukti Yoga method.”

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ guru was Sri Krishnamacharya, who is known as the father of modern Yoga. Together, they developed the Ashtanga method of Yoga. Sri Krishnamacharya’s students include B. K. S. Iyengar, the father of Iyengar Yoga and his own son T. K. V. Desikachar, the founder of Viniyoga. All of these teachings that now radiate around the whole world come through Sri Krishnamacharya, including that of Jivamukti Yoga. It feels profoundly relevant that the teaching I have been given and that I pass on to the humans that come to me come from this powerful and transformational lineage.

“Many of his contributions have been so thoroughly integrated into the fabric of yoga that their source has been forgotten. It's been said that he's responsible for the modern emphasis on Sirsasana (Headstand) and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand). He was a pioneer in refining postures, sequencing them optimally, and ascribing therapeutic value to specific asanas. By combining pranayama and asana, he made the postures an integral part of meditation instead of just a step leading toward it.” Fernando Pages Ruiz

You’ll notice if you’ve taken a class with me, that I always reference my teachers and give them credit because nothing of what I teach is my own. I do have my own experiences and understandings of the teachings but they have all been passed down to me from this incredible lineage of which I am a part. It is so important to me to include my teachers in my classes and give them credit. In doing this I am giving them and the teachings themselves the deep respect they so richly deserve. I cannot take credit for the wisdom I share, but I do have the responsibility to share that wisdom in a respectful way, trying not to impose my opinions and perspectives onto the teachings but using my experiences to make the teachings relatable and understandable to my students.

If you’re interested, please click the links in this blog and read up on the amazing journey these teachings have taken to get to my ears, my brain and my mouth. Everything I share with you comes from these humans, from their teachings and their amazing contributions to this incredibly life-changing Yoga practice.

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