Interview with Sharon Gannon
I first discovered yoga in the early 90’s when I was at NYU Tisch School of the Arts for acting school. One of my very first teachers was studying at Jivamukti yoga center and she told me how great it was. I vividly remember the smell of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint castille soap and incense.
I walked up slanted wooden stairs in their studio on 2nd avenue and took classes as often as I could. I had my first amazing sivasana and learned how to do a headstand. Sharon Gannon and David Life, the founders of the studio made such an impact on me. Truly shared the authentic yoga practices with some cool modern music and vinyasa flows.
Sharon was instrumental in guiding me on my journey to becoming a teacher. She truly made me fall in love with the physical yoga postures and the spiritual practice. In 1996 I went on a Bhakti yoga retreat with Sharon and David and admired how much they both truly live a yogic lifestyle.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon and hearing more about her recent book release, The Magic Ten and Beyond.
1. Q: How did you first discover yoga?
SHARON:I read the Bhagavad Gitaand Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and also listened to the transcendental music of Alice Coltrane, chanting by the great female Indian singer, M.S. Subbulakshmi and the magical, mysterious music of the Beatles as well as the Incredible String Band.
Yoga in the early days
2. Q: What was the yoga scene like in the early days when you first opened in 1984?
SHARON: As I remember it in NYC it was pretty low key, although there were some important centers. There was the Sivananda Center, Swami Satchidananda’s Integral Yoga. I am sure there must have been an Iyengar center too and Dharma Mittra was teaching as well. There were also independent teachers teaching classes in health clubs or teaching small classes out of their apartments. One of our first yoga teachers, Tara Rose rented a small space on the lower east side and taught to a few friends. But all in all the classes were not very large. From what I remember—most yoga classes focused only on yoga asanas as physical fitness—rather than a path to enlightenment.
The mind/body connection was not a topic for exploration. Neither was the subject of how our actions both subtle and overt influenced our physical, energetic, emotional and spiritual realities. You can’t have physical health without mental health and you can’t have mental health without healing the soul. To heal the soul one has to reconnect with God—the eternal Self who is the source of our very being—the source of happiness and joy in the world. I was interested in the practice of yoga for these more holistic reasons and so that is how I taught it back then and have continued to explore and teach it now.
Yoga at the beginning until now
3. Q: You and David were some of my very first teachers I remember the studio that was above holy basil on second Avenue and even in the early 90s the landscape is so much different than it is now. How have you seen the changes and are you happy with the way yoga has exploded?
SHARON:When we opened that space on 2ndAve and 9thStreet that you refer to—that was actually the 3rdlocation for Jivamukti Yoga. Most every class we taught was full of students, enthusiastically wanting to learn. We had two rooms—the “big” one held 40 students and the smaller one maybe 20. The classes were usually packed. I am not sure why we became so popular so quickly—we were offering teachings that most people would not consider “commercially viable” like veganism, social activism, karma, Sanskrit chanting and all with a heavy dose of “God”. I feel that early on in the 1980s Jivamukti Yoga set a trend in the world-wide yoga community and helped to bring more spirituality, into how yoga is taught and practiced.
4. Q: I think you actually graduated from the University of Washington the same year that my father did. You look absolutely stunning – do you credit yoga as your key to longevity?
SHARON:Yes I did graduate from the University of Washington. I am 67 years old and feel pretty good—I am grateful to God and do my best to remember Him in every thing I do and try to be kind and useful to others and not fall into the negativity habit of blaming and complaining. Besides that, yes Yoga helps and so does a Vegan diet. I have been a vegan for 35 years.
The Magic Ten and Beyond
5. Q: What are some of your 10 principles that you cover in the book and what inspired you to write your eighth book at this point?
SHARON:What I reveal in my new book, The Magic Ten and Beyond is my personal daily yoga practice—what I have been doing for many years to help me become a better, kinder, calmer, healthier, more spiritual person. I wrote the book to share with others who might be interested some of the simple doable practices that I have found to really work.
There are practices for how to wake up in a good mood every morning and for how to become more saintly and kind as well as how to nourish your innate wildness; practices that reveal the secret to wealth, practices that will increase your vital energy by teaching you how to conserve and direct your prana or life force. There are practices that can help you resolve old relationship issues, practices to detoxify your body and mind of negative emotions, and practices that will keep you fit and limber well into old age. There is also an easy step-by-step meditation practice as well as a way to free yourself from the fear of death and live comfortably in your own skin for the rest of your life.
The book also includes an action-packed adventure story set in Egypt, where I describe my theory about the connection between yoga and the ancient Egyptian mystery schools and how I had an mystical experience while in the King’s chamber of the Great Giza Pyramid and met an Egyptologist in the Cairo Museum the next day who showed me some hieroglyphs etched into a 3,000 year old cartouche that looked a lot like yoga practices to me—the very practices that I describe in this book!
Main Takeaways from The Magic Ten and Beyond
6. Q: What main takeaways would you like your readers to get from your book?
SHARON:Magic is real—but it depends on you believing in its possibilities. Magic happens when there is a shift in perception—perception of yourself, others and the world. Through such magical practices as gratitude, giving blessings and feeding the wild birds. You expand your awareness of who you are and what is possible. Consequently you find it easier to let go of many debilitating fear-based habits like worry, self doubt, shyness. The urge to seek fulfillment in material things and the obsessive need to be liked and acknowledged by others. All of which cause us to feel needy, ineffectual and insignificant.
7. Q: I think you and David were vegans before it was cool to be. How did your first discover this type of lifestyle and why do you advocate it?
SHARON:Whatever we do to others will come back to us. Our actions are that powerful—they create our reality. To be vegan is simply the kinder choice. When you do have a choice and we all do –it is better to choose kindness rather than cruelty.
8. Q: If there was one thing you would tell everyone they need to start doing now what would it be?
SHARON: Dare to care about the happiness of others. It is the surest way to ensure your own happiness. Care about your family, your friends, people you don’t even know, other animals, the oceans, the rivers and the trees. Be a joyful Vegan. Be a giver not a taker. The cure for self-centeredness is other centeredness. Do all you can to enhance the lives of others. Think Big—live your life to enhance the life of planet Earth and all Earthlings. Who will be the happiest person?—the one who brings happiness to others.
Kristin McGee is a celebrity yoga and Pilates instructor in New York City. She is currently teaching yoga with Peloton. She is the star of over 100 videos, seen in several magazines and tv shows and is a spokeswoman for many brands and causes she believes in. A proud mom to three, she sure keeps herself busy!