Getting back to Number Three


From the Yoga Sutra of Patañjali, the first four verses:
1. Now, the teachings of yoga (are presented).
2. Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.
3. When that is accomplished, the seer abides in its own true nature.
4. At other times, the seer is absorbed in the changing states of the mind.
(Interpretation by Edwin F. Bryant)

In studying Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, I’ve learned that the first four sutras in the first chapter are considered the most important. They are referred to as “catur sloki” — the 4 verses. It’s said that the whole philosophy of the Yoga Sutra is encapsulated in this elegant foursome.

For me, verse 3 is the jewel among the first four. Whenever I read it, it lifts my spirit, it reminds me of my intention, it reminds me of what I’m capable of, and what all of us are capable of — pure “beingness”, interconnectedness with all beings, and compassion for all beings.

My friend, Lisa Dawn, says that life is a back and forth between residing in I.3 or I.4. She suggests, as soon as you catch yourself getting entrenched in number 4, go back to number 3 as quickly as possible.










A handmade painting of Yoga Sutra Chapter 1, verse 3 by Melissa Townsend.

Forgetting & Remembering

“Our enlightened self is always present but most often forgotten – giving rise to confusion in life.” —David Life, Jivamukti Yoga Focus of the Month, April 2015.

Recently, I went to one of my favorite sanctuaries in New York City, ABC Carpet & Home. For those who don’t know it, ABC is a shop that showcases unique, interesting arts and crafts for the home from around the world. You can just walk around and drink in the beauty and diversity. I’m not advocating shopping. Not at all. Artists, poets, writers, and musicians understand beauty as an expression of the divine. Not cosmetic beauty, but rather a cosmic creativity that artists channel into a poetic form. Writer Elizabeth Gilbert said in a TED talk that artists are “mystical creatures who take dictation from the divine”.

ABC holds many yoga and meditation events. The event I attended was in honor of the great Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. It was the launch of a new, permanent meditation room dedicated to his work. Thich Nhat Hanh is a widely inspiring figure, perhaps because he delivers teachings in simple and relatable forms. One of those forms is calligraphy. He creates calligraphic pieces showcasing short, powerful Zen statements. These calligraphies were on display in the new meditation space, and I went around photographing them. Many cultural commentators say that nowadays we outsource our memories to our smart phones. We’ve gotten used to taking a picture of something, instead of making an effort to remember it. But I believe there is also an innate human desire to record things that remind us of our true nature. Because so often we forget. We need constant reminding.

One statement resonated with me particularly, and I posted the photo on Instagram: “The way out is in”. A student saw the photo and commented: “Please remind me often”. This is the essence of what we’re doing here together in this world. We’re reminding each other of our true nature, which is love, compassion, sweetness, divinity, interconnection; what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “inter-being”.

We don’t have to look someone in the eyes with a really intense gaze and say: “Remember! You are a divine being!” Though we could. We can think of many creative and different ways to remind each other daily. Can you think of someone who needs reminding?

My friend Carol Issa, a Jivamukti Yoga teacher in Paris, holds luxurious Jivamukti yoga retreats in exotic locations. When you think of going to a yoga retreat, you might tend to think: “I’m going to rest and relax”. “I’m going to feel so good!” You focus on your self. But when the practitioners arrive at Carol’s retreat, each is tasked with a responsibility. They get a little piece of paper with another yogi’s name. And they are charged with taking care of that person, anonymously, for the duration of the retreat; making sure they feel happy, supported, connected. Through reminding others of their true identity, we remind ourselves.

Yoga teachers are particularly lucky, because our main job is to remind students of their true selves. What could be better?

The way out is in

On Making Yoga Playlists

Recently, I was interviewed by YogaCityNYC’s Alystyre Julian about making playlists for yoga classes. It’s always an honor to be interviewed by YogaCityNYC, and I love to hear the philosophies of the other teachers featured. See the article here.

The article text is actually quite abbreviated, understandably, so here is the full text I wrote about my playlist philosophy, which stems from the guidance of all my teachers at Jivamukti (scroll down to read it).


I teach vinyasa yoga in the Jivamukti Yoga lineage. In our method, using sound* as well as silence is an integral part of the class experience. One the five tenets of Jivamukti Yoga is Nada Yoga, the yoga of sound. My teachers, Sharon Gannon and David Life, have inspired us to use sound creatively in class in order to support the rhythm of breath and movement, to uplift the spirit, to inspire the students to go deeper into their practice, and to teach deep listening. In the Jivamukti teacher training, we experimented with practicing to different types of music and observing the effect that it has on our bodies and minds.

Natalie Ullman, my first Jivamukti teacher, once spoke with me about the idea of the music in class creating a “force field” around the students. That idea and the way she phrased it has deeply inspired and shaped the way I create playlists. I hope to create an atmospheric, hypnotic feeling with music that takes you inside, that can bring about a meditative state, devoid of thinking. The music has to be at a certain volume (not too soft, not too loud) to create that dimensional, immersive experience. It’s as if the music is wrapping around the practitioners and protecting them.

Every class I teach at Jivamukti has a philosophical and asana theme, and I always choose music to support that theme. Sanskrit mantras have a powerful resonance that builds that force field in the mind. Longer ambient tracks work best to maintain a trance-like state. (Shorter tracks can create a choppy, interrupted feeling, which is counter productive for the continuous flow of vinyasa). It’s very rare that I use a track with English lyrics; it’ll only be in the playlist if it has a message that’s connected to the theme of the class.

Otherwise, I find lyrics to be distracting. Music that the students might already know from another context could take their mind off the practice, out of the present moment, and bring them into prior associations and memories, encouraging the mind to formulate thoughts, likes, and dislikes. Music has a vey powerful influence on the mind, the emotions, and the nervous system, so I think it’s important, as a yoga teacher, to be a caretaker; not to be aggressive and manipulative in the use of music in a yoga class.

My mentor at Jivamukti, Narayani (Nicole Nichols), is an expert on the subtle body, and she uses music as a way to connect with the subtle body and its energies. Her way of thinking inspires me. Sometimes, when I make a playlist, I think of it as the expression of the crackling of energy through the nadis (the subtle body’s channels), the energy moving up through the chakras. That energy has arcs, spirals, highs, lows, and finally a still point.

Swami Satchidananda coined the phrase “unity in diversity” and this is something my teacher David Life has emphasized too. Using diverse music from different sources and styles (electronic, ambient, world, mantras) and music in a variety of languages and from different sacred traditions, creates an atmosphere that unites the class.

I used to do a lot of research on iTunes to find ambient, atmospheric music, and in the past I’ve used music from lesser-known, subtle film soundtracks, because they usually have a sense of a story and atmosphere. But nowadays, the main source of music is my wife, Nora Heilmann. She’s an artist and a Jivamukti yoga teacher and an avid music researcher. She listens to new music all the time, and shares it with me. But we put our playlists together quite differently, so they’re never similar. Nora plays the Didgeridoo and harmonium, so sometimes she’ll play live music in classes I teach.

*recorded or live music, spoken word, audio recordings

Shalom Haver (Goodbye, Friend)

19 years ago, on November 4 1995, Israel’s then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was publicly assassinated due to his peace efforts. After his death, the site of the assassination in Tel Aviv became a an instant memorial. People left flowers, made artwork and wrote comments on the walls commemorating him, giving voice to the overwhelming public grief and shock. I was an art student at the time and documented some of the graffiti – a touching, collective Israeli artwork. Here’s a piece of it. 


The cowspiracy & a simple recipe for joy


The new documentary film Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret calmly and persuasively exposes that animal agriculture is the leading cause of global warming, deforestation, species extinction, Amazon depletion and water pollution; and that environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, Sierra Club and are purposely ignoring this information. Contrary to what’s stated in the film, Sierra Club does have campaigns encouraging a change of diet for environmental reasons, but they are not featured prominently as one of their main campaigns on their website’s home page.

To verify the lack of responsiveness from environmental organizations to this issue, I sent an email inquiry cc’ing all 72 members of including founder Bill McKibben and inquiring why animal agriculture is not a main focus of their climate change campaigns. is well known for its campaigns against fossil fuels and for its capacity for grassroots organization. Only two people returned my email pointing to a single campaign in Brazil called “Don’t Vote for Rural Barons”. The campaign website is currently only in Portuguese. When I asked whether’s members are vegan, or whether they are discussing going vegan, and encouraging others to do so in their campaigns, I didn’t get any further responses to my emails.

There is a growing awareness and acceptance of climate change in our society, but many feel that they are powerless to do anything about it. The film Cowspiracy encourages us to stop eating meat/dairy and abandon the current agribusiness model, for the sake of our own future, our friends, families, children, or grandchildren.

“A widely cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Livestock’s Long Shadow, estimates that 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs, and poultry. But recent analysis by Goodland and Anhang finds that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.” – WorldWatch Institute

The good news is that the solution to stopping climate change is actually in our hands. We don’t have to wait for the government or for any environmental organization. It will take a shift in habits, that’s all. If a majority of enlightened consumers decide to change their diet to a vegan diet, the animal agriculture business will die. That revolution has already begun. Even ranchers are getting concerned, and rightly so. Since Cowspiracy began screening all over the US in August, there has been a high level of interest in it on social media and many reports of die-hard omnivores going vegan to save the planet, after watching the film.

Here’s where the new cookbook Simple Recipes for Joy, by world renowned yogi Sharon Gannon, comes in with the most perfect timing. Sharon Gannon has been cooking and feeding others delicious vegan food for most of her life. During her college years in Seattle, she opened a local restaurant called You Are What You Eat. Since then, alongside her work as a performer, artist, and yoga teacher she has been cooking and creating recipes which today form the basis of the menu for the popular Jivamuktea café in NYC.

Simple Recipes for Joy is a comprehensive cookbook with over 200 recipes, 30 sample menus, and two 3-week cleansing diets. Whether you’re a longtime vegan or just beginning to explore veganism, you’ll find simple, delicious recipes to suit a variety of tastes. The photos accompanying the recipes are joyful and inspiring. Sharon explains her philosophy in the introduction to the book: “the most courageous act any of us can do at this time is to dare to care about others — other animals, the Earth, and all beings.”

Sharon is a visionary. What we all need at this time is a practical cookbook that teaches us how to eat in a way that is in harmony with the environment, with the animals, and with ourselves.

[This text has been corrected and updated with new links and information on Sept 16, 2014]


Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret
A Film by A.U.M. Films & First Spark Media. Produced by Kip Andersen & Keegan Kuhn
Find/ organize a screening.

Simple Recipes for Joy
By Sharon Gannon
Join Sharon Gannon & David Life for classes, book signings and a satsang at Jivamukti Yoga School, Sept 16-17.

The People’s Climate March
Join me and other concerned yogis to bring the message of Cowspiracy to the The People’s Climate March. Sunday, Sept 21 in NYC.
We will meet at Church of St. Paul the Apostle on 9th Ave/Columbus (between 59th and 60th) on Sunday, Sept 21, at 11am and join the march as a group.



It’s always an honor to be sleuthed by YogaCity NYC!
One of the dedicated Yoga Sleuths took class at Jivamukti on July 4 and wrote a review:

Independence Day with Tamar Samir
Jivamukti Yoga School
841 Broadway, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10003

Wed, 10:00 AM To 11:30 AM/ Open/

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.”

Single drop-in classes are $22; discounted class cards available.

-Lauren Tepper for Yoga Sleuth


Tadasana & Sirsasana

It was a nice surprise to return to NYC after a month in Berlin, and find that Nora and I are featured in an exhibit of Derek Goodwin‘s photography at the Jivamuktea cafe. We shot this last spring on our rooftop in Brooklyn. The idea for this photograph was inspired by a workshop in which our teachers presented the similarities between Tadasana and Salamba Sirsasana—the same alignment exists right side up and upside down.

Tadasana & Sirsasana