If you’ve ever said the word “Om,” chances are you know the name Sharon Gannon.
Sharon began studying yoga in 1976 and in 1984 co-founded the Jivamukti Yoga Method with David Life. The Jivamukti Method emphasizes vinyasa, scriptural study, devotion, prayer, music, chanting and meditation as well as animal rights, veganism, environmentalism and political activism. I mean does it really get any better than that??
Ecorazzi: What inspired you to first explore the world of yoga?
Sharon Gannon: I wanted to feel more connected to life, I wanted to discover how to understand and communicate with animals, trees, elemental beings and the wind. A yogi is someone who is trying to live harmoniously with the natural world. I wanted to live in a way that my life might contribute something beneficial to others. My definition of others has always extended past the human realm.
E: How do you find that yoga relates to vegetarianism?
SG: The methods of yoga are methods that can help a person become more in tune with life, and in doing so, discover who they really are as part of life—not just a skin-encapsulated ego, separate from it. The goal of yoga is enlightenment and what is realized in the enlightened state is the inner-connectedness of all of life—the Oneness of being, the wholeness (holiness) of life. So the biggest obstacle to that realization is perceiving others and the natural world as separate from you.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali offers practical advice for how to overcome the obstacles presented by the others in your life. He says: if you are seeing others and not the Divine Oneness of being then: #1. Don’t hurt them, #2, don’t lie to them, #3. Don’t steal from them, #4. Don’t manipulate them sexually and #5. Don’t be so greedy that you cause them to become impoverished. Those five bits of advice are referred to as the yamas. Yama means to restrict, so these are the five ways that a person who is interested in yoga (enlightenment) should restrict their behavior in regard to the others in their life. Each one of those yamas supports a vegetarian (vegan) diet. I think it is self-evident why. But if the reader is unsure then read my book, because the basis of the whole book is drawn from this concept of the yamas.
E: If you had to choose, what would you say was your favorite part about writing Yoga and Vegetarianism: The Diet of Enlightenment?
SG: Well the joy of writing for me, and why I seem to keep doing it, is that it’s not just about putting down on paper my thoughts or personal opinions about things. That would be too boring and couldn’t hold my interest or the reader’s interest for very long, I’m sure. But something else happens when I am writing. It’s as if I open myself up to insights and I get to learn things about the subject that I didn’t know before. Often times it happens just with the seemingly simple act of combining words together in a certain way. Or I will write a word and then get stopped in my tracks as I ask myself, “why that word? What does it really mean?” I may break the word apart into syllables, I may repeat it out-loud over and over, I may look it up in the dictionary and seek the etymological source…all of that very often contributes to a sort of magical experience, where my perception of the word or of a concept shifts and expands. Writing can be quite an adventure!
More specifically in answer to your question about “what was my favorite part about writing the book?” I have a few favorite parts:
#1. Being finished.
#2. Being blessed to have the insight in chapter six about aparigraha and how it relates to 2012, time and the pending Apocalypse.
#3. Going on tour and having a chance to speak about the book to people and answer their questions in person. The huge interest that seems to have been generated is amazing. There are lots of people showing up when I give a talk/reading about the book…it’s lovely, inspiring and very hopeful!
E: What advice would you give for someone like me who’s gone to a handful of yoga classes, really enjoys them, but has a hard time fitting it into a ridiculously packed schedule? Any tips on how the everyday busy American might be able to incorporate yoga into their life?
SG: Yoga may not be for everyone. It may not be for you. Life is short, you should spend your time doing what you like. People who practice yoga regularly, I mean everyday, like it. It isn’t a chore for them. So you should find your own way of tuning in and connecting to others in a meaningful and mutually beneficial way. Most people can’t stand on their heads everyday, but most people do eat everyday. Eating a vegetarian diet will do more to help bring you to a place of peace, harmony and well-being then any other thing you can do.
E: You were honored this past year at Farm Sanctuary’s Annual Gala. Why do you feel animal sanctuaries are so important in our society?
SG: Animal sanctuaries are important in our society for many reasons. On an immediate front, they save lives by rescuing animals from cruel and abusive situations. To treat animals with care and respect and not as slaves is radical to our society’s perception of animals. Our society views farm animals as things to be fattened up in order to be eaten. Sanctuaries do not see animals as existing to be exploited by human beings.
Farm sanctuaries, by showcasing and putting the spotlight on rescued animals, bring attention to how badly these animals are being treated in other ‘farm’ situations, this helps people to reflect on ways that they might be able to treat animals better.
I think that for now Farm sanctuaries are a good idea, but I think that ‘farms’ are a bad idea to begin with. The original concept of the farm is not a good one for the animals. Farms are designed as concentration camps–places where animals are confined, broken, enslaved, degraded, isolated, force fed, exploited and slaughtered. Are factory farms worse than small family owned farms? Should we revert to the small family owned farm? Farms whether big or small are not good ideas. Freedom is a better idea.
E: If you could offer our readers one small daily adjustment they could make to live a more centered, peaceful life, what would it be?
SG: Be a vegan. That’s the biggest thing any of us can do. What did you think I was going to say? OK…so your readers are already vegans…then:
Take every opportunity you have to feed the birds and the other animals who you see outside your aptartment or who you live with. Give them good food, organic food, not processed. It is one of the small easy things anyone can do everyday which will make a huge difference in the lives of others. We have treated animals so badly for so long we can start changing that in very simple ways like…Carrying bird seed in your pocket and surprising a hungry feathered friend by giving them a few sunflower seeds will make such a difference in their lives.
E: I’ve had the opportunity to chat with Russell Simmons many times now. In the past he’s referred to you and David as his “gurus.” Tell me about your experience working with Russell.
SG: I wouldn’t describe my relationship with Russell as “work”. I can’t remember ever having “worked” with Russell. Or imagine having to work with or for Russell. I have a very playful relationship with Russell. We have a lot of fun together. Of course he’s serious about the things that matter to him in life, like his children, yoga, veganism, making money, etc, but he knows that the ultimate goal is enlightenment and that’s about being happy and joyful. His two daughters make him happy. Yoga makes him happy and that is probably why he continues with it. Being a vegan must make him happy too, because he has stuck with it. Making money seems to make him happy because he is always so happy to give it away. Russell is not the kind of person who is going to waste his time doing stuff that he doesn’t like to do!
Just about everyday he takes class at our School in NYC. He certainly spends more time there than I do and probably knows more about what is going on in the classes than I do—cause he is there everyday.
E: Now I always end with the same question for all the famous vegetarians I interview. If you had the chance to meet one person who you’ve found specifically instrumental in the vegetarian community – dead or alive, past or present – who would it be and why?
SG: Pan, the god of the world of nature. He is nature…wildness itself. The word “Pan” means to be everywhere—to exist beyond the confines of three dimensional space and time, with no limitations on form. Words like panorama or Pan-Am (Pan=everywhere+Am=being) come from this idea. Nature is life and it exists everywhere. Even though we may not be able to see it, that doesn’t mean it is not there: it only means that we have limitations to our perception. Pan is able to take on any form, even one’s own. Meeting Pan is to become one with him for a while at least…seeing the world of nature feelingly—through musical vibrations. I would like that….I expect it would be delightful!
A big thank you to Sharon Gannon for taking the time to answer our questions and the gang at Farm Sanctuary for helping to set up the interview. To learn more, visit JivamuktiYoga.com and make sure you pick up a copy of Sharon’s new book Yoga and Vegetarianism!