“Close your eyes and think to yourself what it is that you really, really want.” Rima Rani Rabbath seals her eyes shut at the front of the room and a yearning-filled smile comes to her face. Her raspy, devotional laugh slips out as she says, “I think you all know what I want.” Her implied answer is love.
Rabbath is a beautiful Lebanese-born yoga teacher who teaches at Jivamukti NYC and leads teacher trainings for Jivamukti Yoga around the world. Though her classes are regularly packed, with sometimes less than two centimeters between mats, and her wisdom sought after, Rabbath makes every student feel seen. Her classes are a staple of the New York City yoga scene, and an essential New York experience. Men in suits, women carrying designer bags, hippies in hemp, college students, and musicians alike all pour in to the space eager to get a spot close to Rabbath.
Class begins with Rabbath’s callouts to her students, which can sometimes last up to 5 minutes; she warmly gazes around the room as people get settled and her loving voice reaches out. “Hi, James”, “Hi, Tyra”, “So good to see you, Liz!”, “Welcome back, Carlos.” She then begins to pump her harmonium, ohming, as the bustle of the room stirs to stillness. She chants for universal love, for connection, and freedom from suffering, with full presence and devotion; it’s impossible not to join in. As the sound of a hundred voices comes together, and vibrational heat connects her openhearted students, a feeling of equanimity and unity drapes itself over the space. Her chant draws to a close and Rabbath drops humbly and confidently in to her seat as teacher, and carries with each breath the authentic lineage of those who came before her.
Before the physical portion of class begins, Rabbath often begins with a story taken from the Bhagavad Gita, from Buddhist masters, from Pema Chodron, from a few nights ago at a club in Williamsburg. And for Rabbath, it’s all equally important, it’s all worthy of attention. She gesticulates with her hands during the narrative, and periodically closes her eyes so as to fully embody the essence of what she’s trying to communicate.
She’ll end with a lesson, to inspire intention, to transmit the wisdom with full vibrato. “Yoga reminds us—the practice helps us to remember, remember everything! Even if you remember an old wound on the mat, you’ll tend to it in a way that can heal yourself.” For Rabbath, the goal is to remember and experience everything. “We are sentient beings, feeling beings, yet we’re so nervous about what to feel and what not to feel, but if we just allow ourselves to be present and feel it all, we have so much to enjoy and to learn from.” And indeed, by the end of class, people are calling out in the name of love and universal healing. Her students come back the next day and the day after that, and over and over they are swept up by her pure devotion, her honesty and her delight in the practice. Here, Rabbath shares some details about her daily rituals, her philosophies about yoga, the importance of practice, and what keeps her seeking and embodying love.
Why is having a practice important to you?
I need a physical practice to ground me. When I was growing up in Beirut, I played tennis professionally, almost religiously. My coaches helped me realize the freedom of discipline. Being so devoted to tennis was in many ways the foundation of my ability to become devoted to yoga. Many of us think that doing what we want to do is freedom, but really, when I devote myself to the discipline of a practice I feel truly free. Having a practice is empowering because no one can take it away from you. The practice—whatever it is—becomes part of the fabric of who you are, and it supports you and shows up for you, if you show up for it.
What were some personal breakthrough moments in your teaching methodology?
After many years, I finally learned that I shouldn’t try to fit everything into every class. I also can’t fill every moment; some just need to sit on their own without my voice or my verbal instruction, and the students need to tap in to their own intention. It’s not about us teachers fitting our baggage into the asana [physical] practice. I also learned to never wing a class. When I have a sequence, a peak pose, and a theme, then I can be more available to what’s happening in class at that moment rather than worry about what’s coming next. But in recent years I’ve also changed my perspective so that I don’t come in with an agenda of how I want things to unfold, and instead allow myself to be more open to what’s actually arising in the room.
How has your personal practice changed?
I would say that my practice today is much more subtle than when I first started.
I’ve become much more interested in alignment. I use more props than I used to, which I feel have the ability to quiet our mind and give us new information about our bodies and our practice. Back in the day I would wait for a scream in my body, and now I practice listening for a whisper. Sensations become information, which becomes knowledge. So when I can pull back for a moment and just notice and listen quietly, instead of pushing through, I open myself up to the possibility of deep knowledge.
For me this is part of the practice of Nada Yoga, or the yoga of sound. This is one of the five tenets of the Jivamukti Method. We give verbal cues instead of physical demonstrations as much as we can so that our students can tap into their ability to listen. The sound-body or vibrational body is where the whisper emanates from. All we have to do is listen.
Photo Credit: Hailey Wist