For Rima Rabbath, connections are paramount—to oneself and the world.
Growing up surrounded by violent civil war and constant change in Beirut, she recognized that peace and stability might be found within and through shared experience with others. But it was later, while working in the U.S., that she began practicing Jivamukti yoga and was able to manifest this sense.
Driven to be a positive presence in the lives of others, Rabbath became a certified Jivamukya yoga teacher and is now founding SOUK (previously NYC Underground Yoga), a kind of pop-up yogic salon that encourages the exchange of everything from ideas to art and ashtanga teacher training
Here, Rabbath dishes on getting students to open up on the mat—emotionally and physically—via her own vulnerability and the rewards of trusting the universe
Live The Process: What prompted you to take your first Jivamukti yoga class and then deepen your practice?
Rima Rabbath: During the summer of 2000, a colleague at Colgate Palmolive, where I was working in brand management, told me about the Jivamukti Yoga School. She mentioned that I should try this particular style of yoga; that it was very complete and I would enjoy it. For about six months, the address sat on my desk. Then, one day, my best friend (who is now also a Jivamukti teacher) and I walked into an open class. We were a little overwhelmed—in a good way. We could immediately tell that everyone in there was into it and that they all exuded a quality of presence. They were there and nowhere else. I was really touched by it. That feeling lingered; it stayed with me well after the class ended.
What inspired me to become a certified teacher of that particular method is its lineage—its teachers. You feel part of something that goes back through time and history. You feel that something is backing you up and that that something is tangible and within reach. What also motivated me is the students. Like me, they came to class day after day after day. We came from different walks of life, yet there was this practice that brought us together and it gave rise to a feeling that we are all in this together. I knew that by teaching this method, this practice, it would be part of my life, and I would be part of many other people’s lives.
LTP: You grew up in Beirut, surrounded by civil war—how has your background shaped your approach to yoga?
RR: My upbringing was definitely unusual in the sense that I learned about impermanence and groundlessness at a very young age. Growing up in Beirut during the civil war meant that you’d be at school or at a party one moment, and in the basement of a building the next. We never knew what the next moment would bring and, therefore, we could never bank on the fact that things would remain the same or that the ground would always be solid underneath our feet. So, I realized in my early teens that I had to embrace change and find steadiness within. Back then, it was a realization, like a faint idea that found a home in my psyche, but it wasn’t something I was able to apply to my life until I came across the teachings of yoga. And still, it’s a practice, a process.
LTP: Is there a common obstacle for people trying to tap into the spiritual aspect of Jivamukti? How do you work to help your students become more connected to themselves and the world around them?
RR: My teacher, Sharon Gannon, once told me that if one breathes that means they are spiritual. We are all spiritual beings having a physical experience rather than the other way round, but that’s not what we are programmed to believe. And, so, some people feel that the spiritual aspect of the Jivamukti method isn’t for them.
But what makes this method so exciting to teach is that there is lots of creative freedom within its tenets and structure. And, so, as a teacher, you get to tap into your own personal creative reservoir to connect with students and let them experience their own potential on the mat—a physical experience that reminds them of their innate spirituality. For me, as a teacher, it’s all about not being afraid to expose myself. I am a student of yoga first and foremost. I struggle to stay calm and positive when the world pushes me to lose it and give up. By allowing myself to be vulnerable and by sharing with my students my own resistances and limitations, I can help them become more ready and open to face their own resistances and limitations, something the practice inevitably brings up.
LTP: What was your intent when you began NYC Underground Yoga, and how did it shift to become SOUK?
RR: The word “underground” means that which exists underneath the surface of things, hidden to the naked eye. In a way, my first experience of what happens underground comes from spending time in Beirut’s shelters during the civil war. While we all led different lives “upstairs,” when underground, we quickly realized that we shared the same fears as well as the same will to live. That realization would give rise to a special kinship and bond every time.
NYC Underground Yoga first began as a series of events that would take practitioners on a journey to trigger their senses in an unexpected and unusual way, while allowing them to go underneath the feeling or the experience. I envisioned Underground Yoga taking place in atypical spaces in New York, like the Angel Orensanz historic temple where I taught on 10/11/12 together with Sasha, an incredible DJ and music producer.
Since then, the idea has evolved from Underground to SOUK. In the olden days, a “souk” was a meeting point for people to come and resolve their differences and allow a seamless exchange of goods. What’s interesting is that in Sanskrit “sukh” is a place where we are happy, comfortable, at ease and connected to our center.
My idea is to create a modern-day urban destination designed to combine the practice of yoga with various forms of artistic expression, spanning music, contemporary art, fashion, food and more. SOUK uses yoga as a platform to support the free-flowing exchange of talent, information, goods, energy and emotions between the teacher, students and collaborating artists. It’s a place for all to be inspired and co-create their individual path and purpose.
Every physical SOUK will be a pop-up production that is time-based and linked to an already established art event like Fashion Week, The Tribeca Film Festival, Art Basel and select music festivals.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
RR: Happiness is that feeling of being in the right place at the right time.
It’s that feeling of having arrived when I stand in Tadasana at the top of my mat; that feeling of being overwhelmed when I look up at the sky and notice that the moon is full or just a tiny sliver; that feeling of relief when someone calls me and says, “I am so glad you picked up.”
LTP: What does it mean to you to "Live The Process" and how do you do that every day?
RR: Yoga teaches that no effort is ever wasted and that everything we want in this life is in the process of happening. To me, “living the process” is to live with that understanding. Every day, I try to remind myself of that and the fact that, if I am conscious of what I am doing as I am doing it, and if my heart is in it, then it will all unfold beautifully and as it should.