If you're a woman you've probably done yoga. Many of my friends
complain constantly they don't do enough. 'I should do more yoga!'
'I need more yoga in my life!' In this way yoga can become part of
a ubiquitous modern problem: fitting one more thing into a busy
timetable. Running to a class can easily become a cause rather than
a cure for stress.
Newly-released on DVD, the film Yogawoman takes an unabashedly
positive look at the western yoga world. It is, to coin a phrase, a
celebration of how women have transformed a world that was the
preserve of guru male teachers into a multimillion-dollar industry.
Somewhere in here is a message about its transformative power, but
at times it is too saccharine, too much like a motivational
corporate video to take seriously.
Narrated by Annette Bening (pictured right, with director Kate
McIntyre), the film features a host of the western world's
most brilliant and inspirational women yoga teachers. They all tell
us how brilliant and inspirational yoga can be. I wholeheartedly
agree with them. Anyone who has dedicated a great deal of time to
yoga has probably passed through the stage where it is simply a
vanity project and realised that, once you stop pushing your way
through the vinyasa, yoga can help to foster a different quality of
life. This is a magical gift that yoga gives, but it is a gift that
comes, like most non-material gifts, through time, hard work,
discipline, disappointment and dedication. In short, it is a gift
that is hard to sell. But Yogawoman (even the title sounds like a
brand) feels like an attempt to do exactly that.
One of the problems with yoga as a modern commodity is that it can
be packaged as a cure for life, a tool to fix a problem, rather
than a place from which to observe, reflect and accept it. In its
enthusiasm to tell us about how great yoga is, the film fails to
explore the more complicated and difficult aspects of the
development of the female yoga brand in a commercially competitive
world. So while many of the upright lady-teachers interviewed in
the film have undoubtedly understood this complexity for
themselves, we are frequently shown overcrowded classes where
people are crammed together trying experience something like
All too often it seems as if the yoga students are actually just
struggling to get a glimpse of the female image of perfection
demonstrating postures on a platform at the front. In this
environment yoga can easily become competitive, beauty-obsessed and
Yoga portrayed in this way is in danger of becoming part of the
problem for modern women who are already bombarded with media
messages about qualities they must cultivate in order to become
acceptable in our image-obsessed world. Although yoga can certainly
offer a sacred space for women to spend time away from fictional
images of perfection and to connect with their inner reality,
through its choice of shots and teachers this film inadvertently
seems to send out unclear signals about what yoga might be and what
it might be asking us to become.
I am grateful to Kate McIntyre and Saraswati Clere for making a
film that tries to tell us about the myriad benefits of yoga.
Seeing the potential of yoga to help heal a community or to
facilitate the building of a birthing centre in Africa is
inspirational. These are amazing projects that show what happens
when lessons are taken from the mat and into the world.
I also admire those teachers in the film that have committed
their lives to learning, teaching and to seeking a spiritual path.
I have many of those women to thank for the insights I have had
during my 12 years of yoga practice. But I am saddened by the way
that yoga seems to have become so strongly subject to the laws of
There are now so many different yoga-brands competing for our
attention, many of which make outlandish pseudo-scientific claims
about weight-loss, improved immune function, concentration,
muscle-tone, fitness etc that we might easily make the mistake of
using yoga only as a punitive tool of self-improvement. At its
heart the film tries to get beyond this notion, it tries to guide
us toward the deeper, more personal depths of a private yoga
practice, but then somehow undermines itself by including shots of
packed, competitive-looking classes.
I would encourage women to watch this film, but more importantly,
I would encourage people to listen. We have much to learn from the
words of these women. Clearly they cannot all be held responsible
for the more dubious commercial developments in the yoga world.
Despite the films limitations, it does feel like a genuine attempt
to start a conversation exploring what yoga might be useful for in
a world ravaged by wars, governed largely by male egos, a world
about to suffer the consequences of our heavy-handed attitude to
earth's natural treasures.
If, as Donna Fahri suggests, yoga is to be, 'the most
politically subversive act of our time', then it will become so by
allowing those who practice to realise that it is not just a
mechanism of aggressive self-improvement, but a tool that allows us
to move more deeply into reflection and quietness, helps us to
accept our limitations as well as our strengths and helps us to
relinquish our sense of being right. If it can promote stillness,
reflection and lightness, if it can leave behind competitive
striving then yoga might turn out to be just that.
Yogawoman is available to buy on DVD from www.yogawoman.tv