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Last night, my friend and I attended the premiere of “Titans of Yoga” at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.  The theatre was packed to the gills with all manner of yogis.  We had a few rockstar sightings, and by that I mean Shiva Rea and Vinnie Marino.  As we took our seats in the theatre, I breathed a sigh of relief when the gaggle of kundaloonies (I say that with love) did not take their seats in front of us.  I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have been able to see the screen over their head gear.  Prior to rolling tape, we settled in for an introduction by the director of the film, Johannes Fisslinger.  I would have liked for him to take that time to provide the audience with a context for the film.  Going into it, I wasn’t sure what aspect of yoga he was trying to explore, or what question he was trying to answer.

Quite frankly, I’m not sure I got an answer.  The film opened with a montage of images showing yogis yoga-ing around the world and proceeded into a collection of interviews where the subjects apparently answered a series of questions the practice of yoga.  The first question asked the 25 “titans” a simple yet immense question:  what is yoga?  The answers ranged from cringe-worthy, to thought-provoking, literal to esoteric, and straight-forward to baffling.   It was with the second question that provided, for me, the highlight of the film and the most vocal response from the audience:  how did you start yoga?  David Swenson regaled the audience in his typical easy-going and hilarious way. His anecdotes about practicing yoga with his brother in a park in Texas in the 60’s, which led to his near arrest for devil worship, filled the house with laughter.  Bryan Kest explained that it was an ultimatum from his father, then a youthful quest for vanity, and eventually a spiritual awakening.  David Life explained that yoga offered an escape from a punk rock lifestyle.  Lisa Walford’s story that it was initially an injury which ended her dancing career, followed by a startling diagnosis that she was HIV+, was one of the more poignant parts of the film.  Several interviewees acknowledged that it was, in fact, emotional unravel which led them to practice.  The remainder of the film was simply an amalgom of answers to why.  Why practice yoga?  The answers provided were seemingly so similar in nature that Mr. Fisslinger was able to divide them up into subtopics such as breathe deeply, be present, feel freely, etc.

Ultimately, “Titans of Yoga” left me scratching my head . . . which, I don’t think, was intended by the filmmaker.  Let’s start with the title of the film, which suggests that it would be more about the master practitioners of yoga rather than yoga as a practice.  This was the direction I hoped the film was headed when Swenson et al began to tell their personal stories.  When these stories ended rather abruptly, I was disappointed.  My second problem with the title was, well, really?  Are these the people generally considered to be the titans of yoga?  I don’t mean to say that these people don’t have commendable personal practices, or to devalue the fact that they’ve changed the lives of many others with their messages.  Sure, there were several obvious participants who likely belonged in such a film, but there were more than several individuals missing.  Like, some of the Indians?  Uh, Iyengar, anyone?  TKV Desikachar?  If the filmmaker was approaching this from the western perspective on yoga, he should have explained that in the film and discussed why.

The other obvious question the film left me pondering was, who was the audience Fisslinger intended for this film?  Was it for the school students benefitting from his Yoga Recess program (to which all proceeds of the film are being donated)?  If so, I can’t imagine that the likes of Gurmukh and Swami Kriyananda would stir up any sort of excitement for yoga in school-age children.  Was it for adults who have never practiced yoga?  In this case, the film’s only success was reminding us of the litany of reasons to practice yoga.  Or, was the film for people already practicing?  If so, it offered little in the way of new points of view and was essentially preaching to the choir.  In the end, if this film were a yoga practice, it was most certainly lacking in two important concepts: focus and intention.
Did you see the film?  I’d love to know your thoughts!

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That’s right, folks (and by “folks”, I mean, alllll the people that are reading this blog…Hi Mom), September is National Yoga Month! In an effort to spread the good word of yoga, many studios across the country are offering free yoga classes.  And tonight, I am attending the premiere of the documentary film, Titans of Yoga, in Santa Monica.  I’ll let you know my thoughts on the film in tomorrow’s post.

Until then, what are you going to do to celebrate National Yoga Month?  Here are some ideas:

  • Know someone who might benefit from yoga?  Accompany them to their first class!
  • Has your practice has been sluggish lately? Decide to recommit with more enthusiasm!  Yes, it’s that easy.
  • Send your favorite yoga teacher a thank you card.
  • Take one day a week and start practicing at home.  Here’s a great Yoga Journal article by celebrated yoga teacher and one of my yoga heros, Judith Hanson Lasater, on some tips for starting your home practice.

Any other ideas?  I’d love to hear ’em…we’ve got all month!

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