The voiceover accompanying the opening sequences of this documentary points out that for generations in the east, yoga was wholly the discipline of males, who brought the practice to the west. But now, it is women who have taken over and who continue to lead the way. This DVD tells their story, starring 50 women from all over the world who have become known as experts in various aspects of the yogic path. Narrated by Annette Bening (who never appears on-screen), the 1 hour, 21 minute film explores various themes, including yoga throughout the life span, yoga to address health issues, yoga for larger women, yoga to balance a woman's many roles in life, and yoga for children.
The yoga instructors featured range from some of today's popular, vinyasa-based enthusiasts such as Seane Corn and Shiva Rea to those women who truly paved the way, including Judith Hanson Lasater and Patricia Walden. In particular, Corn's humanitarian work is highlighted, as the crew travels with her to Africa, where she assists in the building of a birthing center. Walden details how yoga has enhanced her life, rescuing her from the depression of her youth. The film follows her as she travels to Pune, India to study with her teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar. In other segments, Jivamukti yoga founder Shannon Gannon reviews the advantages of living a yogic lifestyle, including vegetarianism, and instructors Maria Apt and Sianna Sherman speak about yoga and the menstrual cycle. Various doctors discuss recommending yoga to their patients due to the benefits for a multitude of issues pertaining to women.
Two personal stories struck a particular chord with me. The first was that of Tara Prinster, a yoga teacher and breast cancer survivor. Prinster freely admits that she first came to yoga for "vanity," but this soon changed. Her cancer treatment resulted in the loss of her breasts, but she continued with her yoga practice. Today, she teaches yoga "boot camps" to other women who share her diagnosis. The second vignette involved a young woman named Sayle who discovered yoga while she was incarcerated as a teen. Sayle found that by using the breathing and other strategies she learned during yoga, she could actually calm herself down when needed. The film returns to Sayle at a later point: she is free, attending college, and practicing yoga outside.
With its slick production values, exaggerated transitions, and sometimes unnecessary voiceover, this documentary can feel a bit overdone at times. However, the sentiments expressed by the many yoga teachers, doctors, and other women featured are genuine, and so for those of us women who are part of the yoga kula (community), this film also has a slightly magical feel to it. In the end, I would recommend this documentary to those women who have embraced the disciple as more than just a physical practice.
© 2011 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.