It’s hard to doubt the intentions of anyone involved in Yogawoman; the film is awash in sincerity. And few could dispute the obvious physical and mental benefits derived from the practice of this ancient discipline. One could, however, wish that played less like a PowerPoint sales pitch, illustrated with clip-art imagery, scored with generic music and narrated in mellifluous tones by Annette Bening.
A fascinating dip into the gender history of yoga reveals that women were initially integral practitioners of the art. With the rise of patriarchal Brahmanism, though, women were relegated to worse than second-class citizens, classified alongside filthy water and rotten food as obstacles to enlightenment.
Thanks to the insistence of several female pioneers highlighted and/or interviewed here, women eventually re-entered the system as students, then teachers, finally representing 85 percent of all yogis. And this feminine influx has radically changed the way yoga is taught, the program specifically redesigned to address issues of pregnancy, menopause and female biorhythms.
But most of the documentary is concerned with enumerating all the evils that beset modern women and the myriad ways in which yoga soothes, heals and empowers them. Filmmaking sisters Kate McIntyre and Saraswati Clere often employ the visual device of a woman in a graceful pose while words relating to distaff problems (e.g. “obsession,” “overstimulated,” ” overwhelmed,” “plastic surgery,” “depression,” “self-image,” “burnout,” “implants”) and yoga solutions (“deep rhythms,” “natural cycles,” “strength,” “focus,” “clarity”) float around them in assorted fonts.
In a succession of interview snippets, instructors, pupils, authors and doctors—all women from various countries and cultures—attest to yoga’s life-changing potential. Many return to chime in on more specific aspects, dealing with diet in one section and depression in another. Some of these well-known practitioners and teachers serve as spokeswomen for yoga, and their presentations have a somewhat prepackaged tone.
Though the documentary shows classes that address specific cases, such as exercises specially designed for large women, the more complete, holistic yoga moves are photogenically demonstrated by shapely blond Shiva Rea.
One woman speaks of demystifying and mainstreaming yoga, and this documentary certainly ascribes to that trend. Occasionally interviewees, such as a breast-cancer survivor or a teenager in a detention center, break through the relentless uplift to strike more personal notes.
But even when celebrity yogi Seane Corn takes 21 of her followers to Uganda to build a birthing center, there’s a photo-op quality to the scenes that mitigates their cross-cultural-bonding content.
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