Hundreds of yoginis packed the Landmark Albany Twin on Tuesday, September 6 to see the Bay Area premiere of YogaWoman—an independent documentary that is as much about women and yoga as it is about the Bay Area’s leadership in all things yoga.
Touring the world to interview exemplary female yoga teachers, the film’s directors set out to explore themes as varied as the traditional exclusion of women during yoga’s development and the transformative role yoga can play in hormonal regulation, cancer treatment and prison rehabilitation. While men were visible in footage of classes, an explicit aim of the film was to have only women talking about women. This isn’t necessarily a feminist statement—as the film notes, 85% of students in yoga classes in the United States today are women.
Yoga celebrities like LA’s Seane Corne and Shiva Rea add a glamour factor to the film’s rather cerebral take on the rise of yoga as a feminine force in the past few decades. Interviews with other yoga notables like Boston-based Patricia Walden, arguably the most respected Iyengar practitioner outside of India, and Angela Farmer — a septuagenarian yogini who leads retreats in Greece with her husband — offer solid evidence for yoga’s salutary effects on the aging process. We also see the global reach of yoga’s recent adopters. A young woman in a Kenyan slum describes how she has built community among poor children and families with the rigor and grace of yoga practice. A moving portrait of an incarcerated young woman shows how yoga can empower youth within the juvenile justice system and offer them an alternative mode of conflict resolution. Indeed, there are now yoga programs for nearly everyone—a sensitive scene shows obese yoginis speaking about how their practice promotes self-confidence. Another shows how a 95-year old nursing home resident restores her energy with pranayama (yogic breathing).
But it all comes back to the Bay Area. The film shows an editorial meeting with the staff at San Francisco-based Yoga Journal, and profiles Oakland yoga therapist Leslie Howard, alternative MD Sara Gottfried and local teachers Janet Stone, Sarah Powers and Kate Holcombe. In a question-and-answer session following the film, Director/Producer Kate McIntyre praised the Northern Californian “early adopters who push yoga to the next level” and lead the rest of the world in offering yoga to new groups and developing fusion practices. And her co-writer/producer/director, Saraswati Clere, is well-known in the local yoga community, having founded the YogaKula studios in Berkeley and San Francisco.
Anyone who’s spent time in downward dog will appreciate the film’s comprehensive look at the contemporary world of yoga—from the fads of fitness-focused studios to the higher states of consciousness that yoga can inspire in those nearing birth or death. And it’s paced like a typical yoga class, complete with an ethereal soundtrack and a soothing savasana finale after 84 minutes. Find a full list of screenings here.