Yogawoman (Clere & McIntyre, 2011)

The easiest defense of Yogawoman, if defense is needed, is that its leisurely pace and unstructured direction is emblematic of its subject matter. If you are restless or bored, perhaps you are out of alignment and should try yoga…

I am not sure how many people would buy such a defense or if I would be the one to offer it.

Yogawoman is, ultimately,  a series of testimonials about the powers of yoga. And they are many. Yoga can improve your posture. It can make you look better, feel better, and live longer. It helps prevent incontinence and improves your sex life. Practicing it can create or increase the bonds of sisterhood among women. It will make you a better parent, or at least a more patient one.

After awhile, however, the testimonials begin to sound alike, and one waits expectantly for some insight or idea beyond the general affirmation that yoga is good. There is a promise of one in the fact, introduced early and referenced often, that yoga was originated by men and limited in practice to men. Today the overwhelming majority of its practitioners worldwide are women. How did that happen?

On a pitch level, the story that answers that question sounds like it should be fascinating. In execution, we get a progression of teachers who each tell more or less the same story. Perhaps fact that few of the practitioners dwell on the past is what makes them emotionally healthy. Given that female teachers are more common now, the film lacks any real conflict (except, perhaps, in an historical sense).

Annette Bening narrates, and writing as well as directing credits are given to Saraswati Clere and Kate Clere McIntyre. Two dozen yoga instructors are credited, which suggests the film is trying harder to not leave anyone out than it is to raise the bar on what warrants inclusion.

Yogawoman is not an incompetent film, but I am not sure who the audience is for it. I generally suggest to students trying to come up with a topic to write about that they should try to imagine who might disagree with their thesis, why such a reader/viewer might disagree, and how they would answer the objections of such adversaries. If one can’t even imagine anyone who would possibly disagree with a thesis, than it is not a particularly promising subject for an essay. Yogawoman is a bit too nice, too inclusive. There may be some people who don’t want women to teach yoga, but we are never told why. There may be some viewers who doubt the power of the form to create spiritual, mental, and physical harmony, but most watching the film will be predisposed towards sympathy, I would imagine, and thus need not view claims about the benefits cynically.

Not every documentary has to be an argument. Some can be a celebration, others a simple, in-depth examination. Barring any sort of conflict, though, this film needed to go a bit deeper to be engaging.

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