Film Review: "Yoga Is: A Transformational Journey"By:
This documentary from 2012 follows filmmaker Suzanne Bryant as she seeks healing and transformation of spirit through the practice of yoga. Bryant, a successful young journalist living in New York City, has her world turned upside down when her beloved mother dies of breast cancer. Unsure how to cope with sadness and loss, Bryant delves more deeply into yoga, taking her on the journey of spirituality and discovery of self that became this film’s message.
However, the movie is not really about Bryant at all. While her story serves as a catalyst for an exploration of what “yoga is,” and her voice-over occasionally interjects to relate her journey to the discussion being had by others, her story fails to actually exhibit her transformation; she merely tells us about it. What makes Yoga Is worth watching is its cast of some of the wisest, most practiced and intelligent minds in contemporary yoga.
Notable yoga instructors featured in the film include Alan Finger, Sri Dharma Mittra, and Shiva Rae; Robert Thurman, professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia University, adds an academic’s perspective, and celebrity yogis Michael Franti, Russell Simmons, and Christy Turlington Burns also contribute to the film’s star power.
In a step-by-step approach, the movie addresses many different elements of yoga philosophy, with these famous yogis weighing in. This format offers an introduction to the basics of what yogic spirituality can mean, while also dipping into moments of existentialist thought that could prove to be enlightening even to the yoga skeptic.
But while the interviews with yoga instructors and practitioners were interwoven as supplementary material to Bryant’s story, she became so overshadowed by their wisdom and charisma that her story—the “plot” of the film—seems almost unnecessary. When she does interject, she often comes off as privileged and somewhat shallow. Bryant oversimplifies and glosses over what yoga means to her, and during her time in India, tends to make generalizations about Eastern culture.
The filmmaker’s shallowness, however, is somewhat redeemed by a surprising moment of honesty from yoga instructor Sean Corne. Amidst the discussion of “Purpose,” Corne explicitly tells the audience what she tells her students: “Find your wound, and you’ll find your purpose.” Step into the environment of your wound, she advises, and help those whose wounds you can understand. Corne’s call to action steps outside the often rose-tinted glasses of yoga culture and is a refreshing approach to teaching how yoga can positively affect lives in a concrete way.
Bryant’s filmmaking abilities are strongest in terms of the actual experience of watching the film, which is quite meditative and calming. The soundtrack, muted colors, and slow-moving images make for a hypnotic feeling, which not only captures the mood of the film’s topic, but also helps the viewer to connect more deeply with its messages.
Ultimately, the film is a great introduction to the spirituality of yoga, and is recommended to those who are either beginners or those who practice for the physical benefits, but are unsure of how yoga can affect their lives outside of the studio. Yoga Is: A Transformational Journey tells us what yoga is, but also tells us that yoga is ultimately whatever we need it to be, and that, in the end, it will always mean something unique to everyone.
Yoga Is: A Transformational Journey is being shown at select screenings. It can also be streamed on Netflix and Amazon.com, and the DVD is available for purchase on the film’s website, yogais.com.
Ariana Hendrix is a native of northern Michigan, currently residing in San Francisco where she is pursuing an M.A. in English Literature at San Francisco State University. She finds enlightenment in the beauty and complexity of the natural (and cultural) world, and practices activism through sustainability, political involvement, and the promotion of art as a medium for social change.