Directors: Kate McIntyre Clere, Saraswati Clere
Narrated by Annette Bening, “Yogawoman” is a rangy but lethargically paced documentary about the gender-specific practice of yoga, and a serviceable and well-meaning project that could have benefited from a stronger editorial vision.
Yoga is presently practiced by an estimated 20 million people in the United States, 85 percent of whom are women. But the ancient practice, born of India thousands of years ago, was actually designed specifically for men, and initially brought west by a lineage of male teachers. Directors Kate McIntyre Clere and Saraswati Clere shine a light on some of the world’s leading experts and teachers who have helped blaze a dynamic new trail for women, replacing yoga’s more rigid style with a more distinctly feminine practice that honors flow, strength, community, and even activism and the cyclical nature of women’s lives.
This is clearly a sermon to the choir — there’s little effort or care paid to an in-point for general audiences, even though Indra Devi, doyenne of yoga from the 1930s, is nominally touched upon. “Yogawoman” clearly has a lot to say, but it lacks the ability to cogently group and order its thoughts. Borderline inane narration (“Desperate to keep up with increasing pressures of the modern world, women are looking to find peace and balance in their lives”) does the material no particular good, undercutting the naturally sympathetic and erudite cadence of Bening, an avowed yoga practitioner.
Some of “Yogawoman” is quite interesting (in particular a seemingly successful “Art of Yoga” rehabilitative program for prisoners in a juvenile women’s system in San Mateo, California), and it makes a strong and easy connection between yoga and a more settled mind. The numerous physical health benefits of yoga are also addressed, though in ping-pong fashion, from “enhancing the immune system through lymphatic flow” to better accommodating hormonal flux. For instance, New York City teacher Tari Prinster says she started doing yoga for all the wrong reasons (vanity), but eventually found it instrumental in battling her breast cancer diagnosis.
All of this is probably true, to varying degrees, but it’s presented as fact from interviewees rather than explained physiologically. With a stronger narrative spine and a little more sense of gender-gap curiosity — about how and why this supposed “men’s practice” made the leap that it did — “Yogawoman” could itself bridge the gap between faithful yoga adherents and a general audience. As is, it does not achieve that.
NOTE: “Yogawoman” opens this week in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Monica 4-Plex, NoHo 7 and Playhouse 7. For additional information on other theatrical engagements and the movie in general, visit www.ShadowDistribution.com/Yogawoman/.
Written by: Brent Simon