My daughter Wini who practices Ashtanga yoga gave me this DVD to watch. She wanted me to understand exactly what it was that has challenged and inspired her so much for the past few years. Last night I watched the DVD. And I must say that I do now understand.
This is a short documentary, only 41 minutes. And yet, it managed to captivate the essence of what the practice of Ashtanga yoga is. It was shot in September of 2001, during a period of time that Sri K Pattabhi Jois, the 86-year old Indian yoga teacher affectionately know as Guruji, came to New York to hold a large group class for devotees. Every day that month, 250 of his followers practiced yoga at dawn under his watchful eye in a huge room at Chelsea piers. Yes, there were some celebrities there, namely Willem Dafoe, Gwyneth Paltrow and Beastie Boy Mike D, but I only recognized Willem Dafoe who made a comment at the beginning about his need to practice yoga to be able better function in the stimulating atmosphere of New York City.
The practice of Ashtanga yoga is intense. It requires almost daily attendance as well as extremely demanding physical exercises. But whoever practices it seems to come away with a cult-like devotion to it and a feeling of camaraderie with the people who practice it alongside each of them even if they do not know their names or who they are, and a sense of spirituality and well being.
During the period of time this documentary was being made, New York experienced the horrible attacks on 9/11. I remember the feeling of living in New York at the time. I remember the deep sense of sadness and mourning. This comes across quite clearly during a ceremony held by the yoga teacher. And the DVD certainly depicted how the devotees' practice of yoga helped the get through this terrible time.
I was fascinated throughout at this very thoughtful and reverent documentary. And although I knew that my own daughter was not in this particular film, I thought a lot of the yoga students looked a lot like her. It was probably because all of them had lithe, lean and flexible bodies.
Before I saw this film I thought I understood what Ashtanga yoga was about. But seeing it with my own eyes certainly deepened my own understanding.