September 30, 2009

Yoga Unveiled. [Interview With Producer Gita Desai]

by Sarah Miller

“Sometimes I am asked, what is the point of yoga? It was created over 5,000 years ago, how can it be relevant today? My answer is always the same:  It was created by humans, for humans. The human condition truly has not changed.” -Georg Feuerstein

Every time I watch Yoga Unveiled, another layer is peeled back and more is revealed to me. It’s the kind of knowledge I want to shout from the top of a mountain or the Empire State Building. Is anyone listening out there?! This information is so crucial to our modern yoga practice!

The subject of yoga seems to get even trickier with time. Around 20 million people are practicing yoga in the West- more than in India. And yet many of these people have not a clue about the origins, the original intent, or the basic principles of the practice. Some don’t care to know. Others are actively questioning and inquiring.

As a yogi, do you need to know the ancient meaning behind your practice? Do you continue to seek knowledge in order to enhance this inner awareness and expand your reality?

Yoga Unveiled is one of these tools that modern yogis can utilize to enhance their practice.

This film is a humble reminder of yoga’s roots and the profundity of the tradition. The historical use of this spiritual practice has always had one aim: moksha, liberation, enlightenment. Asanas are a fraction of this, but not the entirety of the practice, nor the goal.

With insightful excerpts, and priceless interviews, Gita Desai and her crew, brilliantly display one  of the world’s most valuable tools of self discovery. Thoughts by some of the great yogis of our time like T.K.V Desikachar, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, Georg Feuerstein, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S Iyengar are woven into the film and give the depth that is lacking elsewhere in the “yoga world.” Beautiful video footage and enchanting music entrance the audience further.

The message is clear, simple and easily digested. Really, the information, neatly summarized and packaged, is a gift to our community of yogis.

I was lucky enough to speak with the Producer and Director, Gita Desai, about how the film developed. Here is a partial transcript:

SJ: Why a yoga film?

GD: Well, after my father died I started to just do the physical yoga at about age 40. My father was a proponent of yoga, meditation, Bhagavad Gita. He talked a lot about it to us. It was always there but he never held our hand and took us to teachers. Once he died my sister and I were so sad. There happened to be a class in town. It gave me relief. I thought this would be something my father would appreciate. My first teacher was an Iyengar teacher and she inspired me and pushed me into the deeper dimensions. As I went to these workshops, retreats etc., I realized that these people really had very little idea about what yoga really is. They were really excited about the postures but they were missing the point. I was talking to my husband about how we could help yoga….

SJ: What is the most important aspect of the practice to you? You’ve mentioned it’s more than a physical practice.

GD: Ah yes, they all say that to realize our inner most Self, there is so much work to be done in every angle. The physical is very small. But meditation and pranayama and cleansing the mind and cleansing the body and the speech and leading a moral life- it’s a whole package. We have to watch ourselves every second of the way. When we master all that, then we’re there. We can’t just look at it from “oh I’m going to do yoga so we get on the mat” and the rest of our life is quite disintegrated- you know the way we live. As a human being our evolution has to be a whole.

SJ: I’m wondering if that is why the film never directly addresses Bikram or Power yoga or any of these other very American popular forms of yoga?

GD: Absolutely. I had no intention of giving all of that any weight at all. The film was not about any one person. Although you may see that Krishnamacharya had been given due attention- because people are interested in knowing about how he came to the West and the physical practice. I gave that as a thread of connection, after all, Krishnamacharya was quite a visionary and a complete package. It was not like he was only doing a physical practice….

SJ: What do you think is one of the most important things that Western yoga classes should be focused on and what are they missing?

GD: I shouldn’t say all of them are missing it, there are some that are doing wonderfully. But we are all stuck. We are building our home on the bridge, which is the asana, which is the yoga mat. That’s where we build our home and then we sit. We don’t progress. That’s the thing- teachers have to lead people to a higher practice, which is meditation. What else is there except deep silence? Very few lead them to that. The worst thing is there’s no silence because studios run these CD’s even while you’re doing yoga and meditation and sivasana they have the music on. There goes our silence! How does one get Silence?

SJ: What do you think the role of yoga practice in our society is- especially in the West?

GD: Role? A balance. A place to reflect on so much that goes on in the day. You really need to nurture your Self because life has a lot of challenges. If you don’t have this silence once or twice a day, God help you to make it through this life. That is the point. Reflection. There is so much impulsive behavior and there is no time to reflect.

SJ: What do you see as the role of this film- especially in the U.S. and the worldwide yoga community?

GD: There is one more sentence that comes to mind to describe the film- it makes people celebrate their inner spirit. It’s the celebration of the human spirit. Once you celebrate that everyday, whichever way your practice is, then, you know, life is easy. Life is joyful. It’s more purposeful. There’s beauty rather than all this darkness. The rest of society is set up to tell us that we are no good. We need this. We need that. You buy this, you look like this, you need to be doing this. But you are in control and you can make it in this world. You don’t need products and “things” and “stuff “ and people telling you what to do. No! Everything’s ok. So, it’s empowering. Self-empowering.

SJ: The merging of India and the U.S., they’re both very extreme, one in spirituality and the other in the very physical. The film describes this as the “salvation of the world.” Can you expand on this?

GD: You know, you need a balance of things. In India it used to be that there was much more importance on the spiritual and much less on the material. You need the balance and yoga is about balance but you don’t have to be an ascetic or not have any fun. It’s about a balanced life. A little of this and that as well. You can’t become only a materialist- only after your body and looking good- and forget your spiritual life. You have a spiritual responsibility to your society, to your children, to your spouse, to each other, your family, your community. You just can’t be me, me, me all the time. It’s the middle road. It’s about balance.

SJ: In the film, Georg Feuerstein says that Westerners need to gain the context behind the practice and its tradition and lineage. How might a Westerner best go about that?

GD: They need to know why people have done it. Study more of the scriptures and go to the right sources and teachers [in order to] know why it was done. A simple example is that my sister and I just decided we were not going to sit in the sofa anymore, or in a chair, when we socialize or are in our home. I just sit on the floor. It’s a simple thing, but I realize that it’s going to make my knees and hips and everything so healthy as I grow old. I’ll be more supple. My heart gets strong every time I get up and down. You become stronger. My back becomes stronger as it lifts my whole body and I just feel good. You know it could be anything. Like in the morning you get up and do Surya Namaskar and you bow to the sun. When it comes with study, once people start to study why something was done as it was, then it gets very easy.

*Photos used courtesy of Gita Desai and Yoga Unveiled.

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