Why Am I Doing This Again?: A Review of the Documentary “Ashtanga, NY”. ~ Esther Liberman

Via Esther Liberman
on Aug 10, 2011
get elephant's newsletter

Are your friends on your case because you always insist on getting home early so you can make it to yoga the next morning? Is your mom on your case because you keep refusing her pot roast the night before your yoga workshop begins? Have you been wondering lately why you “do this” in the first place, what benefit there possibly could be in having an asana practice? The short, sweet, and incredibly inspiring documentary “Ashtanga, NY” may change their mind (and yours) about yoga, about Ashtanga, about community, and even about documentaries.

With a run time of only 41 minutes, the film seems to have begun as an attempt to chronicle the month-long visit Sri K. Pattabhi Jois paid to NYC in the fall of 2001. I say seems, because there is footage of the workshop he conducts daily (with the help of his grandson and daughter) at the Chelsea Piers, beginning at the start of September. These scenes alone, alongside interviews with the dedicated group of practitioners who attend classes in NYC daily throughout the year, show the humanity and individuality of these students who might otherwise seem rigid or dogmatic.

The practice of Ashtanga itself, which a few people in the film describe as “apparently cultish,” is shown to be just a practice, not a religion. The various students generously answer personal questions and allow their private practice to be filmed, as do a handful of recognizable celebrities and, most intimately of all, we witness bits of Sharath’s (Guruji’s grandson) personal practice, too. (Last week, when a student asked me whether Ashtanga would develop his biceps and his six-pack, I referred him to the unbelievably powerful images of this young man, Sharath, who looks to be no stronger than a twelve year-old but can lift up into a handstand from a seated position). These scenes serve to ground us in a better understanding of what an asana practice can do, its health and psychological benefits, its ability to prepare us for deeper practices and better understanding.

But as September courses onward, the devastating events of the 11th occur and the film becomes so much more than just the chronicle of a yoga workshop. The documentary takes us through the reaction of the various students we’ve gotten to know and allows us to see how a group of strangers, who have only their yoga practice in common, become a community.

This film is touching, well made, and beautifully shot. I first saw it halfway through the Ashtanga portion of my yoga teacher training when so many of my colleagues, unaccustomed to a daily Mysore practice, were feeling frustrated and defeated.  It inspired us to persevere (though not necessarily to push our bodies) and breathed a new perspective into our sweaty efforts on the mat. I then showed it to my husband when I was ready for him to practice more frequently than once a week. It worked. He began to practice three times weekly and helped me book our first trip to see Guruji. I now show it to students who are at a crossroads; to non-practitioners who want to know more about yoga; to my mom, when she feels offended that I’ve requested she schedule our Saturday night family dinner at 7 pm, rather than the usual Colombian-style 9 pm, so I can make it to Mysore practice the next morning.

To read more about this great documentary, click here.


About Esther Liberman

Esther Liberman writes, plays, cooks, teaches, and practices Ashtanga yoga in Miami, Florida, where she lives with her husband, 2 sons, and pet Yorkie. Born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, Esther has now been living for half of her life in the U.S. (in New York, Boston, and now Miami) which makes her old enough to know better. In 2005, she obtained her Ph.D. in comparative literature at Harvard University and met Guruji for the first time. It was a good year. You can reach her at [email protected]


10 Responses to “Why Am I Doing This Again?: A Review of the Documentary “Ashtanga, NY”. ~ Esther Liberman”

  1. tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage. 🙂

  2. tanya lee markul says:

    Great review Esther!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  3. Jonathan says:

    Beautiful review of a terrific film. I enjoyed reading this very much. Thank you.

  4. Esther says:

    Thank you all. Anyone out there didn't like it?

  5. tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  6. […] Why Am I Doing This Again?: A Review of the Documentary “Ashtanga, NY”. ~ Esther Liberman […]

  7. […] Why Am I Doing This Again?: A Review of the Documentary “Ashtanga, NY”. ~ Esther Liberman […]

  8. […] of Ashtanga. I was in bed, unable to sleep, when fate or what have you led me to an airing of “Ashtanga NY.” I laid there, eyes wide and mouth agape, astonished at the strength, power, sweat and devotion of […]

  9. […] He runs both a shala and Hindu temple in New York, which were featured in the documentary, “Ashtanga New York.” He is opening the Confluence with a puja ceremony to […]

  10. […] It was alright, but late one night I was flipping through the television and I stumbled upon Ashtanga NY and I knew from the minute that I saw the practice that Ashtanga was the yoga for me. Maybe […]