Thursday, February 27, 2014

'Yoga. The Art of Transformation' at the Asian Art Museum

When I was young - and I mean really young because my sister hadn't been born yet, I remember being mesmerized by this program on TV. The mysterious Hindu musician came out through the swirling draperies and played something on the organ. My childish imagination just fed on all the implications of what was behind the curtain and gave me a life long fascination about the East. 

Anyway, when I was reading about the fakes and frauds who passed off as Hindu mystics in the show about yoga and its origins at the Asian Art Museum, I remembered how intriguing I found this man. Alas he wasn't Indian at all.

Obviously he is not represented in the current show at the Asian but there is quite a bit about how the Western world misinterpreted and bowdlerized this part of Indian culture and religion.

But that's not all. I am not the only one whose knowledge of India and Yoga was limited to popular Western culture. The origins of yoga or rather its evolution started back around the 1st century CE and are shared by all three of India's major religions. Even today's yoga poses are not that ancient but a combination of 19th century physical training practices combined with Hindu meditative practices as popularized by Vivekananda. 

Apparently the exhibit begs the question of what yoga really is - a physical practice, a religious ritual, a non- religious form of meditation as a way to find enlightenment. I don't see why it can't be all three. 

Does it really matter? Some think it does and the controversy rages on. It does not matter to me because what the Asian Art Museum has presented to us - the long and rich artistic and cultural traditions that created the world of yoga - transcends the insular politics of some in the yoga world.

 The museum is offering some amazing activities during the show's run. Highlights include storytelling, dance, and yoga, as well as lectures by yoga luminaries. Among the scheduled speakers are Senior Iyengar teacher Manouso Manos, director of UCSF's Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Dr. Margaret Chesney, curators Debra Diamond and Qamar Adamjee, AcroYoga co-founder Jenny Sauer-Klein, mindfulness educator Meena Srinivasan, Google's Gopi Kallayil, graphic designer Chiraag Bhakta, and yoga historian Eric Shaw. For the full list of events, go to

I highly recommend buying the catalog. The show is so complex that it is a necessary component to understanding, fully appreciating and remembering what you have seen. Plus, if you want more, the Asian's permanent galleries have a glorious collection of Indian, Southeast Asian and Hindu art. 

Essay from the Asian Art Museum's blog: "Yoga: The Art of Transformation has challenged my preconceptions about the relationship between art and yoga in many ways, but nowhere so much as regards the question of authenticity..."

1 comment:

A Cuban In London said...

Very interesting the information you provide about the "asanas". I admit that I have used yoga in my Afro-Cuban classes. Only the physical side of them. Which puts me in the same category as many others who go to this ancient discipline for the physical benefits. In my defence I will say that I have always been open with my students.

Fantastic post.

Greetings from London.