Take Your Alternative Medicine, by Sarah Brinks
Yogawoman is a documentary that looks at the role that women play in yoga practices across the world and the role yoga plays in women’s lives. It is a well-made documentary that shows how women of all shapes and sizes, all ages, and all over the world practice yoga. It also strikes an impressive balance between the scientific exploration of yoga and its benefits and the more ‘hippie-dippy’ side of yoga. As some one who does yoga for fitness and flexibility I find the more “granola” side of yoga difficult to take but Yogawoman gives both sides equal consideration. The majority of the film is interviews with women who teach yoga. There are also many interviews with women who practice yoga in several different capacities. Yogawoman explores a little bit of the history of yoga and has interviews with yoga historians, but the majority of the film is focused on the last forty years of yoga and its shift into the mainstream.
While Yogawoman does look at yoga from many angles it has two themes that all the women who are interviewed return to over and over again. The first is self-acceptance. One statistic stated that ninety percent of women are dissatisfied with their bodies. The interviewees speak to how yoga can help women to accept their uniqueness and learn to love the skin that they are in. The other major theme was the power that yoga can give women both physically and mentally. Yoga helps women to be more strong and flexible and it also teaches women that they can challenge themselves and to quiet their minds.
Yogawoman examines yoga throughout the many stages of a woman’s life. It explores yoga for children, teens, professional women, pregnant women, mothers, menopausal women, and the elderly. Yogawoman also takes a look at how yoga can affect specific groups of women. There is a section about yoga for the obese and how yoga provides a low impact form of exercise for women who have given up because of their size. Tari Prinster is a yoga teacher in New York City and a breast cancer survivor. She spoke about how yoga helped her through her cancer and how it helps the women she teaches who are diagnosed with breast cancer. Doctor Shirley Telles spoke about the proven benefits of doing yoga during cancer treatments and how it can help alleviate some of the negative side effects of chemotherapy and helps boost the immune system to help the body fight the cancer. The film also examines how yoga can help troubled teens. One young girl who had been incarcerated for eighteen months spoke about the benefits she had gotten from yoga and how it had taught her to be more patient and less angry. A staff member at the juvenile facility spoke to seeing a noted shift in the girls’ attitudes after yoga class, for the better.
Another focus of Yogawoman is the service aspect of the yoga community. A woman named Seane Corn created a group called “Off the Mat” that helps women in need in Africa. Corn and a group of twenty-one women went to Uganda for a year to help a group of HIV positive women build a birthing center and a community center. They raised funds then went to Uganda and helped physically build the centers with the women. The scenes when then “Off the Mat” women finally meet the Ugandan women are truly touching.
One section of the film that might make some people a little uncomfortable deals specifically with menstruation. Since menstruation is a natural part of female life it is a natural topic for the movie to explore. The women in the film discuss how yoga can help women understand the changes in their bodies better, help with mod swings, and overall comfort during their cycle. This is also another example of how the movie balances between the hippie side and the scientific side. One woman referred to her cycle as her “moon time” and how she allows herself to do slower yoga during that week. Meanwhile a Harvard educated gynecologist discussed the changes in hormones during menstruation and how they can be different day to day and how that effects the mind and body. Female sexuality is also discussed and how yoga can help women to be more sexually fulfilled. Since yoga pays a lot attention to the pelvic floor it can also help women with incontinence issues. All these topics are rarely addressed in polite society or are often only discussed as a joke; the film takes it all very seriously and openly discusses the various aspects of these female centric issues.
Whether you are a man or a woman, someone who does yoga or doesn’t, there is something in Yogawoman for you. At the very least it will make you think about giving yoga a try. Annette Bening narrates Yogawoman and gives the film a nice cohesion. The film is competently made and had a nice flow. So take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth, unroll your yoga mat, and give Yogawoman a watch.