The fascination with yoga has been growing in the western world for decades. However, few people, even among those who practice the western version of yoga, are aware of its true origins and meaning. While many perceive yoga solely as a set of exercises with complicated balance poses, the documentary “Origins of Yoga: Quest for the Spiritual” is focused on the exploration of what yoga is in India and what kind of people practice it.
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The film under discussion was made in 2005 and is dedicated to the research of the true yoga practice that takes place in India. In the film, it is noted that people who decided to devote their lives to the practice of yoga would leave their homes, “abandon the conventional life” and the “householder stage” to “wander around in the mountains and in the forest” (Origins of Yoga: Quest for the Spiritual). According to this documentary, yogis dedicate their lives to the search for oneness with taking full responsibility for the entirety of human nature including its spiritual aspects and dimensions. In that way, yoga represents a “sacred science about inner self” (Origins of Yoga: Quest for the Spiritual). The journey of a yogi never ends, as the link with the divine needs to be maintained by keeping pure and staying away from temptation. Movement is one of the essential elements of the journey of a yogi because it prevents attachment and habits. An illustration of this idea, the narrator of the film states that “the river keeps clean by flowing” (Origins of Yoga: Quest for the Spiritual). In other words, yogis always have to be on the go in order to stay clean and detached from material values.
The human habit of acquisition of things and the creation of conditions of comfort is what yogis reject. In their pursuit of spiritual life, they must let go of things that are not related to spirituality and represent materiality. Alongside material goods, yogis must also give up conventional preconceptions about themselves and the world around them. This is believed to be the way to gain control of one’s mind, which is the main goal of a yogi. The makers of this documentary explored the motivation of various yogis of India that led them to drop out of the society and embrace the path of loners always roaming around from place to place and spending hours in meditation. One of the yogis interviewed from the film stated that “if God is in your heart, then the whole world is yours” (Origins of Yoga: Quest for the Spiritual). In that way, just like the yogis of the past, contemporary ones follow the same path. They distance themselves from civilization as we know it, give up material goods, develop new sets of values and maintain them for the rest of their lives regardless of the struggles and challenges that come along with this choice.
In the film, it is said that in embracing the spiritual journey and choosing to transform into a yogi, one must reenact their own funeral as a symbol of leaving the old self behind along with all the things and people they used to be attached to in the past. Yogis receive new names and treat themselves as new forms of self whose lifestyle is nothing but the practice of yoga, the endless movement, and the ultimate test of their devotion and loyalty to the divine.
Origins of Yoga: Quest for the Spiritual. Directed by Paula Fouce, performance by Swami Vidyanand Swaroop Bramachari, Paradise Filmworks International, 2005.