Breath of the Gods – A Journey to the Origins of Modern Yoga
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A JOURNEY TO THE ORIGINS OF MODERN YOGA
A JAN SCHMIDT-GARRE FILM
Synopsis from the movie's website
Modern yoga, that is, the form practiced daily by tens of millions of people around the world, goes back directly to the god Shiva according to Indian tradition. At the same time, however, modern yoga originated in the early 20th century, a creation of Indian savant T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989). That story is far less known and is what this film is all about.
Krishnamacharya’s life and teachings are seen through the eyes of the director Jan Schmidt-Garre on his search for authentic yoga. His journey leads him from the legendary students and relatives of Krishnamacharya’s to the source of modern yoga, at the palace of the Maharaja of Mysore. From Pattabhi Jois Jan learns the “Sun salutation”, from Iyengar the “King of Asanas”, the headstand, and finally Sribhashyam reveals to him his father’s secret “Life Saving Yoga Session”.
A feature-length documentary including rare historical footage as well as lavish reenactments.
35 mm, 105 minutes
Director: Jan Schmidt-Garre
Director of Photography: Diethard Prengel
Producers: Jan Schmidt-Garre, Marieke Schroeder
Production Company: PARS Media
With backing from FilmFernsehFonds Bayern, German Federal Film Fund, MEDIA
Featuring yoga legends B. K. S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, T. K. Sribhashyam, and T. Krishnamacharya
Over 60,000 admissions in Germany
The main question if your not a German speaker is, should you wait until Spring for the English version or go over to Amazon.de and snap yourself up a the German Edition.
Well I don't speak German, a few words here and there perhaps, but I'm delighted with it and glad I got my hands on a copy. First thing I did was slip in the 'extras disc' where we find a fuller treatment of some of the interviews in the main film. Here for example was AG Mohan giving a short lesson, in English, on the breath including kumbhaka, wonderful.
On the whole most of the interviews are in English except, disappointingly, those with Sri k Pattabhi Jois,which might be a deal breaker if your an Ashtangi, you may want to wait for the English subtitle edition.
Perhaps only a third of the film, if that, is in German, you'll get the hang of most of it and of course you can always put your german edition on Ebay when the English edition comes out.
The Movie itself was beautiful as we can see from the trailer's.
A feature-length documentary including rare historical footage as well as lavish reenactments.
There are some beautiful 'mock-up's of the demonstrations Krishnamacharya would give with some of his students. There's a scene of this on the trailer but there are a couple more on the movie. Some phenomenal back bending and a wonderful moment were one of the students jumps in to prepare for Eka pada sirsasana (leg behind head), nods his head to one side and takes the leg behind his head without using his hands.
A few things that have stuck in my head
Some kids performing a few postures in the Mysore palace, in the style of Krishnamacharya's early classes, staying in posture while one of the boys chants a 20 second mantra.
An interview with a student on how Krishnamacharya would conduct a class, starting with pranayama, at least with this student.
Also a flick through a photo album showing Krishnamacharya with hands on adjustment just as Pattabhi Jois used to do, so Krishnamacharya was, it seems, very much hands on in the early days.
Oh and the scene related belo, again in the Mysore palace was just wonderful
"Shubha, the youngest daughter of Krishnamacharya had guided us through her persinal practice. This had enormous beauty and intensity. This personal demonstration represented for me the essence of Yogaand I knew that this would be one of the high points of the movie". from the interview below with Rebecca Fajnschnitt
I was pretty much hanging on every word by Krishnamacharya's son Sri T.K. Sribhashyam, delightful man.
Oh and in the 'Life saving practice' on the DVD cover (see translation below) where it shows that Krishnamacharya was very much concerned with Drishti, he doesn't write about it that much in Yoga Makaranda and I'd often wondered if it was something that Pattabhi Jois had expanded on. Tristana is very present here.
More to come on the movie in a future post and a proper review, this is just a taster.
Nice intro to the movie in English on this Blog
Yoga In India
The English introduction to the movie from the movie's homepage
And the German page
A link to Amazon.de
The Breathing God
Rebecca Fajnschnitt speaks to director Jan Schmidt-Garre
Q: In your movies you have s far dealt with the performing arts - opera, theater, dance - What made you interested in Yoga?
A: It is not so different. My movies deal with the artistic process. How art is generated, how can plain materials, or tones and forms, change and become spiritual? And this happens in Yoga as well. The body is the material ad can equally become fully spiritual
Q: As in dancing?
A: This is the exterior side, yes. A yoga sequenca can posess a dance-like quality, when in the rythm you learn to breathe properly and maintain the correct concentration. Similarly it can happen that it is just a sport and nothing more, like in figure-skating and yet some athletes can turn it into dance. As in sport as in Yoga I am interested in the 'B-note'!
Q: and what is the interior side?
A: when I practice yoga and breathe correctly, I can experience a fusion of spirit and body which is rather unique. Te body becomes spiritual and the spirit embodied. This is what I learnt about Yoga, which makes it to me different from all other physical activities
Q: I have the feeling that you made the movie to be able to practice with the great masters..
A: Obviously it was important to me that the great masters woudl be seen in action and not just as interviewees. Therefore I had to find a way to bring them to teach. I did not particularly want to be in front of the camera, but at the same time I wanted to show a student who would not be 25 years old end extremely flexible, but someone like me, that you woudl not immediately trust being able to do these things. I wanted to show that yoga was thought for everybody
Q: your movie shows contemporary India and the India of the 30's. Is yoga not much older than that?
A: of course, it is a very old discipline. But we do not know much about the physical yoga before the 20th century. Te philosophical tradition is very well documented, but the practice is not. And this goes together with the fact that physical yoga had a very bad reputation towards the end of thr 19th entury. It was thought a a practice by weird charlatanes, with their contortions and alms. But Krishnamacharya was the first to 'rehabilitate' the physical aspect of yoga and bring a new dynamic form which had a tremendous following and led to the growing boom that we see today. We also have the paradox that a thousands year old discipline was decisively influenced by a single man!
Q: how did you as a Wstern director get close to this foreign culture?
A: it was clear from the start that I had to be careful not to have a naive portrayal of this fascinating oriental world and the original pictures that I saw as a foreigner - and cameraman. Perhaps I can explain a bit about the choice of the music: I always find it a bit annoying that when we shoot movies on foreign culture we work with the music of these cultures, of which as Westerners know very superficially. But I know very well the music of my part of the world and I can use it almost as my voice. I used piano music from the 20s and 30s where musicians tried to reproduce an Oriental longing using Western techniques. This is also my job as director.
Q: do you have the 'oriental dream' as director?
A: many directors think that they can offer exptic pictures to the viewer and that will be it. For the director the pictures represent his oriental longing, but not for the viewer. Then the smells, the sounds of the place, the experiences before and after the film shooting are missing. So these have to be built, in order for them to be experienced by others than the director.
Q: and how do you do that?
A: I need to find the right context for the scenes, so they maintain their power. For example Shubha, the youngest daughter of Krishnamacharya had guided us through her persinal practice. This had enormous beauty and intensity. This personal demonstration represented for me the essence of Yogaand I knew that this would be one of the high points of the movie. And as I went back home to work on the movie, I did not want to loose the magis I had experienced. I thought that I coudl do this by placineg the scene at the very end of the movie, this would be its right place. And now it worked!
"Life saving yoga session"
Starting from the 50s more and more visitors came from the West to Krishnamacharya in Madras, to learm Yoga from him, the 'teacher of teachers'. Krishnamacharya developed for them a specific sequence that he named 'Life saving yoga session'. Yoga to extend life, the name did not fail to work. Krishnamacharya's idea was to use this sequence to lead Westerners to an unconfessional and undogmatic experience of the Divine, since their pluralistic culture would not permit an automatic access to religious matters.
The sequence, which was not taught anymore after Krishnamacharya's death and which was taught by his son TK shribayam to director Jan Schmidt-Garre after years of acquaintance during the filming of 'Der atmende Gott', is here disclosed in its original form.
Characteristic of the later Krishnamacharya and of the 'Life saving Yoga session' is the connection of postures, breathing and concentration in the sense of the orientation of the gaze and awareness of a focal point. Only when these elements form an organic connection can Yoga happen, according to Krishnamacharya
1. sit for 30-60 seconds with crossed legs in Padmasana. Concentration on Nasagra (point of the nose)
2. 16-24 Kapalabhati breaths (breath of fire, energeti inhale and exhale)
3. 12 breaths of ujjayi anuloma. Inhale: ujjayi, with slightly constricted throat, to drwa air into the lungs. Exhale: the hand forms a claw with thumb, ring- and little-fingers with which one nostril is alternately kept closed. Exhale very slowly through the open nostril, without ujjayi, beginning with the left
4. 3 breaths in matsyasana. Legs are closed in the lotus position
5. 3 breaths in bhujangasana. Start with open eyes and during the progression of movement, which start with the forehead, close the eyes. Concentration on Bhrumhadya (between the eyebrows)
6. 12 breaths in sarvangasana. The chin is closed in front of the straightened body. Hands close to the shoulderblades, concentration on Kanta (throat)
7. 12 breaths in sirsasana. Concentration on Nasagra (tip of the nose)
8. 3 breaths in halasana. Arms on the floor, hands clasped, palms towards the outside
9. 3 breaths in bhujangasana. Again start with open eyes and close them during the movement. Cncentration on Bhrumadhya (between the eyebrows)
10. 12 breaths in Maha-mudra (one-sided forward bend) six times on the left, then six times on the right. With the first inhale bring the arms over the head, with hands clasped, palms up. With the exhale get into the posture. Concentration on navel
11. 12 breaths in paschimottanasana, preparation and in maha mudra. The hands clasp the big toes, the back stays straight, neck and back form a lune. Concentration on the navel.
12. 30-60 Bastri breaths (rapid alternate breathing) in padmasana. The right hand builds a clasp as for anuloma ujjayi. Inhale and exhale through the left nostril, then change the grip and rapidly inhale and exhale through the right nostril. No ujjayi. end with an exhale from the left nostril and without pause move ot a long inhale in nadi shodan. Concentration on Nasagra
13. 12 breaths in nadi shodan (alternate breathing). Inhale very slowly from the half-closed left nostril, exchange grip ad after a short pause exhale very slowly through the half-closed right nostril. After a short pause inhale very slowly through the half-closed right nostril, change grip and after a short pause exhale through the half-clodes left nostril. No ujjayi. The left hand counts the breaths, with the thumb gliding over the twelve parts of the four fingers, from the third falanx of the little fingers in the direction towards outside to the point of the index finger. Concentration on Hrudaya (heart)
14. Prayer. Concentration on Hrudaya (heart)
In the coming book fom Shribashyam "How Yoga really was" this and similar sequences are explained in detail