Here are a couple stats for you: 20 million Americans do some form of yoga, and over 85% of them are women. Twenty million. Eighty-five percent. Those are some impressive numbers, gals.
My source? The excellent documentary Yogawoman ($24.95 at Yogawoman.tv), which was just released on DVD. Narrated by Annette Bening, it’s a look at how yoga—traditionally a highly spiritual, male-only pastime—has been transformed by women (both those who teach it and those who do it) into a nurturing, everyday practice used for everything from healing backaches to perking up your sex life.
The film features a parade of female yoga elite: Patricia Walden, Seane Corn, Shiva Rea, Cyndi Lee, Colleen Saidman Yee—it was like my yoga DVD collection come to life. But there were also many interviews and thoughtful moments with lesser-known yoga teachers, therapists, researchers, and students, all sharing wisdom, discoveries, and personal experiences. The women profiled were young, old, slim, heavy, black, white, healthy, ailing. Yoga, it seems, is as equal opportunity as it gets.
The film itself is an encyclopedia of the gazillion ways yoga can have a lasting effect on our always-on-the-go, multi-tasking lives. Here are just a few: release stress, heal injuries, boost self-confidence, encourage a healthier pregnancy and easier delivery, increase mindfulness, build libido, fight depression, counter the effects of aging, and ease cancer recovery. True, none of these messages is new, but to have them all in one place, personalized by the many "real" women profiled in the documentary, is an awe-inspiring reminder of the power our bodies and minds have to cause fundamental life shifts.
And I'm not just talking about our own lives. In one portion of the documentary, filmmakers follow a group led by Seane Corn on a trip to build a birthing center in Uganda. Her organization, Off the Mat, Into the World, is devoted to encouraging yoginis to effect social change across the globe as part of their yoga practice. In another part, we get to witness the mentally empowering effects of a yoga class on a collection of incarcerated girls.
I'll admit, one reason this film touched me is that my own life has been changed by yoga. I started practicing 10 years ago as a way to alleviate chronic arm and shoulder pain (it worked). I kept it up during my pregnancy and will go to my grave convinced that my yoga practice is a key reason labor went so smoothly. And along the way, I've found that yoga unerringly helps steady my focus and quiet the worries that tend to circle endlessly in my brain. At one point in Yogawoman, Cyndi Lee says, "Yoga helps us cut through our drama." That's it, in a nutshell. The calm and clearheadedness I feel when I leave my Tuesday-night class makes everything seem infinitely more handleable. It puts things in perspective.
People often talk about how they wish there was some sort of magic pill to cure all their ills. There isn't. But as this fine film makes clear, yoga comes pretty darned close. Namaste.