How old are the practice and ideas of yoga? Hindu traditionalists would say yoga dates back to mythological times and the god Shiva himself. Not quite so, according to the German documentary film “Der atmende Gott”. The film describes the rise of modern yoga through the famous yoga teacher Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and his pupils and children, around the middle of the last century. Krishnamacharya was taken under the wings of the Maharaja of Mysore, who was interested in yoga, and he set up a yoga school by the Maharaja´s court in the middle of the 1930s. Later he moved on to Chennai.
According to the film and its sources (Krishnamacharya´s children and pupils are still alive), asanga yoga was more or less dead as a tradition in India at the time, and Krishnamacharya was a great renewer. On the other hand, the German film maker Jan Schmidt-Garre briefly (alas, too briefly in my opinion) touches the point that modern yoga has for the most part lost contact with its spiritual and existential roots and has simply become body exercises, “circus” with bizarre body postures and with plenty of room for greed and money. The use of breathing in the asanga exercises is never quite explained, and the philosophy of yoga and how the practice can develop one´s understanding of the world is not discussed. The word “meditation” is only mentioned once or twice. For those who find these parts of the film unfulfilling, the meditative aspect of yoga is explained thoroughly in the new book Meditative Yoga: Integrating Body, Breath and Mind by Are Holen and Torbjørn Hobbel.
However, the film has lots of great footage from yoga in old times and interesting interviews with veterans of the yoga movement. Something to see for everybody who is interested in yoga. As many as 90.000 have seen the movie in Germany and Austria. Then again 3 million Germans are said to practice yoga.
I would certainly recommend the film, even if you don´t understand German. About one third is in German, the rest in English, and it is not difficult to hang on.