So I went to San Francisco about two weeks ago for a friend’s wedding. While riding in the cab to the reception dinner, I drove past this:
An exhibit about Yoga?! Sign me up!
Long story short, I almost didn’t get to go – but I made it happen on my last day there. I wasn’t able to take any pictures of the Yoga exhibit itself, but I did get some cool snapshots from other parts of the Asian Art Museum. Like the ones throughout this post. =)
Yoga: The Art of Transformation
An exhibit of the Smithsonian Institute, showing only in San Francisco and Cleveland, apparently.
I think perhaps what struck me most about the exhibit was how it helped me comprehend yoga in a more dimensional manner. I found this transition in understanding particularly interesting because it parallels many of my experiences in my practice of yoga – that is, moving from a rational understanding of who I am, to a more full-bodied belief-system of who I am, via various practices and exercises.
I’ve been studying yoga quite a bit over the last few years – and I’ve learned about the historical aspects of the philosophy, the practices, and the beliefs. But seeing the statues, paintings, and other artifacts moved my understanding from a purely rational/intellectual level to a more physical paradigm of understanding.
In particular, while I’ve learned throughout my yoga training that “yoga” as I know it grew from a collection of practices, orders, and other movements over thousands of years, being able to visually behold physical creations of those movements helped me understand more fully the variety and depths of the roots of yoga. I beheld statues of Shiva and Yoginis, of a meditating Hanuman, of ascetics and “sages” (often with dreadlocks), and of the fasting Buddha – when he was exploring the ways of asceticism. I also learned that apparently there was an order called the Naths that were, perhaps, the first group of yogis! How have I never heard of them before? Did I I just forget?
There were pages from a manuscript that gave verbal and illustrated instructions on various asanas, the Ocean of Life (the “earliest illustrated treatise on asanas”). The Ocean’s indigenous name, though, is Bahr al-hayat – that is, it is a Persian text! According to the exhibit, the manuscript was commissioned by a Muslim prince, and the titles of the excerpted illustrations and instructions gave the titles of various asanas in both Sanskrit and Persian (when they were titled at all).
The roots of yoga are like the tips of a huge, old tree – the very tips of these wide-ranging roots include various beliefs of Hinduism, asceticism, Vedic religion, and the renunciation of any religion. Some of the tips of the roots that lead to yoga lead to other practices and beliefs – such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Being able to see these artifacts that initially represented such disparate philosophies helped me to see how they are all connected, and the subsequent “tree” of yoga.
It also helped me *kind of* comprehend just how old this wisdom tradition is.
There was so much more in the other two rooms as well, but most of my visceral reactions were to the front room, which I’ve already discussed. You can see the photographs of the exhibit, and read essays about them, in the Smithsonian’s catalogue of Yoga: The Art of Transformation – a beautiful book which I ended up buying for myself (since my brain couldn’t comprehend everything all at once at the museum!).
I’m unbelievably glad I got to go check out this exhibit (as well as the rest of the museum). I feel like it added such another layer to my yoga journey. If anyone else is in the neighborhood of the exhibit, I highly recommend you check it out.
*All photos from Asian Art Museum (San Francisco, CA)