February 13th, 2014

Yoga, just a few short decades ago, was considered kind of a fringe practice. Something for the new age hippies, a California cliché. To say that one felt invigorated by doing yoga was akin to saying that one felt clearer when surrounded by crystals. Not so today! Now everyone’s doing yoga, and just about everywhere. Most gyms offer yoga classes. Senior centers too. It’s benefits to health and well-being are nearly universally accepted.

It can seem, though, that in order to achieve mainstream acceptance the way it has, yoga has had to disguise itself as merely a physical fitness regimen. The ubiquitous power yoga classes push aerobic and muscular endurance. Hot yoga, too, takes students pretty far toward the limits of their strength and flexibility. It’s a great way to get in shape. So great, perhaps, that it’s almost possible to forget that yoga is a religious practice. Is, essentially, prayer to Hindu gods. Or it has been. Maybe it isn’t anymore. Maybe it is in some, but not all the places it’s practiced. Maybe it’s now many things and that’s ok.

The newest exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco might not resolve those questions, but for those who are troubled or curious about them, it can at least help in your conversations on the subject. It’s called Yoga: The Art of Transformation and it claims to be the world’s first major art exhibition about yoga. If you’ve ever been to a Bikram class, if there’s yoga at your gym and you’ve been meaning to check it out, if you even just know what downward facing dog is, consider spending an afternoon with this exhibit. Yoga is such a huge part of our culture these days, it’d probably be good for us to understand a bit more of what it’s all about.

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