For the devotee, the goal of yoga is “self awareness to the point of liberation.” For individual yogis, sharing their knowledge and skills is often its own reward. However, for those who endeavour to bring Hindu theistic philosophy to the masses (one franchise at a time), this silent, stress-relieving art must be packaged, copyrighted and controlled so that if others dare to share the centuries-old school of philosophy and movement without a licence, they will be thrown to the mat with oppressive litigation. Corporate Karma, American style.
John Philp’s behind-the-scenes look into Bikram Choudhury’s attempt to bring the competition, er, to its knees, is a revealing essay on greed in the name of a higher power (leaving the material world far, far behind), entrepreneurial rationalization (candid chat from the new yogis-on-the-block about the stoically crunched, ever-dwindling, one-guru operations) and the body beautiful (the only thing more magnificent than yoga champion Esak Garcia’s torso is his ego—just ask him!). Garcia is the poster- and thong-boy for Bikram Yoga Inc. Certainly his self-awareness is at the highest level. Perhaps the most vigorous competition to the wily Choudhury’s enterprise is Fuck Yoga. Their T-shirts are fun and to the point, but the one-word-each-foot flip-flops—delightfully ironic branding—take a stand in more positions than one.
The archival clips, from the Maharishi to the Beatles to Elvis, explain in part why there are over 18 million Americans presently in search of their inner selves (but at $1,000 per year for lessons and equipment …). The interviews with well-intentioned teachers and ever-sympathetic lawyers as Bad Boy Choudhury’s suit goes on (but with a confidential settlement, the result remains forever sealed) are glued together by Mary Catherine Palumbos and Philp’s careful editing, but the momentum sags in the middle and never quite recovers. Director/writer Philp also provides the, at times, over-zealous narration which, ironically, puts him on the same plane as the amazingly flexible, “Why not the Olympics?” (perhaps along side Monty Python’s Olympic Hide and Seek?) asked Garcia. Tidying the music as the credits roll would improve the last hurrah.
The issue of what parts of yoga should be in the public domain and what, if anything can be “owned” (and hence sold) remains largely unresolved. No worries. By the time old-school yogi Trisha Lamb completes her three-year silent retreat, the rumoured corporate takeover of Taekwon-Do Federation by Lord Conrad Black should just be hitting the courts. JWR