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It’s hard to pinpoint when yoga really took off, but sometime in the past decade, women started going to yoga like they were going to lunch or picking up the drycleaning. Studios began popping up like Starbucks in big cities, and suddenly there was such a thing as yoga apparel. Ironically—considering that for centuries, exclusively men practiced yoga—not just the followers were women, but the leaders were, too. The documentary Yogawoman, directed by theater producer and yogi herself, Kate Clare McIntyre, charts how female yoga teachers have transformed yoga into the popular hobby, expertise and lifestyle that it is now.

The title may sound like a feminist knockoff of Superman, but the film takes itself seriously. In interviews with teachers in Tokyo, Kenya, Germany, San Francisco and L.A., Yogawoman’s ambitions are global rather than limited to the cultish studios that get lots of press or the mystical gurus in India. It hits the concrete and looks at how yoga is affecting women of all livelihoods.

The film follows a narrative trail that reflects the female life cycle, which provides a strong backbone. (Without it, the film could easily be a prolonged sermon.) In different sections, Yogawoman looks at how yoga is applied to women of all different body types, ages, life situations and bodily conditions. There are children doing backbends, pregnant women doing downward dog and a 95-year-old woman doing adapted poses on her bed. It’s surprising to see a practice comprised of specific, set poses altered to fit such disparate yogis, which the film reiterates as one of yoga’s finest qualities—anyone can do it. It also raises the question of whether everything deemed “yoga” actually deserves the name.

Doubts aside, though, there’s enough material to make a Yogawoman heroes miniseries out of this film. One teacher travels with 20 of her students to Uganda to live out the yoga philosophy and builds a center for women to have safe births. A teacher in juvenile prison, where 95 percent of the girls have been sexually abused, makes an impact on girls simply by offering not to touch them while correcting poses during practice. In Kenya, a program hires teachers into the slums of Nairobi (the world’s biggest slum), to help foster healthier lifestyles.

Is yoga saving the world? It’s at least helping save women. For those with no libido, it recharges their sexual energy. For young girls, it gives them the confidence to face the self-doubts of adolescence. Pregnant women have calmer births and healthier babies, and the elderly have the inner peace to let go gracefully when it’s time.

The film is thorough in its accolades, but like needing bad to know what is good, it makes no mention of injuries incurred from malpractice, costs that often limit its clientele or scientific fact to beef up the rave reviews. Quotes about the benefits must be taken by faith, and a viewer couldn’t be blamed for a little cynicism. But for what it is, the film is entirely feel-good, lauds women who are making positive changes in the world, and, if nothing else, provides a reminder to at least stretch once in a while. It may be a day or two before all of us catch up to doing human pretzels in Uganda, but that does not mean the child’s pose in bed is not a worthy start.

Director: Kate Clare McIntyre
Writer: Kate Clare McIntyre
Starring: N/A
Release Date: Oct. 19, 2012

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