Saturday, February 22, 2014
Yoga: The Art of Transformation at the Asian Art Museum San Fancisco
Nauli Kriya from the Bahr al-hayat (Ocean of Life) From the Exhibition Catalogue
We are blessed in California to have a first of its kind exhibition of yoga art at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. This exhibition, organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian, visually traces the variegated paths of yoga practice from the late 1st millennium BCE to the present. Yoginis and yogis in sculpture and painting present us with their abundant exuberance and compel us to rethink the globalized yoga movement in which we are so immersed. The exhibition opened with a remarkable yoga posture/asana and meditation class conducted by Erica Jago, a rising yogini from Oahu, who riveted us with a 90' sequence of yoga movements, mantra meditation, and breathing.
I have written of my partiality toward and affection for hybridity as a way out of the morass of nationalism, religious fundamentalism and ethnocentricity. No better exemplar of the cosmopolitan arc of yoga is that depicted in the painting from the early 17th century treatise, Bahr al-hayat, Ocean of Life, which was the first text to illustrate Hatha Yoga postures or asanas. It is ironic that the manuscript was written in Persian by a Sufi Shaykh Muhammad Ghawth and commissioned by the future Mughal Emperor Jahanghir. The text itself refers to the oneness of God and to our being emanational microcosms of the macrocosmic Divine. So yoga was adapted to Sufi Muslim theology in the Mughal courts.
Thus, even in the 1600s, yoga practice had become an international and trans-religious mode for self-cultivation. May we continue to adapt yoga meditation, breathing and movement to our Universalist ideals and values!