Grumblings can be heard amongst the Elephant Journal community. Blogs deal with issues contributing to widespread confusion about Hatha Yoga. Everything from Instagram ‘Yoga porn’ and overly sexualised ‘Neo-tantra’, to what’s often missing from a Yoga class, the pitfalls of the commercialisation of Yoga, and the assumptions that are made about people who practice or teach.
So what’s missing from our modern day understanding and practice of Hatha Yoga?
Emma Balnaves sets out to answer this question with a groundbreaking documentary film: Agniyogana (Yoking the Fire), a not-for-profit endeavour.
But what makes this any different to all of the other information out there?
Emma searched high and low for authentic modern day adepts. Four years of research took her to far-flung locales such as India, Nepal, Bhutan and Mongolia. She invites us into a world where the wisdom is not just hearsay, giving us access to people we might never ordinarily encounter, and some we might not have even believed existed.
One thing was paramount: everyone interviewed for the film is actively engaging with the essential practices of Hatha Yoga. They all walk the talk. And had to show it.
Then there’s Emma herself: a modern day nomad for over two decades; crisscrossing the globe, teaching and deepening her own practice of Hatha Yoga, and investigating the ancient texts. Before she embarked on this yogic path, she worked in design and photography, hence capturing the stunning imagery on her travels made film a natural choice to tell this story.
She brings a deep sensitivity for the subject and vast background knowledge. This gives her story clear direction and helped her to connect with the people who were essential in giving it voice and demonstrating it. Unsurprisingly, her crew gradually evolved to a point where all share an affinity and feel for the subject matter; each having a personal practice of some kind, be it Yoga or internal arts.
Practical experience is vital in making sense of the original texts. Often instructions given are so brief, or coded in twilight language, that they’re virtually incomprehensible to the uninitiated. Those without a guide are kept from the harm that could come from meddling with powerful practices for which they are not prepared.
Based on the Siva Samhita, the film covers crucial parts of the practice that are no longer taught in most modern schools. They stem from the lineages of Goraknath, Matsyendranath, and Milarepa, who were numbered amongst the eighty four great siddhas. All Tantrika Gurus, their practice of Hatha Yoga was interwoven with a process of worship: the internal worship of one’s own fire and light.
By way of explaining the title (Agniyoga: Yoking the Fire), Emma said that, “The whole process of Hatha Yoga is about the alchemical cultivation of the inner fire…in order to reach the heights of spiritual wisdom. Fire transforms by destroying and allowing new creation.”
So it turns out that modern day yokers of the fire can be hard to track down, since they prefer an isolated existence. Timing is of the essence, and filming in Nepal was orchestrated to intersect with the Maha(?) Shivratri at the Pashupatinath Temple. Sadhus, healers and ascetics are among the millions of devotees climbing up and down the temple steps from the Bagmati River. The massive throng is like a river itself, and the crew were literally carried along with it.
While those who want to take you for a ride are very practised in front of cameras, the genuine sadhus are famously private and secretive. Fortunately, Emma was blessed with kick-ass contacts: her husband is an initiate of the Goraknath Sampradaya and they had a chance encounter with the head of Pashupatinath Trust.
Imagine Emma’s elation at landing an interview with one hundred and eleven-year old Doctor Tyaginath, a famous Aghora Yogi and Ayurvedic doctor. Only to discover on the recce, that the smoke from his daily Homa (fire sacrifice) in his unventilated cave made filming impossible! Not one to interrupt a precious ritual for the sake of getting a good shot, Emma thanked her lucky stars that at their second meeting, there was enough of a break from the sacrificial fire for the smoke to clear.
Filming has finished, post-production has commenced, and the release of Agniyogana is intended for early 2019. Self-funded until now, the project requires additional funding. This incomparable and rare footage is worthy of the finest possible completion. This story captures a beautiful and priceless part of our human legacy: living knowledge which has been evolving for thousands of years. It deserves to be distributed to the widest possible audience. Yoga communities worldwide are already abuzz, lending their sweat by hosting workshops and donating the proceeds. A kickstarter campaign has just launched for those of you who want to join the tide and give a helping hand.
I can perhaps work some of the below into my bio, where I can give links to the film website, or the kickstarter campaign… (unless I should try and work it into the above; maybe cut it down elsewhere?):
I feel very passionately about this film, because I think it will shed light on a part of our human story which needs to be documented. and should hopefully be of use to people who are trying to find some light at the end of this tunnel that is the age in which we find ourselves. Hatha yoga is a system of self- cultivation and inquiry into the nature of reality, which has been evolving since its earliest beginnings, in the oldest of our shared shamanic ancestral practices
In the old days secular society would support it’s spiritual counterpart. Spiritual endeavours were appreciated for the supportive and uplifting role they played in daily life, hence the tradition of the wandering Sadhus with their begging bowls. Sadly this give and take situation has been abused in our time; in every tradition and at all levels; from the mighty Vatican to the fake Sadhus. But rather than complain about it, let us ‘walk the talk’ as Waylon says (refer to article on slow journalism), supporting the good works of others that are somehow significant to us. If it’s not this project, then find one that means something to you and share this one with those you know that might feel more about this one.
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