When the Smithsonian Institution’s Yoga: The Art of Transformation opens in Washington DC this Friday it will be the first museum exhibit to explore the visual history of a tradition that spans 2000 years.
Debra Diamond, the woman tasked with the epic mission of curating the show, which will also travel to San Francisco and Cleveland in 2014, shares with us some of the findings from her journey.
What crossovers did you find in the way yoga has been practised over the ages and how we practise in the West today?
“Heightened consciousness and a supple body are goals of both earlier and contemporary yoga practices. And the important role of teachers, including teachers in lineages, is another point of continuity.”
What makes these ancient stories and works of art relevant to modern yogis?
“So many modern yogis want to know more about the depth of yoga and the history of their practise. For examples, some are motivated to work with the concepts of transformation or creativity, others look for archetypes in powerful female yoginis from history, some love and find inspiration in the art, and many more are really curious about the transformations that took place in the early 20th century, when modern yoga emerged in India.”
What were some of the more unusual practices you came across curating the project?
“When we think of modern yoga, our landscape includes the many studios and teachers from which practitioners can pick and choose. But what were the options in the past? Some of these are unusual by today's standards: they include hatha yoga practices that lead to the ability to fly, or the goal of becoming a deity, practices that took place in cremation grounds, and the option of becoming an armed ascetic (to protect members of one's lineage while they traveled or to get a gig as a mercenary).”
And the most simplistic?
“Gosh, I don't think anything about yoga is casual or simplistic! It seems that meditation and [postures of] stillness are the most enduring of yoga practices, though even meditation isn't a part of every yoga tradition.”
Why are you so passionate about yoga personally?
“Two reasons: because of its personal potential (to deepen consciousness, to gain greater equanimity, etc.) and because I am an historian. The latter led me to become aware that we don't today know the breadth of traditional yoga practices and I love researching and uncovering those hidden histories.”
How would you describe your own practise?
“I really should describe myself as lapsed! In the last year, I've focused almost every waking moment on learning more about yoga, about the artworks we are exhibiting and planning the exhibition – as opposed to actual time on the mat. I loved all that, and I think it has helped me gain greater respect for yoga. But it's fair to say that in general, my practice is meditation focused.”
Yoga: The Art of Transformation runs October 19, 2013 – January 26, 2014 in Washington DC.
Whether it's interviewing Lady Gaga, unveiling the latest trends in fashion, or getting under the skin of our most neurotic social trends, Ruby Warrington is at the forefront of it all. She's a British lifestyle writer and the celebrated creator of the blog The Numinous, but best of all is that Ruby is also a feature writer for the lululemon blog.