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Unless you’ve been living under some kind of rock, I’m sure you’ve heard of James Cameron’s latest blockbuster, Avatar. I’ll spare you the plot details (see IMDB for the full story). After several failed attempts (it was constantly sold out), I finally saw the film, and I was a little shocked at the overt spirituality within it. I’d heard a lot about the technology, the environmental message, and the story lines recycled from Dances With Wolves and Fern Gully. But what I didn’t realize is that the film is totally yogic. Here’s a breakdown of the yogic elements of Avatar:

interconnectedness of all beings – the Na’vi link to other beings on the planet through neural-chemical connections. One of the characters, Grace – the biologist played by Sigourney Weaver – calls it a network. And indeed, the whole planet is an organic neural network. The Na’vi practice and believe in an interconnection of all life in balance with nature. Because of this, everything is viewed as sacred.

unity – when they get attacked, Jake and the Na’vi realize pretty quickly that they’re going to need allies. They rally up the other clans, and together they fight the humans. Even their former predators, the wild animals of the jungle, unite in the battle against the humans and their corporate agenda.

goddess awesomeness – the Na’vi worship Eywa, and believe that all consciousness is infused with her energy. In yoga, this goddess consciousness is known as Shakti ~ while yoga isn’t exactly a goddess worshiping tradition, there are strong threads of the divine feminine throughout and sects which are devoted to her worship.

hindu origins – the word “avatar” itself is Sanskrit (see this NY Times article for proof), and is rooted in Hindu mythology (as is yoga). Since the advent of Second Life and gaming culture, the word avatar evokes the graphical representation of a computer user – but it’s original meaning is “descent” and it can be “an incarnation or human appearance of a deity, particularly Vishnu.” These incarnations – including one of the most famous, Krishna – have blue skin, and the blue Na’vi beings are themselves meant to evoke hindu deities. Read the rest of this entry »

Okay, there’s this yoga movie that has recently been released, Enlighten Up!, and it’s really quite good. Definitely recommended viewing for anyone interested in the bigger picture of what yoga is, and why we do it.

So the “star” of the film, Nick Rosen, just wrote an interesting piece for the Huffington Post, in which he discusses the yoga we practice in North America as a purely Western invention emphasizing physical prowess, rather than an ancient set of spiritual teachings. His conclusion:

The yoga we practice these days, although dressed in the trappings of ancient Hindu authenticity, was born about one hundred years ago, largely under the influence of western culture. While the yoga world routinely refers to yoga as a five thousand year old tradition, it is only a little older than Bollywood.

Perhaps this may be the case, but I don’t think this should justify North American yogis being ignorant of yoga philosophy and scripture. The meat of yoga, the depth and wisdom, is in these ancient teachings, and a lot of texts are available. They will continue to become more accessible as texts are unearthed and translated.

As Nick points out, the real yoga “was more like black magic: transforming one’s semen into magical nectar, flying around and taking over other peoples bodies, and the like. Yogis were like boogeymen and dark sorcerers.” Awesome.

Enlighten Up! is opening in theatres across America this month. Apparently, it’s not playing anywhere in Canada, which is too bad.

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