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Yogawoman: A new film reviews women’s role in yoga’s evolution


In most of your yoga classes, you can probably count the number of mats occupied by men on one hand. That’s because of the 20 million people doing yoga in the U.S. today, 85 percent are women.

But Yogawoman, a new documentary premiering in New York today, written and directed by Kate Clere McIntyre, wants to remind you that it wasn’t always this way.

Annette Benning Yogawoman
Annette Bening and filmmaker Kate Clere McIntyre

“Yoga is an ancient tradition,” begins Annette Bening, the film’s narrator, in the opening scenes, “crafted over thousands of years to bring peace and enlightenment…to men.”

The film takes a brief look at the beginnings of the tradition in India, when women were not allowed to practice and were considered obstacles to enlightenment, and at the period when yoga first became popular in the West and most instructors were men.

But after establishing this background, it goes on to tell the story of the influential players who got up from their Lotus poses and took the practice to women, eventually creating a revolution of female yogis around the world.

Yogawoman takes an in-depth look at the the many things yoga has given women, from relief from symptoms of chemotherapy, to helping with work-family balance, and “cutting back on our own drama.”

But the more interesting, and unfortunately less discussed story line, is what women have done for yoga.

Seane Corn Yogawoman
Seane Corn being interviewed during filming

“Women actually redesigned the whole concept of what it meant, not only to take a yoga class, but to incorporate it into our lives,” says Linda Sparrowe, author of The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health in the film.

Interviews with many of the most influential yoginis illuminate this point, from the thriving communities built by Sharon Gannon, Shiva Rea, and Elena Brower, to the nurturing charity work being done around the world by Seane Corn’s Off the Mat, Into the World initiative.

Overall, Yogawoman is an engaging and inspiring glimpse at how yoga culture has been shaped by the nurturing practice and powerful dedication of women around the world, and how yoga has become a go-to vehicle in helping women navigate the difficulties of modern life. —Lisa Elaine Held

The New York premiere of “Yogawoman,” narrated by Annette Bening, is Thursday, September 15, at 7:30 p.m. at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, 143 East Houston,