WASHINGTON D.C., October 24, 2013 (BBC News): Yoga is a US$5 billion industry in the US practiced by millions of people seeking physical fitness, improved health, or spiritual enlightenment. Almost every gym offers a class and the experience can be enhanced by drinking specially blended teas or listening to suitably soothing music.
The Indian government has become so concerned about the commercialization of yoga in recent years that it started a campaign to patent hundreds of postures to stop them being appropriated by Western companies.
But the world’s first exhibition exploring the visual art of yoga has revealed aspects of the ancient tradition that many will find of interest: in the 2,500 years of its known existence, there has never been one single type of yoga.
“Five years ago I did think I would find that single yoga tradition,” says Debra Diamond, curator of the exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery of Asian Art. “But yoga constantly transformed and developed over time. Although there are a couple of main goals, there’s nothing that shows up in every single yoga path.
“For some traditions it was heightened consciousness and an end to suffering, a way to get out of the cycle of birth, death and re-birth that is so painful. But for other yoga traditions some of the goals were things like supernatural powers and the ability to control other people.”
The exhibition showcases 130 objects from 25 museums and private collections around the world. Many have never been seen in public while others are known masterpieces. Together they mark the start of a new field of study – how yoga’s visual culture can shed light on its profound mysteries and hidden meanings.