“Yoga: The Art of Transformation” Deepens Our Practice

Photo: Victoria And Albert Museum http://www.asianart.org/exhibitions_index/yoga-artwork-highlightsYou may use yoga as a workout or as part of your spiritual practice, but do you know anything about its history? The origins of the tradition are rich in art and philosophy, and the San Francisco Asian Art Museum has done an excellent job capturing it all in its exhibit: Yoga: The Art of Transformation.

No one knows exactly when it began, but stone carvings depicting figures in yoga positions have been found dating back at least 5,000 years. Originally the tradition was passed on individually from teacher to student through oral teaching and practical demonstration. The formal techniques that are now known as yoga are based on the collective experiences of many individuals over many thousands of years.

Although many people equate yoga with Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, the practice actually transcends religion. Like these religions, the goal of yoga is to use postures, meditation, breathing, and concentration to become one with nature and the universe. But unlike these religions, yoga practitioners do not worship a god or follow a prescribed set of teachings — they believe that all natural and supernatural benefits of the practice are attained individually.

Despite the distinction between yoga and religion, a lot of the art featured in Asian Art Museum’s exhibit was religious in nature. For example, an 18th-century watercolor called “The Five Faced Shiva” depicts the Hindu god in traditional yoga garb seated in the lotus position. And the 19th-century “Vishnu Vishvarupa” which shows the god in mountain pose as both established in the cosmos and consisting of the cosmos.

The exhibit shows how influential yoga has been over the millennia — everyone saw benefits with the practice, from gods to kings to novices. And this is interesting given yoga’s growing prevalence in today’s culture. Perhaps we’ll soon see a picture of Jesus in a headstand.

The exhibit will be at the Asian Art Museum until May 25, 2014.

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I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .