The Art of Yoga

Yoga and art share something fundamental: inspiration. The dictionary defines inspiration as “divine influence.” When we practice yoga with an intention of drawing in spirit as we inhale, we set it apart from mere exercise. For artists, inspiration means being open to the muse, the higher intelligence that flows through the act of creation. Over the centuries, sculptors, painters, dancers, and musicians have explored the intersection between yoga and art, inspiring others with their vision. Some of these works will be highlighted this fall at the Smithsonian in an exhibit called Yoga: The Art of Transformation.

Two things make the Smithsonian exhibit particularly notable. First, it’s being crowdfunded, an approach that’s giving the exhibit lots of buzz months before its October opening. Second, the exhibit will include modern yoga art, such as film, among older works. Rarities include pages from an illustrated compilation of yoga postures dating to the beginning of the 17th century, perhaps the world’s first “asana manual.” After its run at the Smithsonian, the exhibit will travel to San Francisco and Cleveland in 2014.

If a trip to Washington D.C. isn’t in your future, or if you don’t want to wait until fall to be inspired, you may be able to explore the union of yoga and art closer to home. My favorite venue: the third floor of San Francisco’s fabulous Asian Art Museum, where the roots and branches of yoga can be traced through temple sculptures, paintings, coins, and other precious objects. Over the weekend of June 8-9, the museum’s schedule includes Indian classical dance and MC Yogi performing in the Mythic Yoga Lounge, followed by family yoga events in July and August.

In New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art holds notable collections of Indian art with subjects and motifs that yogis will recognize. Also in NYC, the Tibet House combines exhibits and activities, including meditation instruction. The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Phoenix Art Museum all have fine Asian collections (though items may be exhibited on a rotational basis). Even armchair travelers can explore yoga art: the Seattle Art Museum has an interactive online exhibit of Krishna lore, with stories and images that add nuance to practices like kirtan (singing) or Ananda Balasana.

The historical treasures found in museums are rare and priceless, but contemporary artists and craftspeople make art affordable for almost anyone, whether it’s jewelry incorporating yogic designs, the bas reliefs of the chakras created by yoga teacher/artist Cheryl Alexander, or the inspiring photographs of Robert Sturman. Like art, yoga can ennoble or elevate daily life, especially when we approach our practice with intention. In the words of BKS Iyengar, “Yoga is an art, a science and a philosophy. It touches the life of man at every level, physical, mental, and spiritual. It is a practical method for making one’s life purposeful, useful, and noble.”

How have yoga’s artful aspects inspired you?

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