Ancient wisdom meets Western materialism in this insightful interview with filmmaker Carlos Ferrand.

CHANCES ARE, when someone mentions ‘yoga’ you immediately think of a sweaty group of people bending into various postures. Or you think of the latest line of Lululemon mats or pants that your friends are wearing. Or if you’re already a yoga practitioner, you may conjure up images of Shiva, Kali, or the supreme deity of Brahman.

Myself, three years into my own yoga journey, I think of the laser Pink Floyd class my wife (also a teacher) gave last week.

If you notice a theme here, it’s because yoga has become many things to many people. Filmmaker Carlos Ferrand set out to uncover this movement that has been sweeping over the globe, in his appropriately titled “Planet Yoga.” From the film’s description:

PLANET YOGA tells the fascinating story of the encounter between the ancient eastern discipline of yoga and a western population hungry for spiritual and physical renewal. This convergence has given birth to the most popular mind-body movement on the planet. Featuring a colourful cast of characters, a compelling musical score, and unexpected locations on three continents, the film explores yoga’s social uses and its powerful attraction for a Western world in search of meaning. Behind the joyful energy of PLANET YOGA is the collective admission that materialism has hit the wall, and it is now time to look inwards for meaning and peace.

Watch the trailer:

I caught up via email with the film’s director Carlos Ferrand, to ask about the journey, both in production and his perceptions of yoga.

BNT: What first drew you to make a film about yoga?

CARLOS: Not the physical aspect which I had already tried a few times and each time came out hurting myself. I was more interested in the history of the Vedas, sanskrit, Indian mathematical intuitions.

Also, to be frank, the prospect of going back to India again was very appealing. I have been there a few times. At Kerala, Varanassi, Bhuj, Dehli etc. but always for a short period, as tourist-filmmaker. But India is galaxy and I for one can never get too much of it. It would take several reincarnations to understand a part of it so it is a lot of fun to keep trying.

What was one of the biggest challenges making this film?

First I spent about a year doing research and going beyond my own preconceived ideas. Then, going beyond the holier-than-thou attitude some yoga people have and their lack of humour. Specially in the West.

One of the characters said that “yoga is skill in action.” Can you elaborate on what you think that means?

Any time you do something with precision it implies thoughtfulness. And that usually translates into being aware of those around you. You have to really want to do it well and from doing it well to do good is not far away.

Carlos Ferrand, Director 'Planet Yoga'

Another character said that the East and West went two different ways. The East went inward, and the West went outward. What is the significance of the two cultures merging again at this time?

With the growing consciousness that we are all in the same boat, there is an awareness that we need each other. That we are richer if others are richer. Materially and spiritually. All of this running around to shop is becoming tiresome. Yoga is a good symbol of what we could be doing: relaxing, getting in touch with ourselves, and learning to live better; breath in, and die peacefully; breath out. Having said this I have to add that I don’t think Yoga is for everyone. You have to have a minimum of attraction for the thing. If you are horrified by gurus, rituals or spirituality, golf might be your thing.

I was born in Peru so I really understand the pull to get the stuff, to buy. I love shopping, electronic devices, books, Lululemon pants, etc. Most people in the world are very poor and [these] things make life more bearable. Comfort, cleanliness, material well-being keeps death away. Animals in captivity live longer than those in the wild. But of course the balance has to be found and I think the search for yoga means a yearning for a well-balanced life. East needs West and We need Them.

As yoga continues to be absorbed into Western culture, do you feel there’s a danger that it becomes just another commodified philosophy? Can yoga coexist in our consumerist world?

Yoga is like salt, you can make all sorts of dishes with it. Capitalism is insolent, irreverent, and opportunistic. 40 years ago people were saying that jogging was just a fad and it was. But once the novelty passed people kept doing it. Today nobody says of a jogger “oh its just a passing fad, she’s doing it just to be cool.” With yoga [it] is the same. It can be hard work and though walking around with your mat has become a statement, I believe it is a good statement. I have no patience with those who spend their time thinking that everything is a plot to make their lives meaningless. You will find that most of those who whine do it just as an excuse not to do anything. You have to enjoy doing exercise but if you don’t, well just don’t do it.

Yogi Michael Stone has said “all that matters at the time of your death is the condition of your heart.” How do you feel yoga helps us cultivate our hearts?

He’s great by the way. Yoga helps you getting in touch with a simpler way of life and once you get a taste of it you get a feeling of “oh, look at that, I’m just sitting on the floor breathing and that’s all I need, I did not know that was possible.” It helps you understand yourself a bit better and accept that you will die. I think acceptance has a lot to do with it but I’m a filmmaker not a yogi and have been doing it a bit everyday only for the past couple of years. Since the film started.

How did your own perception of yoga change throughout the course of the film?

It got rounder. There are seven yoga ways and only one of them has to do with physical exercise.

What was one of the most important insights you learned about yourself?

That I’m able to be suppler, and not only physically. That I can let go – a bit – of my obsessions. What a relief. But I really would like to emphasize the little bit part. Yoga has not changed me or transformed me. But as they say, every little bit helps.

Watch behind the scenes clips and more at Planet Yoga