Yoga Inc. is Australian director John Philp's feature-length documentary on the marketing of yoga in the United States, narrated with an engaging mix of seriousness and humor. There's no denying that yoga is hugely profitable, generating revenues to the tune of $2.95 billion a year, according to Yoga Journal's 2005 survey—$18 billion, according to the film. Wanting to make a point about the unabashed commercialism in American yoga, Philp found Bikram Choudhury, with his enormously profitable and regulated franchise, to be a perfect example.
Philp talks to a number of people on both sides of the Bikram aisle: the wide-eyed devotees for whom Choudhury can do no wrong and irate former students who have felt the guru's legal wrath after refusing to pay him for using his copyrighted sequence. Philp attempts to interview the man himself, but as soon as it becomes apparent that Philp, as the on-camera interviewer, is unwilling to play by Choudhury's rules, the deep-pocketed yogi leaves the room.
The film raises important questions about the state of yoga in 21st-century America: How do you square yoga's spiritual intent with an often-obsessive focus on asana? Or how do you justify mostly inessential yoga accoutrements—such as a pair of skimpy Om underpants—with the traditional yogic values of contentment and greedlessness? What happens now that yoga classes can sometimes swell to dozens, even hundreds, of students?
But take heart: Yoga is still in its infancy in the West, and growing pains are to be expected. Through interviews with various teachers, Philp suggests that yoga is in a process of external accommodation and adaptation, while holding firm to its spiritual core. In the end, Philp's documentary is an entertaining, informative, cautionary, yet ultimately hopeful portrait of yoga in America.
Directed by John Philp. Bad Dog Tales; baddogtales.com