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"Awake: The Life of Yogananda": Where Yoga Came From, as Far as America Is Concerned 

Tuesday, Oct 14 2014

Paola di Florio and Lisa Leeman's documentary, about the life and impact of the first Indian Swami to make a dent in American culture, tries to be perhaps too many things at once. Paramahansa Yogananda came to America and popularized yoga and meditation in the 1920s, and his legacy includes high-profile disciples such as Steve Jobs and George Harrison. Awake is a hagiography, and as well it should be, but the running theme of the intersection of science and spirituality results in a few odd disconnects. Yogananda is seen to embrace then-modern technology, comparing human existence to the light and shadows of motion pictures, and we're shown a lot of capital-S Science via neato graphics about the measurable ways meditation affects the brain. On the other hand, Yogananda's claims that he could stay wide awake for five days and/or sleep for five days straight through mere force of will, or stop his pulse and then bring it back, are repeated as truths and left unchallenged. The most interesting parts involve the culture clash and overt racism Yogananda encountered in 1920s America, even during the relative enlightenment of the Jazz Age, particularly in the South. That could be its own movie, but Awake is ultimately a recruitment tool, not a history lesson.


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Sherilyn Connelly


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