One of my favourite ways to learn more about something is to watch a documentary about it. I’m a visual person, so the movie format works well for me, plus it’s MUCH quicker than reading a book (I do love me a good yoga book, though). Yoga movies have been an essential source for teaching me more about this rich tradition and amazing practice, that has become such a central part of my life. So many interesting movies about yoga on Netflix have been made in the last few years, and quite a few of them are available on Netflix. There are a few older ones that I think are worth watching too, and although some are a little bit harder to get hold of, if you are interested in learning more about the yoga tradition I have found them to be super informative.
I always recommend these vegan documentaries to people who want to learn more about veganism and travel TV shows for the travel buffs, and here is my go-to list of yoga movies on Netflix and elsewhere to learn more about this life-changing practice, and it’s surprising — sometimes good, sometimes bad — history!
The Best Yoga Movies You Should Watch Now
On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace
Duration: 1h 32m
Year Released: 2017
Available on Netflix
This yoga movie is visually stunning and by far one of the best yoga movies Netflix is currently showing. The film is structured around the work of Michael O’Neill, a prominent photographer who made his name photographing cultural and political figureheads such as Orson Welles, Leonardo di Caprio and Richard Nixon. O’Neill came to yoga after surgery left his right arm paralysed, and yoga helped him regain its use. This triggered him to embark on a project, spiritually uniting his two passions: yoga and photography. He has taken some of the most iconic yoga photographs to date, and the film is a deeper dive into this creative, spiritual journey. The film travels between the US, India and Nepal, mixing together photos, film footage set to entrancing music, and interviews with yogis, who give insight into what yoga is and what it means to them. It includes lots of well-known contemporary western yoga practitioners, but the parts focusing on yoga and yogis in India and Nepal today was definitely my favourite. It’s incredible to see how the traditional lineages have endured, and the sadhus, saints, ascetics, chillum smokers, and mallakhamb aerial gymnasts, living yoga today.
Awake: The Life of Yogananda
Duration: 1h 27m
Cast: Deepak Chopra, George Harrison, Russell Simons
Year Released: 2014
Available on Vimeo
I’ve been curious about the yoga movie of Yogananda ever since finding out that Steve Jobs arranged for copies of the Indian guru’s Autobiography of a Yogi to be handed out at his memorial service. I did try reading the book a few times… but I’ll be honest, I never seem to get past the bit where he says he was cured of cholera as a child by looking at a photo of his parent’s guru. So I was very pleased to come across this movie biography of the swami! Yogananda was probably the first celebrity guru to come to the west, and this documentary covers his role in popularising meditation and Kriya yoga in the 1920s, the suspicion he aroused in the FBI, his influence on famous figureheads around him, and his lasting legacy. If, like me, you are curious about Yogananda, then this is a great film to get more familiar with him, his teachings, and the impact he made on the yoga world.
Bikram: Yoga, Guru, Predator
Duration: 1h 26m
Year Released: 2019
Available on Netflix
Watch it. Whether you are interested in yoga movies on Netflix or not, this film is fascinating and disturbing in equal measures. It has an investigative/true crime vibe as it uncovers the rise, fall and reality of Bikram Choudry and his, now infamous, Bikram hot yoga empire. Yoga has a long history of guru scandals, but of all the recently discredited guru figures I think the story of Bikram is the most intriguing. Bikram made millions exploiting the commercial side of yoga, not just to buy Rolls Royces, but essentially started a cult and used sex to gain power over his followers. If there was ever a Harvey Weinstein of the yoga world then Bikram is it. It can be hard to hear the stories of the women who were assaulted by him, and even more depressing to know that he is still peddling his teacher training today. This documentary, as a piece of investigative work, has been part of a major wakeup for the yoga world.
Wild Wild Country
Duration: 6 part series (about 6h 45m total)
Year Released: 2018
Available on Netflix
Not a movie about yoga per see, but closely related. Another fascinating look at a guru gone rogue. Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh, now better known as Osho, is a bit of a marmite figure in the yoga world: you love him or hate him. I’ve met a lot of people who swear by his teachings and meditation methods, and others who outrightly condemn him as a power and money-hungry charlatan, who sexually violated women and children. But before I watched this series I didn’t have a whole lot of context for him. And what a story it is, this series focuses on the ashram Rajneesh and his followers established in the 1980s in the US, and the unbelievable turn of events: think guru devotees taking up arms, bioterrorism, assassination plots, and attempted political coups. The documentary series is made up of a mix of footage from the time, and recent interviews with various people who were affected, including Osho’s followers. Not only is it a great story, but it premiered at the Sundance film festival, which is a testament to the fact that it is not just a good yoga documentary film series, but a good piece of cinema all round.
Year Released: 2007
Available on Amazon
The conflict between yoga as a spiritual practise and yoga as a business is something many contemporary yoga practitioners battle with. This documentary is a relatively early look at the commercialisation and commodification of yoga, but it feels as relevant as ever. Yoga, Inc. briefly covers the history of yoga in the west, from Swami Vivekananda introducing yoga to the US in 1893, through the counter-cultural hippie movements of the ‘60s and ’70s, before being absorbed into the US culture of celebrity status, fitness and weight loss trends, and, of course, capitalism. Key figures in the documentary are Bikram, Baron Baptiste, Shanon and David Life of Jivamukti Yoga, Rodney Yee, and the founders of Yoga Works. Some of these people definitely come off better than others, but all of them are scrutinised under the idea of whether yoga and business can ever go harmoniously hand-in-hand.
Duration: 3h 12m
Cast: Indra Devi, Dr Oz, TKV Desikachar, BKS Iyengar, Edwin Bryant
Year Released: 2004
Available here to stream
I debated whether to include this film, but it is by far the most informative yoga movie I know if you want to learn more about yoga’s roots and history. Yoga Unveiled features some of the most prominent scholars and figures in contemporary yoga and explains the 5,000-year-old history and philosophical traditions of yoga, the arrival of yoga in the west, and the modern-day evolution of yoga. I do, however, have a few caveats. It’s a little dated and it definitely shows, but most annoyingly it’s expensive to stream ($36.99, although the DVD is much cheaper)! You can only buy it directly from the creators, so you will be supporting an independent company in doing so. But I would say for the serious student of yoga, anyone looking for a solid introduction to yoga history and philosophy, or for yoga teachers and aspiring yoga teachers, this is a pretty good investment.
I am Maris
Year Released: 2018
Available on Netflix
I am Maris is the intimate story of how yoga transformed, perhaps even saved the life of, one person. It’s a really personal, down to earth, documentary, about mental health and how yoga can help support your mental wellbeing. Maris Degener started experiencing anxiety from a young age, which grew progressively worse over the years and culminated in self-harm and an eating disorder that saw her hospitalised in her early teens. The turning point in her recovery –– yoga. She chanced upon a yoga class, which led her to find a yoga studio, yoga family, and her voice as a yoga teacher. Art and writing are big parts of Maris’s life, and the film is told by weaving together her drawings and blog posts with yoga. If yoga has been a healing force in your life I highly recommend this film.
Duration: 1h 24m
Cast: Annette Benning, Seane Corn, Angela Farmer
Year Released: 2011
Available on Vimeo
The most interesting thing about this documentary is that it draws attention to the fact that women were traditionally excluded from yoga, and yet are at the forefront of modern-day yoga. It briefly touches on this historical aspect of yoga, but focuses mainly on female practitioners around the world who are pioneers of the practice. Actor Anette Benning, who practices Iyengar yoga, narrates the film, and it features prominent women in yoga such as Angela Farmer, Seane Corn and Cyndi Lee. The documentary advocates for yoga as an empowered, radical, feminist practise, and it’s very inspiring because of that. It could have done with getting a bit deeper and grittier, especially looking more at yoga’s male-dominated history, and perhaps questioning women’s role in the commercialisation of yoga. But it is definitely a yoga feel-good film!
Hope you enjoyed my yoga documentary recommendations, let me know your favourite yoga movies! For more yoga inspiration, read my favourite yoga quotes.
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