Firmness Not Flexibility 

The true potential of the yogic path

Hashtag Yoga

Forty-four million posts showing varied states of acrobatics and gymnastics symbolise a steady decline of the term yoga. Worship of external achievement has the word tacked on to everything from aerial to paddleboard and the name "Hatha Yoga" confused with a style rather than a science.

How to bring clarity to the situation? It is this questioning that fuelled one woman's quest to make a documentary feature film portraying how an ancient practice can be applied in a modern society. A bold undertaking by Emma Balnaves, co-founder of Shadow Yoga /Nrtta Sadhana following decades of self-enquiry, teaching globally and two publications.

"I wanted to produce a film that could benefit both the experienced practitioner and someone brand new to the subject of Yoga."
Filming of Sundernath (Shandor Remete) with Director Emma Balnaves and Umut Gunduz, Adelaide, Australia ©Agniyogana

Shining The Light

Few people engaging in Yoga today have a true master to guide them. Rare are those of great wisdom and accomplishment who can look back and shine the light on a student's path to steer them away from harm.

Yoga traditionally places emphasis on the guide/student relationship, which builds over a long period of time. This allows the mindset of the aspirant to develop gradually and accept the rigors of the practice. Studying under a skilled guide exposes useless tethers that are to be renounced for Yoga to be truly transformational.

Respect to the guide, Firmness and Faith are some of the subjects explored in this eight-part documentary. The topics came forth from an extensive study of the Siva Samhita, one of the three great classical treatises on yoga. This Sanskrit text outlines the path one needs to follow in order to evolve spiritually and Emma Balnaves has kindly brought it forward to our century, so we can gain insights into the practice.

"This film introduces the crucial parts of the practice that have been left out in modern day schools."
Preparing for an interview with Dordzin Dondrup Palden Rinpoche, Boudha, Nepal ©Agniyogana

Seeking The Essence

Moving from external form to the inner essence is a goal shared by great masters of many traditions. To penetrate these similar aspects, Emma Balnaves researched traditional practices over many years and distant lands. From Shamanic initiations on the plains of the Gobi Desert to the cliff-hugging Tibetan Buddhist monasteries of Bhutan, practitioners were sought who had direct experience of the Yogic path rather than intellectual knowledge alone.

In 2016 independent filmmaker Umut Gunduz joined the project as director of photography. Together they traveled throughout India and Nepal capturing scholarly voices from the Lonavla Institute in Mumbai to the Aghora yogis on the banks of the Bagmati River. Working with Nepalese and Tibetan translators, interviews were done with respected doctors, shy nuns, wandering sadhus and high lamas.

"The vision for the film is to portray the heart of the Hatha Yoga practices."
Filming of Yogi Narinath at Pashupatinath temple, Nepal with Umut Gunduz ©Agniyogana

Finding The Source

To resolve modern-day misconceptions about Yoga a deep look into its origins commenced at the Pashupatinath temple in Nepal where Goraknath, one of the forefathers of Hatha Yoga, is said to have first shared the practice in the 7th/8th century. When Guru Goraknath was asked about obstacles to Yoga he spoke of the senses and mental tendencies, not hamstrings and hip flexors.

Disciple to Guru: What are the obstacles and how to overcome them on the path of yoga?

Guru speaks: The first obstacle is your body (due to incorrect living patterns with their symptoms of ill health) it is the mind that creates the obstacles.

Desires and Anger are your two enemies that operate through the web of honor, insult and greed and these will trouble you. Hunger, thirst and sleep will also trouble you since behind them linger the unconscious fear of time and death, these will cause you to remain always afraid.

Tastes are another obstacle, since the tongue is the master of all senses, the Yogi by conquering the taste gains mastery over the tongue, speech and the whole body.

Once you win over the body keep the mind concentrated upon a single point, since the mind creates greed and will disturb you (the yogi).

Here ends the lesson of Guru Goraknath. –Source Sundernath (Shandor Remete)

Emma gained rare access to the Goraknath lineage due to her husband being an initiate of the Goraknath Sampradaya and through a fortunate meeting with the head of the Pashupatinath trust.

Filming began and interviewees were asked not just to speak on the topic but to show something of themselves and their background. The viewer will see these are actual practices to be engaged in, not just talked about.

"The best part was when one felt that a question had struck a chord with these masters and the answer was clearly coming from somewhere deep and true."
Yogi Shirisnath with his Guru's statue Yogi Naraharinath, Goraknath Temple, Nepal ©Agniyogana

Naming the Offering

The name "Agniyogana", literally translates as “yoking the fire”, and comes from a ritual Vedic text,

'Early the next morning, when about to speak the morning prayer, he yokes the fire thinking, with it when yoked, I shall obtain and by it when yoked he obtains all wishes.'- Satapatha Brahmana; (9:4:4:1).’

The tag line, “Lower the Head and Invoke the Fire”, implies humility precedes the activity, a bowing down to the subject and gurus of past before one begins.

Filming of Sundernath (Shandor Remete) Adelaide, Australia ©Agniyogana

Peer Support

"Agniyogana" will appeal to fellow yogis and film lovers but the bane of many an independent filmmaker is funding post-production and distribution. To gain extra funds for the highest quality production Emma has launched a crowd-funding campaign.  The stunning visuals on the Kickstarter video give a glimpse of what promises to be an inspiring documentary of current and historical value.

On hearing of the cause thirty-one yoga schools across North American, Japan, Israel, Europe and Australia volunteered to get on board, each hosting a January 2018 workshop and donating to the project. It seems Emma Balnaves is not the only one who wants to see this film come to life!  

"I am blessed to have been in the presence of truly great practitioners and to be supported by an amazing team. What began as my project has become our project, everyone involved is passionate about sharing this message to benefit all who seek a spiritual path."
Emma teaching students in Budapest during a one-week course on Asana Angahara ©Agniyogana

This important documentary is scheduled for release 2019, register for updates on its progress at Agniyogana