An unexpected twist

October 15, 2013
Unless the government shutdown ends by Saturday, this might be all anyone can see of “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” at the Freer and Sackler Galleries for now. (Smithsonian)
Unless the government shutdown ends by Saturday, this might be all anyone can see of “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” at the Freer and Sackler Galleries for now. (Smithsonian)

How stressful can it be to debut the first exhibition of yogic art ever? Turns out, extra deep breathing is required.

The exhibit’s opening is scheduled for Saturday at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art, which are closed as part of the federal government shutdown.

Employees have been allowed inside to receive pieces for the show, “Yoga: The Art of Transformation,” a collection of more than 120 sculptures, paintings, photos and films that highlight the history of the practice. The only thing missing is the go-ahead for visitors.

In the meantime, the museum staff recognizes they might need to come up with modifications. They’re considering filming the exhibit so visitors can virtually experience it during the shutdown, although it’s tough to get a feel for certain pieces if you’re not face-to-face with them, admits curator Debra Diamond.

“Three Aspects of the Absolute,” for instance, looks lovely online. The 19th-century painting depicts the beginning of the universe as a gold square. But good luck grasping its considerable size — 3½ feet across — or its power.

“You see the light shimmer on the surface and it conveys a sense of cosmic awe,” Diamond says.

Similarly, a nearly 1,000-year-old marble sculpture from Rajasthan, India, seems well preserved in photos. But Diamond describes it as “luminous” and marvels at how the piece evokes “crispness and alertness.”

Eventually, visitors should be able to take in these sights themselves: The exhibit is set to run through Jan. 26. And starting next month, government willing, they can also get the assistance of docent/yoga instructor duos, who will lead tours that end with a yoga class. (Sign up for these special events, for $15 per person, at asia.si.edu/exhibitions/current/yoga.asp.)

John Schumacher, founder of Unity Woods Yoga, has been helping develop these classes. Normally, students in a yoga studio start out with their heads “full of external day-to-day stuff,” he says. But after walking through the exhibit, he predicts, their attention will be turned inward.

For now, however, attention is focused on this weekend’s events, which have been moved off-site, no matter what.

NPR’s headquarters (1111 N. Capital St. NE) will host a screening of Smithsonian Channel’s “Mystical Journey: Kumbh Mela,” featuring “The Wire” actor Dominic West and yoga scholar Sir James Mallinson, at 4:30 p.m. Friday. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, singer Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon will perform there. (Both events are free; tickets from events.npr.org are required.)

The Diwali Festival scheduled for Oct. 26 is still slated to take place at the Freer and Sackler. That’s a whole day of free activities, including classes, art projects, music performances, storytelling and a traditional lamp-lighting ceremony with Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao.

The exhibit, Schumacher says, is bound to provoke more curiosity in yoga. “It will cause yoga to be appreciated and understood in a broader way.” But first, it needs to open.

Hilaria and Alec Baldwin show off partner poses on a new yoga DVD. (Acacialifestyle.com)
Hilaria and Alec Baldwin show off partner poses on a new yoga DVD. (Acacialifestyle.com)

Co-Chair Pose

As the parents of a 2-month-old, Hilaria and Alec Baldwin know that children can wreak havoc on a schedule. But they’re not going to let the shutdown mess up their visit to D.C. this week. On Thursday, they’ll serve as co-chairs of a gala for the Smithsonian’s “Yoga: The Art of Transformation,” and the $1,000-per-person party will go on — just not at the Sackler Gallery as planned.

Pitching in to support the exhibit is a natural fit for Hilaria, a yoga instructor who majored in art history.

“This [exhibit] gives us confirmation of why we do yoga,” she says.

Hilaria had planned to film her first DVD over the summer, and when she and Alec were surprised by the news of her pregnancy, the project got a prenatal focus. She credits yoga with helping her handle months of physical changes and aches.

What were her go-to poses for relief? “Squatting is a big one,” Hilaria says. “It’s great for opening up the hips.” She also relied on downward facing dog to ease tight leg muscles.

Now, she’s watching little Carmen Gabriela test her strength by doing yoga on her own. “I can put her on her tummy and she can press into baby cobra,” Hilaria says.

So at least some art of transformation is on display.

Substitute Teachers

Beyond the exhibit, it’s a big weekend for big yoga names in D.C.:

-Catch Shiva Rea, who’s bringing her prana flow to a retreat Friday through Sunday morning at Ananda Shala Yoga & Pilates studio (anandashala.com) in Frederick, Md. Registration costs, which also cover accommodations and food, start at $485 per person. At 5 p.m. Sunday, Rea is leading a practice for D.C.’s Flow Yoga Center (flowyogacenter.com) at All Souls Church (1500 Harvard St. NW). It’s $54 to attend just her class, or $63 to stick around for a film and discussion.

-Max Strom, author of the new book “There Is No App for Happiness,” will conduct two workshops Saturday at 532Yoga (532 N. Washington St., Alexandria; $55 and $65; 532yoga.com). He’ll also show up at 11 a.m. Sunday at D.C.’s Buddha B Yoga to teach “Yoga and the Power of Intention” (1115 U St. NW; $48; buddhabyoga.com)

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Vicky Hallett | October 15, 2013