Awake: The Life of Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda is one of human history’s great spiritual gurus. He was a man of almost infinite wisdom and had a perception of life few have ever achieved. He was a Hindu Swami who brought methods of yoga, meditation as well as enlightenment to the Western world. His teachings are known the world over and are considered the most precious pieces of knowledge ever to grace mankind. A brilliant new documentary has just been released entitled Awake: The Life of Yogananda and it shines a light on the man and the miracle who has touched so many lives with a spiritual, almost magic touch.

For those unfamiliar with Yogananda’s life, this is the perfect film to educate one’s self about the famed mystic. In the 1920s, Yogananda brought yoga and meditation to the West, more specifically, Los Angeles. His philosophy and teachings caught the interest of some very wealthy and influential individuals and from then on, his wisdom spread like wildfire. His presence in the United States didn’t just have spiritual significance but it was evidence that international relations between India and the U.S. were relatively decent and with little to no tension. Yogananda’s time in America was a sign that foreign countries could overcome pettiness and conflict and focus on peace and inner tranquility.

Yogananda’s teachings were the stuff of absolute legends and he even wrote a book on the subject, Autobiography of a Yogi. In it, he compiled some of his strongest nuggets of wisdom and it soon became the Bible for many modern day spiritualists. It was even eventually found out to be the only book on the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ iPad, so apparently the influential yogi’s words spoke not only to nature-loving hippies but to technology-loving hippies as well.

Awake is a truly captivating work of documentarian art. It combines actual footage of Yogananda with recreations, narration and gorgeous visuals. All of these elements combine to tell the story of a man whose story deserves to be told in this fashion. It is in many ways, a traditional type of documentary but at the same time, it utilizes unique techniques that make it stand apart from the “normal” documentary film. The recreations are startlingly realistic and the line between what footage is real and what is a reenactment is blurred quite often during the film’s 87 minute runtime.

With a limited theatrical run this fall, it is strongly recommended that those who appreciate powerful biographical documentaries see Awake. It tells the story of someone who isn’t really spoken of too often and the goal of most if not all documentaries is to educate. To inform as well as entertain is exactly what Awake does and it does it in a way that is subtle yet strong at times. If Yogananda were still alive today, I’m sure he would approve of this colorful profile. Filmmakers Paola di Florio (Speaking in Strings, Home of the Brave) and Lisa Leeman (One Lucky Elephant, Medical Diaries) have given audiences a fantastic glimpse into Yogananda’s life and continue to expand his legacy on film for the 21st century. Awake is an absolute treasure and should not only be watched, but experienced.

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