Yoga Yantra

Bobby Clennell

The study of yoga opened a window for me into the golden age of an ancient society that was the wellspring of great art, literature, and poetry. The holy art of India, in particular the sacred symbolism of the Yantra, an (often complex) geometric design traditionally used as a tool to increase awareness, inspired me to make an animated film.

I embarked on Yoga Yantra in the late 1980s. From film footage of Guruji's yoga performances, I traced his image over and over again. The figures were repeated and laid out to form patterns and then combined with yantras, some of which were classical and some that I made up. When an artist makes an image of yoga, they are doing more than just making an image. Yoga art is sacred and seeks more than to entertain, educate, or illuminate. Its function is also to connect the viewer to the Divine. It is also a devotional activity on the part of the artist.

Yantra, which leads us away from and back toward the center in stages, is a symbol of unfolding and gathering energy. Yantra stimulates us to explore and reveal the center, which in turn, links us to the cosmos. When we practice yoga, the body itself becomes a yantra.

Yoga Yantra, which was made over a five-year period, was the bridge that took me from my previous life in England to my new life in America. Moving from one continent to another and letting go of my long career in the animation business for a somewhat hazy future was scary. Although I had received my certification from B.K.S. Iyengar in 1977, I hadn't yet fully immersed myself into a life of full-time yoga teaching. Yoga Yantra, as well as my practice, was my life raft.

When making an animated film, the soundtrack–be it music or dialog–is always laid down first. Warren Senders, an East/West jazz fusionist and student of Indian classical singing whom I met in Pune, wrote the music for me, and he also produced and recorded it with an ensemble of Indian classical musicians.

I then set about looking for some suitable film footage of Guruji in practice. Much of the material was generated from a video made by Victor Van Koutan shot on the roof of the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune. It was a wonderful experience to be immersed in the movements and rhythms of Guruji practicing his yoga. As I worked, I became very familiar with the profundity and beauty of his poses. His arms really straighten in the balancing poses. His backbends are a perfect combination of strength and flexibility. I was particularly struck by the fluidity of his presentation and how effortlessly he moved from pose to pose. His jump from arm balance through a back bend into Hanumanasana is nothing short of miraculous.

The yoga drawings and yantra designs were arranged to make moving patterns, and then were synchronized to the music. More than 3000 drawings went into the making of this film.

Guruji took great interest in the making of Yoga Yantra and viewed its progress as I returned several times to Pune during its making. He also gave it its title.

I have never minded that this film was never taken to its finished, polished colored state. In fact, I prefer it at this raw, pure stage. The pencil drawings flicker, evidence of my manually removing each piece of paper from the registration pegs and replacing each one with the next drawing. I shot the film on a special camera (known as a line test machine) used by animators to see how the flow and movement of a piece of animation is coming.

Shown here is one of the color setups from Yoga Yantra. (Another is reproduced on the inside cover of this magazine.) Had the film been completed, one of the scenes in the film would have looked
like this.

The design (on the inside front cover) for the Sarvangasana/Setubandasana sequence was inspired by Indian folk art. The Women Painters of Mithila have passed their art down from mother to daughter for thousands of years. I was so intrigued by these women that I made a pilgrimage to Madhubani, a district that fairly represents the center of the ancient kingdom of Mithila and that nestles in the foothills of the Himalayas. A unique and conservative culture of women folk artists flourishes there to this day. Traditionally, this art is painted on the inside walls of the houses. Each painting is a prayer and an accompaniment to meditation. The women paint to invoke the gods and goddesses who influence the growth of crops, rainfall, and fertility. They paint to celebrate a son's sacred thread ceremony or a daughter's wedding. Sometimes, they paint to tell the mythological stories from the Vedic texts or simply to honor the phases of the moon. Often vividly colored, the work varies in style, depending on the caste of the artist and the village she comes from. The confidence the women display when painting indicates a long inheritance, but the freedom of line and the composition of the work are instinctive.

Mithila art was quite unknown to outsiders until, in 1934, an English Army officer who was investigating recent earthquake damage noticed it. In fact, because of the poverty and the overwhelming struggles of survival that these women were facing, the practice of painting on the inside walls of their houses was beginning to die out. Mithila art was resurrected in the 1960s when, to find some funding for flood victims, the older women who still remembered the art form were asked to draw on paper. And so the women began to paint again. Painting is a part of the women's daily routine: cooking, cleaning, taking care of children, painting on the walls (and now, on paper). I was entranced by this custom. The image of them painting, their faces peaceful and totally absorbed in their artistic activity, has remained with me to this day.

To view Yoga Yantra, go to, or

Bobby Clennell is the author and illustrator of The Women's Yoga Book: Asana and Pranayama for All Phases of the Menstrual Cycle. She is currently working on two projects: a children's book about yoga and a reworking of her yoga notebook, Props and Ailments.

Photos courtesy of Bobby Clennell and Jake Clennell