Prāṇāyāma is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the life force”. The pulse of prāṇāyāma is a performance-installation artwork which intends to capture this life force. It takes place in the hot room at the renowned ETHOS Hot Yoga Sports Studios in central Cambridge. The soundtrack of the installation is a recording of artist Lorna Collins’s heartbeat pounding with a constantly changing speed and volume, obtained from her own performance of practicing Bikram yoga. As each posture changes, so does the velocity and pitch of the heartbeat. The narrative of the whole recording follows the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises of Bikram yoga.
Mats are laid out in the studio. Participants can practice yoga during the installation, knowing when to change pose by following the change in tempo or volume of the heartbeat in the recording. The lights in the studio will change colour as each posture ends and the next one starts. Participants who do not wish to practice can still have an equally powerful experience, amplified in the heat of the room, by sinking into the mats and allowing their own heartbeat to synchronise with the recording. They have a beautiful chance to pause, lie down and absorb the vibrating force of the heartbeat. All participants then together create a very new kind of installation art, as the performance happens.
This performance-installation is a provocative piece of sound art. At times the noises on the recording of the heartbeat jar and are unrecognisable. Sometimes we hear Collins groan, as she pushes her body to the limit. The sound of (‘pranayama’) breathing in the beginning involves a warbling, as Collins sucks the air in and out of her throat. These sounds are strange and compelling. And then the heartbeat kicks in. It bangs on and on as the artist strains towards each posture, becoming so loud that it sounds as though the speakers are being spanked. This continues, and changes as she recovers and the postures advance. By the end the heartbeat has returned to its normal, steady rate. The whole piece is then a symphony, with 26 acts.
Making the link between hot yoga and performance art is an aesthetic innovation, whilst it confirms and advocates the medical benefits of practicing yoga and the meditative benefits of using this practice to make art. The recording could also be utilized to provide evidence of the cardiovascular benefits of Bikram yoga practice. This work also breaks new curatorial ground since it becomes an interactive installation which opens a new space for participants to feel their own bodies, whilst becoming saturated by the sound, rhythm and vibration of this artwork. Participants meet on the pulsating plane of prāṇāyāma that trembles and yet grasps us in this artwork – as the ineffable but here made sensual force of life.
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