A Skeptic’s Journey into the World of Yoga
Directed by: Kate Churchill, 2008
My friend Dudley recommended this movie, and I finally got around to watching it. Enlighten Up! is a documentary that takes Nick, a reluctant yet curious individual at a crossroads in life, and immerses him in yoga to see what happens.
The movie follows him as he seeks out many famous teachers, takes classes from them (sometimes to gain an audience) and interviews them. There are predictable scenes of Nick in uncomfortable poses, and clips from yoga proponents; some sounding wise, some appearing surprisingly grumpy, while others just seem a bit too far off in left field to be taken seriously.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys Yoga. But, I wouldn’t recommend it for someone just arriving at Yoga. And here’s why: I don’t think it behooves anyone to “examine the good, the bad and the ugly of yoga,” as the movie’s PR suggests, and travel around the world talking to one celebrity yogi after another, without first really building an asana (posture) practice and struggling with it.
We are way too critical in the west. Seeking out different interpretations on Yoga or interviewing gurus without maturing in one’s own asana practice really cuts you off from gaining the personal insight to begin to understand in earnest. It’s the focus on the academic and the intellect over experience that continues to trip people up or contributes to missing the point of Yoga entirely.
Nick would have been better served by finding a local teacher that resonated with him, and making the effort to practice 3-4 times a week for six months to a year. However, it wouldn’t have offered nearly as many photo ops. It wouldn’t be controversial and it wouldn’t have made a good movie. So, instead, the movie predictably serves up a buffet style selection of yoga in the search for relatively immediate enlightenment. It didn’t surprise me one bit that Nick was underwhelmed with Yoga.
Speaking of photo ops… I was surprised at how grumpy some of these yoga luminaries came across. Pattabhi Jois was grim. Iyengar? A friend of mine said he looked like he was “ready to leave his body.” I mean, look at this guy, does he look like he wants to be here? The movie, unintentionally, I’m sure, proves that it’s silly to seek one guru after another when the truth comes from within. You practice.
The movie ends with Nick rock climbing. This was ironic as it reminded me of what Chase Bossart often stressed in our classes on the Yoga Sutras. In the tradition of Krishnamacharya, Yoga is defined as concentration. Yoga is about the ability to focus on one thing. Chase often used the surfer or rock climber as a metaphor for concentration. When you crest the wave or balance on three points while you search for the fourth; you are nowhere else but there, in that moment.
I’m not sure Nick truly examined the practice of Yoga, but I didn’t get the feeling that he really needed to in the first place.