June 20, 2009

Enlighten Up

Went to see the new documentary Enlighten Up this afternoon, at the Pleasant Street Theater in Northampton.

The plot, basically: Film-maker Kate (Churchill) recruits journalist Nick (Rosen) to undergo a 6 month yoga journey, to dive into yoga and see if it changed his life. After sampling a multitude of yoga styles in NYC (good place to start) he travels further - California, Hawaii, and finally, India - and in the process meets, works with, and interviews some of the fathers of Asana yoga coming to the west. Filmmaker Kate wants subject Nick to get enlightened. Nick sort of never gets it in the way she expects him to.

Definitely a mixed experience. I loved to see and listen to these legends of yoga - BKS Iyengar, the late Pattabhi Jois especially, but many others as well. Many of the national yoga teachers have small cameo interviews. I loved to see Nick's experience with all the various yoga styles. A documentary wrapped around yoga, pretty cool.

Yet, the film's premise was, from the start, kind of rotten. 6 months of yoga, I don't care how extensive or concentrated, is pretty much scratching the surface. As if one were visiting the Jersey shore and coming to decisions about the Atlantic Ocean from that experience.

Kate is pretty brave, at the end - willing to bring herself into the film (I am reminded of the way Linda Hattendorf broke down the 4th wall in The Cats of Mirikitani, blogged here, although Hattendorf was a little more poetic about it. Kate allows herself to look like the bad guy here, to document her pressing Nick, and finally owning her shit (Nick says, and she keeps in the film, something like "I think Kate should have done this for herself". So her filmmaking rises above her frustration with Nick, her frustration with the failed experiment. Most tellingly, she opens up with a shot of Nick on a rock climbing wall, and closes with a segment of him climbing a cliff in Colorado. All that yoga, just to find himself.

Troubled too by the hubris of we westerners - thinking we can "get" yoga in 6 months, or by jumping on an airplane for a few weeks with a master. Not the first community I chaff against those who jump on the "fast track". The phrase "pearls before swine" came into my head a few times - Kate and Nick were able to gain access to some of the most enlightened beings and it seemed kind of funny watching them wrapped up in the making of the film and the project as this incredible wisdom lay open at their feet, were they just to stop, put down the camera, and pick it up.

The final segment, with Gurusharanananda, was most beautiful, as he seems to pull Nick in to a spiritual quest, not so much fo rgod or enlightenment, but for himself. Was a delicious exchange caught on film, and I think, a turning point in both the experiment and Nick's own growth and quest.

Definitely recommend it. On some level it does seem to paint hatha yoga (asana practice, as most often embraced as yoga in the west) as self involved and a bit neurotic. Funny - the Kunda-loonies, as Nick refers to them. Sad - the "Yoga for Regular Guys" practitioner, Diamond Dallas who closes his class with "Namastitties" and sees hot babes as the incentive to get men to practice). I saw a lot of yoga classes that I would probably walk away from upset or pissed off or frustrated by. The Bikram instructor in particular seemed kind of bored and detached.

If you want to lern about yoga - find a teacher, find a class, go do it. This film is interesting, but it's not yoga.

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