Enlighten Up!

Posted by schnolis on June 3rd, 2009 filed in Reviews

ENLIGHTEN UP!Yoga in the United States is a thriving industry. Thousands of people from all walks of life practice on a regular basis. There are endless varieties, differentiated by principles, poses, and spiritual components, so abundant that anyone should be able to find a style of yoga that works for him. At least that’s the founding idea of Enlighten Up!, a documentary by Kate Churchill. She’s been a practicing student of yoga for about seven years. To test her claim, she hires Nick Rosen to try out yoga for six months. Nick isn’t a yoga guy. He’s a reporter who claims no religion specifically and no spirituality generally. His life is clearly based in the observable world, and to him, claims do not stand on their own merits. They need to be corroborated and tested within the crucible of life that is our world.

Nick is a skeptic from the very beginning. He’s open to the experience of yoga, but cautious about the claims he’s expecting to hear. And he doesn’t wait long to hear some big ones. Initially Nick tests the waters in his home turf, the New York City area, where both Kate and he lived. There are plenty of mainstream and boutique yoga places that offer him various styles of yoga. He stretches, breathes, twists, flips, contorts and even stands on his head for a while. He converses with the practitioners and teachers alike, trying to get an answer to some basic questions, like “What is Yoga all about?” and “What am I supposed to do if I don’t feel anything spiritual happening?” Nick eventually travels the world, first to Alaska and Hawaii, then to several remote spots across India in search of Yoga knowledge and their master Yogis. When the challenge ends after six months, Nick moves to Colorado and stops his daily practicing of yoga. But it wasn’t wasted time. The physical nature of the workouts and the reflective moments of the meditation did have an effect on Nick. He spent more time examining his life, and felt invigorated also.

Nearly all of the individuals interviewed in the movie spoke of being closer to god, and that being the reason they did yoga. For me, though, that’s not really a relevant point. Like Nick, I’m not a believer; I don’t believe in any gods or follow any religion. Instead I channeled the discussions into more general and I think more potent questions. “What is life all about?” “Why are we here?” “What does it mean to live a meaningful life?” Many believers of Yoga think that it can answer those questions, but that it can take years. I grant that, but only in the sense that anything you dedicate yourself to, can provide the same connection with the larger world. We’re all searching for some kind of personal meaning to our lives, and it’s possible to find that with Yoga. But it’s not for everyone, and it holds no mysterious sway that cannot be had elsewhere.

What I liked: Nick Rosen is my kind of guy. To me, the challenge was that much more credible because his perspective was so similar to what I expect mine would be. The discussions with the gurus were quite contemplative and philosophical, and interesting. The life perspectives of all the different people and all their different backgrounds bring some amazing stories to the screen. I especially liked the laughter yoga, which was a humorous and enjoyable variety that I hadn’t seen before. The “Yoga for Regular Guys” seems like it has some potential, too.

What I disliked: Not much. Sometimes the yogis were a bit preachy and had some very circular and nonsensical statements. Lots of pop-psychology. There’s a fine line between a reasonable choice for how to spend your time and cult-like following of ritual and self-delusion, and I think some people were on the wrong side of that line.

Rating: 9 of 10

Leave a Comment