This weekend, I had a bit of free time to watch a film that had been on my mind for quite some time. Enlighten Up! is a movie I first heard about on the Visions of Cody podcast several years ago. The premise behind Kate Churchill’s documentary is that anyone can be transformed by yoga. To prove her hypothesis, Churchill selected a yoga skeptic (Nick Rosen, New Yorker, journalist in his late-twenties at the time) to try out different styles of yoga until he finds one he can commit to, and to catch the transformation on tape. In less than a year. The film follows Nick as he tries out many styles of hatha yoga, talks with modern master yogis, and makes a pilgrimage to India.
Enlighten Up! is a great conversation-starter, though I think that as a documentary, it takes too much of an interest in the outcome. Rather than beginning with a question, such as “Can one be transformed by yoga in a year?” the film declares “Yoga can transform anyone in a year.” Moreover, both transformation and the general mode (marga, or path of yoga) are dictated by the film’s creator, rather than the subject (Nick). In fact, when Kate attempts to look deeper at yoga and direct his quest deeper than “peace of mind,” Kate accuses him of not taking the project seriously. These aspects of the film bothered me, but I think they create the right circumstances for dialogue.
To the film’s credit, there are wonderful clips from classes and interviews with many master yogis. For example, Sharon Gannon and David Life hosted Nick and Kate at their yoga retreat and both offer up telling pearls of wisdom: “Are you ready?” and (I’m paraphrasing this next bit) “Yogis are practical.” The context of the second quote is that yoga is an experiential practice. Yoga itself doesn’t require or even want you to believe anything. Just experience it. I think this conversation alone exposes what was so crazy about the inital premise of this movie: first, that one must choose to change. No one can force transformation on anyone else. No matter how much we want to. Second, the transformation itself, the human experience of yoga is unique to each practitioner due to our unique past choices, decisions, thoughts, goals and our individual practice. Thus, my experience of yoga may be one of expansion and light whereas yours may be one of groundedness. They are both the experience.
As Nick travels to India and experiences the practice with BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois before delving into the practice of Bhakti (devotion), he *does* transform. He has insights during meditation about his family. And once he returns to the U.S., he makes real changes to his life by packing up and moving to Colorado. The film shows clips of Nick rock-climbing and notes that he and his mother have begun spending more time together. Concomitantly, the film itself announces that the project has failed. Presumably because Nick is no longer practicing asana. I really wanted to write Nick and Kate both a letter saying “No WAY is this a failure. This is amazing! This is TRANSFORMATION!”
I did thoroughly enjoy this film and think it has much to offer the viewer. For starters, I think Enlighten Up! provides an excellent springboard for deeper conversations about yoga, yoga’s history, and our own capacity for transformation. I also think the footage from interviews are priceless. Enlighten Up! is a film you can stream directly from Netflix if you like. (And if you do, I’d love to hear what you think.)
Points for Discussion
Over the next few weeks, I’ll post further about what I was compelled to write down after watching Enlighten Up!
1. Everyone has their own path (or we all find our own way).
2. It’s not about the pose.
3. Transformation takes many forms.
4. What is yoga’s history?
Blessings of LOVE + LIGHT.