enlighten up for the masses

07-nick-upsidedownThe yoga doc Enlighten Up! has been making the rounds through North America for the past 6 months and it’s *finally* opening in Montréal this weekend. I had the pleasure of talking to director Kate Churchill and writing about the film for the weekly paper, Hour. It was an interesting challenge to write about yoga for a non-yoga audience, and to do it that chirpy laidback alt-weekly style. Here’s the article (which is a “preview,” rather than a review):

What happens when you take a cynical journalist and self-described “godless guy from New York City,” subject him to a six-month global yoga immersion and try to force him to get enlightened?

With an estimated 18 million Americans practising a Baskin-Robbins selection of yoga styles that make up a multi-billion-dollar industry, a documentary like Enlighten Up!, about a yoga skeptic who immerses himself in the practice, was bound to emerge.

Director Kate Churchill sets out to prove that “yoga can transform anyone” – in the process, her doc presents yoga in its full range of expression, from the hyper-commercialization and dilution to pure devotion. Nick Rosen is her willing-yet-resistant guinea pig. His adventure starts off in the bustling New York City yoga scene, in modern classes with high-profile teachers, and moves on to L.A., where he practises with former pro-wrestler Diamond Dallas Page on the lawn of his mansion with scantily clad large-breasted women (we get to see why Page’s Yoga for Regular Guys eschews “namaste” for “T and A”).

“We’ve tried to create a view into the world of yoga and present the range of styles and approaches with a sense of humour,” says Churchill. “The given audience of the film is yoga practitioners, but we’ve realized that there is a significant audience of people who were dragged to the film by their friends or partners. They love it because there’s a skeptic. Non-yoga practitioners may relate to Nick [and] feel a kinship with him.”

We follow Rosen to Hawaii, where he starts to get some insights into this yoga stuff, and then proceed on to the motherland herself, India. Yoga luminaries BKS Iyengar (founder of the Iyengar system) and Pattabhi Jois (the founder of Ashtanga yoga, who recently passed away) try to explain how yoga works to Rosen, but it’s not until he travels to the old-school bearded gurus in the northern mountains does he get a glimpse into yoga’s possible essence.

Rosen isn’t the only person on the journey here, as he’s closely accompanied by Churchill, who plays an active role in the film, mostly off-camera. She goads him on, questioning him to the point of creating palpable tension, unafraid to put on a little enlightenment pressure even while Rosen insists that he isn’t experiencing any huge transformations, other than perhaps physical fitness.

“I started out with these insane, huge expectations, which left me blind to the subtle shifts that were happening within Nick,” says Churchill. “Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I like the fact that Nick was so skeptical and resistant. It allowed me to jump into an unrealistic undertaking.”

While Rosen deems the “great yoga experiment” a failure, the film ends up asking some essential questions. “We tried to open yoga up,” says Churchill. “We weren’t trying to say, ‘This is the right path for everyone.’ The film is an exploration of yoga for oneself.”

Enlighten Up! A Skeptic’s Journey Into the World of Yoga
at Cinéma du Parc, Oct. 23-29

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  1. This is a good “preview” and you already explained that you’re writing for a different audience, but I kept thinking when are we going to get to Roseanne’s writing?

    I hope you’ll follow this up with a real Roseanne review eventually. That’s what I’m really looking forward to.

    Let me go out on a limb and suggest you reexamine your initial premise–that you have to hide your self because you’re writing for a non-Yoga audience. I’m guessing they might get more out of the real Roseanne too!


    Bob Weisenberg

  2. YAY Canadian showing- finally. I’m going right over to see if it’s coming to Halifax.
    Fantastic non-yoga, article!! 🙂

  3. I, too, am curious about your opinion on the film. I’m glad I saw it for the sheer fascination of following the dude to yoga studios and centers around the world. But I also found the filmmaker’s premise and format a bit flawed. See my review at http://yogaspy.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/at-the-movies-enlighten-up/.

    Thanks for sharing this,
    Yoga Spy

  4. Wow, people are actually interested in my opinion! How about that. Okay, here are my unadulterated thoughts on the film: I actually think this is a really great movie. It’s funny, it presents yoga in all its depth and absurdities, and I can watch that hottie Nick Rosen for hours. Every time I see the film, I get some new insight into my practice, and I ultimately come out feeling optimistic about yoga (in general, a lot of stuff about yoga actually makes me feel kinda depressed or bored ~ except for blogs, of course!).

    I agree with YogaSpy that the premise of the film was a bit flawed and unrealistic ~ but it’s part of the fun of it, too. Who can become enlightened in 6 months? Especially someone who’s not exactly receptive or even interested in becoming enlightened from the get-go. What a crazy feat to take on!

    As for Kate Churchill’s role in the film, I agree that she was grating and kind of annoying at times. But again, I liked her “unyogic” impatience, it made her and the whole process feel honest. It was interesting to talk with her and get the full story. Basically, after filming and 9 months of editing, she ended up with a movie that wasn’t working. She and the editors went back to the material and looked for some kind of conflict, some kind of tension. They realized that the tension was in her crazy expectations, and decided to insert her into the film. It took another 2 years of edits to get the film where it is now (she claimed that she “learned more in the editing room than on the mat”).

    I think she made the right decision, and it made for a more dynamic and aware film. It may not be an Oscar nominee, but it’s a great effort and should be required viewing for anyone who is serious about yoga and curious about how the practice engages with contemporary culture.

  5. yes! awesome Roseanne interpretation. too bad it’s not coming to Halifax yet….

  6. So, Enlighten Up is still traveling around…I was wondering why it wasn’t available on NetFlix yet…but, then, a skeptic immersing himself in yoga is what I experience every day…

    • haha! Do see it ~ and be sure to blog about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts… the skeptical yogi watches the movie about a yoga skeptic…

  7. Always interesting to hear another’s take. While I’m definitely glad that I saw the movie (and that it exists), I was left perplexed about Churchill’s thinking.

    She came across as thoughtful and frank in the intro. Her premise (can a non-yogi be transformed by a six-month immersion in yoga?) is absurd mainly by the way she immersed him: going here, there, and everywhere. In real life, don’t we immerse ourselves by focusing, narrowing, and deepening?

    But this movie needed the around-the-world tour for its compelling entertainment value. (All yogis who enjoy yoga culture will enjoy the voyeur aspect, seeing big-name teachers, as well as kooky ones.) Anyway, that’s why the premise became absurd: for Rosen to try this or that teacher is like trying to watch 10 TV shows, channel surfing.

    What I’d love to see: a behind-the-scenes, show-all, tell-all about studying in Pune with BKS Iyengar. That type of thing. (Too late now for a documentary about Mysore and Pattabhi Jois.)

    I don’t mind Churchill’s impatience, but only if the film had been about her search, her frustrations with her own practice. (Of course, if she made that film, we would have missed seeing the casually charismatic Rosen!)

    That said, I’m no filmmaker, so I’ll zip up now. Bottom line: It’s worth seeing!

  8. I enjoyed the movie though it was flawed (since it was basically the journey that the documentarian wanted to take, and Nick was trying to go from zero to yogi in 6 months). The journey that the easy-on-the-eyes Nick takes mirrors a journey that I have been taking, trying to find answers, trying to find the perfect style, trying to find the perfect guru. And ultimately it isn’t about finding anything external at all. I appreciated the humour, the imagery, and the choice of subject (for his pragmatism more so than his looks). But it really threw out the question: what is yoga really? And I have sorta come to realize that it is an awareness and a point of view on the world, about that whole world inside you and all the invisible clutter that needs recognition and overturning

  9. I love this movie. So many different styles are shown but the one I went out and bought was Diamond Dallas Page’s YRG Workout because I wanted to get my husband into yoga. He loves this workout and I have to say the I enjoy it too. I never thought I could get my husband into Yoga but this DVD did it. I got the original version off of ebay, it was a lot cheaper there then in their store. Namaste

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