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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

can one find enlightenment through yoga?

that's the question posed by the documentary, enlighten up!, which opens this weekend in limited release in southern california. i joined a group of yoga teachers at a preview screening last week here in santa monica so that i, too, could find out the answer to that question.

in the film, director and long-time yoga practitioner kate churchill sets out to prove that yoga can transform anyone. after carefully going through a stack of applications, she enlists yoga skeptic nick rosen, a young, new york-based journalist. for six months, kate immerses nick in everything yoga. she sends him to a variety of yoga classes -- including bikram, kundalini, jivamukti, ashtanga, iyengar, even "yoga for regular guys" -- and has him city-hopping through new york, los angeles, hawaii, and india in search of yogic wisdom. and through every step of the way, kate keeps tabs on nick's progress... or lack thereof.

so what did i think of the movie? i suppose you could say i was intrigued, only because it's the question i, too, continue to ask myself. am i, after four full years of surveying the yoga landscape, any different from the person i was when i started this journey? and if i haven't found enlightenment after all those years, can someone possibly find "it" in six months? hmmm...

looking back -- i've taken classes in many major cities around the country, including los angeles, san francisco, boston, new york, philadelphia, washington DC, and have also made stops in smaller yoga communities such as indianapolis, charleston, raleigh, and bar harbor. i've made valiant attempts to follow along in france and peru as the instructors led poses in languages i could barely understand. i've run the gamut of yoga styles, from crazy hot bikram yoga to crazy cool hip-hop yoga. i've chanted at kirtans and pujas. i've sat in quiet meditation. and i've even listened to passages from sanskrit texts. yet i continue to ask myself: has yoga transformed me into a better person?

while i can say, without a doubt, that i've morphed physically into someone stronger and more flexible, i believe i still have a long way to go before i can say i've been spiritually enlightened. after all, i spent my growing years in a religious environment and did my fair share of chanting hymns, sitting in quiet prayer, and listening to passages from the bible. honestly, my attempting to swap one higher being for another is just another way of getting to the same place -- a place of peace and contentment with myself and the world around me.

so going back to the movie...

lucky nick. not only did he experience in six months what i've been trying to do on my own all these years, but he had someone else subsidizing all his expenses! as for his being able to spend a good amount of time in an ashram in india trying to find the light, all i can say is: i'm jealous... where's my sugar guru?

yes, i love what the movie is trying to accomplish. and yes, i enjoyed watching the story unfold, including nick's foibles in class and his encounters with various yoga celebs. of course, it helps that the protagonist not only has a pleasant personality but is really pleasant to the eye. and i mean REALLY pleasant.

if enlighten up! gets people to dip their feet in the waters of yoga to see if they, too, can find enlightenment, then it's served its purpose.

nick wrote about his experience in the huffington post: Going to the Mat: Confessions of a Yoga Guinea Pig. here's what he had to say:

Despite all the misappropriated hype about karma and enlightenment, yoga practice is still a powerful tool. The stretching and breathing, when coupled with a meditative, focused intention, can make you feel pretty damn good, even if the whole thing is choreographed to a Kanye West track.

director kate churchill and subject nick rosen will be appearing at select shows in the los angeles area this weekend to answer questions. unfortunately, i'll be out of town; i'll be celebrating marathon monday in boston with thousands of other run-happy creatures. it pains me, though, that i won't be able to meet nick in person. sigh...

below is a schedule of when and where to see them:

FRIDAY, April 17
5:20 & 7:40 Laemmle’s Monica-4

SATURDAY, April 18
5:20 Laemmle’s Monica-4
7:40 Laemmle’s Playhouse-7 Pasadena

SUNDAY, April 19
2:40 Westpark 8-Irvine
5:20 Laemmle’s Monica-4

besides the Q&A with kate and nick, there will also be sponsoring businesses on hand who'll be giving out information... and maybe even free merchandise:

5:20 Whole Foods Market Santa Monica: Santa Monica - Enter to win free merchandise
7:40 lululemon athletica: Santa Monica, Pasadena, Irvine
7:40 Yogaworks Orange County: Irvine

5:20 NuTone Music: Santa Monica - NuTone Samplers Vol II for all
7:40 Yogamates.com: Santa Monica

2:40 Yogaworks Orange County: Irvine
5:20 Yogaworks Los Angeles: Santa Monica - Enter to win one month unlimited membership (6 memberships available to win!)
7:40 Exhale Mind Body Spa, Zobha, Ashley Turner: Santa Monica - Enter to win a 3 Piece Zobha outfit (retail $300)

you can watch excerpts from the film on youtube: Enlighten Up! Trailer

you can also listen to interviews with kate and nick on NPR's all things considered: Film Asks If Nirvana Through Yoga Is Possible as well as on PRI's the world: "Enlighten Up"

the reviews from the mainstream press have been pretty positive; here are a few of them:

new york times: Enlighten Up! (2008)
As the title indicates, “Enlighten Up!” explores its subject with a light touch and welcome sense of humor.

variety: Enlighten Up!: A Skeptic's Journey into the World of Yoga
Well-crafted pic traverses the globe, interviewing a who's-who of gurus and investigating a wide range of regimens -- with Rosen as both questioner and body-contorting guinea pig.

la times: In a knot over yoga's benefits
The fact that you don't need to know much about yoga to appreciate director Kate Churchill's documentary "Enlighten Up!" speaks to both the film's strength and weakness.

all i can say is, if you've found yourself on the yogic path at one time or another, you owe it to yourself to see this movie!


Anonymous YogaforCynics said...

I have a lot of thoughts about enlightenment, many of them contradictory...ranging from seeing it as the point of my yoga practice, to, at best, a temporary state that some people can access more than others, to suspecting it's all a bunch of hooey. The great thing about yoga and meditation, though, is that there are benefits to be had short of enlightenment. So, I continue working on making myself mentally and physically healthier and, as for enlightenment...we'll see....

7:16 PM  
Blogger joni said...

my thoughts exactly. thanks for writing in!

7:22 PM  

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