“At teacher preview screenings so far there’s always someone who gets angry,” says Kate Churchill, writer, director, and producer of Enlighten Up! A Skeptic’s Journey into the World of Yoga, a yoga documentary that premieres in New York on April 1, 2009.
By teachers, she means yoga teachers.
In 2004, Churchill, a die-hard yogini, chose yoga-skeptic Nick Rosen to go in search of answers to the questions many people ask about yoga: what is yoga? and what can yoga do for me? Kate directs Nick’s quest, selecting places to visit, books to read. The journey becomes an accelerated initiation that progresses from first yoga classes in Manhattan to the homes and ashrams of sages worldwide. Both Kate and Nick wonder: will Nick shed his skepticism?
While there is also a lot of laughter at the teacher screenings, Churchill says, some yoga teachers think the film is superficial. “They think the movie is belittles yoga.”
You just want to say, lighten up folks.
Personally, I found the device (skeptic against believer) effective—and probably the best way to make yoga appealing to non-enthusiasts. Still, I wondered why Churchill didn’t make a documentary of herself searching for these gurus?
Churchill, who began making documentaries for TV in 1995, is a long-time yoga practitioner (4x a week under normal conditions, every day under stress). However naively (she says herself), some time before 2004 she wanted to find a truly enlightened being. This yogi would be the last word in yoga and would put her on a direct path to samadhi, or as the Buddhists call it, nirvana: enlightenment.
When the opportunity to make a film arose, she considered it a chance to find that being. The only tiny little teensy-weensy obstacle would be shaping her own quest into a compelling story, while using something — or someone — else as a subject that everyone could relate to.
When Nick Rosen, a 29-year old journalist, agreed to be her guinea pig, and executive producers (who she had met while practicing yoga in Boston) already on board, Churchill began what became a 5-year odyssey. It wasn’t what she’d bargained for.
I spoke to Churchill on a Friday afternoon, a few days before the April 1, 2009, premiere (see interview following).
For full disclosure, I will say that Nick’s interview with Iyengar, the Indian sage, basically sums up my feeling about yoga (you can get the spiritual benefits from the physical practice; benefits come slowly for some, quickly for others, there is no rush, keep practicing) which gave me a warm fuzzy, feeling inside.
But I also had a few problems with the film. First, why was Kate being such a bitch to Nick? He seemed willing enough and, for a skeptic, pretty reflective. “We’ve been throwing around the word ‘transformation’ a lot,” he says. A reasonable comment. (The yoga world often does toss out big concepts without defining them or even understanding them.) Still, Kate’s not pleased.
I also wondered how any newbie would deal with such a fast-track to the yoga stars. In my first six months of practice, I was just happy I could do chaturanga with a herd of other sweating yogis. Flying around the world to meet the most influential men in yoga today could set the stakes freakishly high for anyone.
Lastly, I wanted to know more details from Nick himself about how his journey might have affected him—or not—in the long term. The film ended on a weak note. (post script, April 15 Nick writes his commentary on Huffington Post.)
Within the world of yoga documentaries and commentary, Enlighten Up! isn’t as acerbically insightful as Yoga, Inc, John Philps’ 2006 documentary on the entertaining contradictions of the yoga business. It isn’t as earnest as Gita Desai’s 2006 documentary Yoga Unveiled nor as funny as gentle mockeries from The Onion (see below), or McSweeney’s, nor as freakish as some of the stuff on YouTube such as Kung Fu vs. Yoga.
But I enjoyed it. It was a humanizing look at a couple of impossible questions: What is yoga? We can’t really tell you. How can it work for me? You’ll have to find out for yourself.
© Copyright 2009, Onion, Inc.
in Celebrity, Culture, History, Teachings and Trends.