Less is more
‘Enlighten Up!’ offers a scattered view of the world of yoga
By Jana J. Monji 04/16/2009
Kate Churchill’s “Enlighten Up! A Skeptic’s Journey into the World of Yoga” offers a few lessons on what not to do when filming a documentary.
Opening Friday at Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, the film follows 29-year-old Nick Rosen on a six-month guided journey around the world to experience yoga and its various regimens.
But even though it raises some interesting questions, “Enlighten Up!” is really more about the tension that builds between Churchill and Rosen, ultimately giving audiences a scattered view of what yoga is really all about.
Churchill was approached by Jeanne and Tom Hagerty to make a movie about yoga after the Hagertys met a yogi, Norman Allen, in Hawaii. For them, yoga was a positive life-altering experience. Yet Churchill doesn’t concentrate on the Hagertys, who executive-produced her project, and Allen doesn’t appear until about halfway through the film.
Instead, Churchill tries to convert a newcomer to the practice.
“My purest and most peaceful moments in my life have happened on my yoga mat,” she confides in the opening narration on the streets of New York. “The closer I look at yoga, the more contradictions I find. … I decided to prove that yoga can transform anyone physically and spiritually. My plan is to select a subject, introduce him to yoga and follow him everywhere.”
That subject is Rosen, a journalist whose father is a criminal law attorney. Rosen’s mother is a shamanistic healer, and his parents have been divorced since he was 2, we learn. Rosen is intelligent, but he is not, as one of the yoga practitioners points out, really there for himself. His journey is also not really his own, being guided and shaped by Churchill, who has been making documentaries for nine years and practicing yoga for seven.
The novice is quickly thrown into an intermediate class on day one. We don’t see every day of the six months after that, but it becomes clear that he is jumping from teacher to teacher.
As the production notes point out, a 2004 market survey published in the Yoga Journal found that 16.5 million Americans practice yoga and another 62 million were interested in it. That’s because yoga is no longer considered something foreign and strange. But most of the people in the classes are women, making one wonder why Churchill picked a man to reflect the yoga experience.
I’ve heard that men looking to meet women in these classes typically do not continue with instruction, and the documentary touches a bit on this when we see Diamond Dallas Page and his yoga for regular guys. “Mine’s more about T and A,” Page confides to Rosen. We still see yoga as something spiritual on various levels, but there are some shots that objectify women, something that Page naturally encourages.
Toward the end, Rosen and Churchill fly to India, the birthplace of yoga. And while looking at the spiritual aspects, the conflict between the pair becomes more apparent, with a frustrated Churchill complaining, “I’m sick and tired of trying to get Nick to be meaningful” on camera.
As explained in the production notes, the original cut seemed to have a hole in it — an absence of conflict. Churchill’s solution: Weave into it the personal conflicts between herself and Rosen.
Perhaps the real problem wasn’t the personalities of the two. Earlier in the film, Yogi Norman Allen comments that Rosen was “compulsed into accelerating [his] practice in a short period of time,” adding that there are “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
Too many cooks, too many teachers, too advanced practices and too many restrictions in too little time to master a discipline. The lesson here: Less is more.
Considering Rosen no longer practices yoga but Churchill does, perhaps another lesson might be to not ask a question when you only want to hear one answer.