I watched the film Enlighten Up! on Netflix instant play yesterday. The documentarian, Kate, is an avid yogini who persuades a regular non-yogi guy to embark on a six month worldwide tour of yoga teachers to see if he is transformed. If you've ever tried to take your boyfriend to a yoga class you will be able to relate to her. If you've ever felt "I'm just not getting it," during a yoga class, you will be able to relate to him.
She loves yoga. He, Nick, is an unemployed 29-year-old journalist living in New York City. Nick's personality and training in journalistic integrity make him an honest, trustworthy experimental subject, and at times his eyes sort of reminded me of Steve Carrell's in The Office--pleasant, a little confused, humorous. Soon Kate's aims in making the film become clearer and we realize how much she wants him to feel something from this yoga stuff, which is her passion. But like any non-yoga friend you've tried to drag to yoga, he won't be forced (unless maybe it's one of your first dates, and he's trying to keep you happy).
She takes him everywhere, to experience all different styles of yoga. It's kind of like celebrity-spotting for a yoga student. We get to visit the homes and studios of all the people we read about in Yoga Journal: everyone from David Life and Sharon Gannon to Norman Allen to B.K.S. Iyengar. Nick reacts honestly to every experience. I love it when he says, "Kundalini?? More like Kunda-LOONY!" (No offense to kundalini lovers: I practiced tons of Kundalini in Boulder and while I love it, it is definitely way loony)
My favorite teacher in the film turned out to be a guru somewhere in India who sits elevated above his visitors, taking questions, after someone else gives us a lengthy list of his credentials. I think I loved his comfort in his own pomposity. "Ask anything, as often as you want...There are no stupid questions. Answers are stupid." At this point Nick is nearing the end of an exhausting tour and still has not found any favorite teachers or real personal meaning in yoga. The guru tells him kindly, "just be yourself."
Whether consciously or not we don't know, but his is the advice Nick follows in the end. He moves from New York to Boulder (great choice!) and takes a job writing about rock-climbing. He does not continue to practice yoga.
I thought about the film during class this morning. I have a lot of Nick's desire for proof as well as Kate's emotional love of the practice. What is yoga to me? I tried out the guru's advice, to think of 'being myself' not so much as a practice I have to work towards, but just a relaxing into my own life, self, desires. Each physical action, grounding your heels down, stretching your arms to the sky, is an opportunity to be yourself. The given instructions are incredibly useful, but you have to inject a little dose of yourself into every action, too, to make it feel really good and really interesting. I'm glad I practice where I do because the philosophy is for the student to be her own teacher, a yoga scientist who is never asked to trust anything she doesn't feel for herself. The question of God of course comes up in the film, but Nick finally enunciates why he's really participating in this experiment: "I just want to know how to be happy."