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  •  REVIEW: ENLIGHTEN UP! A SKEPTIC'S JOURNEY INTO THE WORLD OF YOGA

    Enlighten Up! A Skeptic's Journey Into the World of Yoga

    Nick and Kate's Ultimate Principle

    A superficial and unsatisfying account of a potentially fascinating experiment.

    By ELIZABETH BACHNER
    Offoffoff.com

    Full disclosure: I am one of the tens of thousands of Americans who began a regular yoga practice in order to avoid having a butt the size of Minneapolis. Yes, I meditate, and yes, I do my best to practice ahimsa and svādhyāya and loving kindness, but I probably wouldn't have started doing asanas five days a week if it didn't make my skin look younger and keep me from getting fat. Yet, like many of those other Americans, yoga has changed me in surprising an unexpected ways. In an era where classes like "Yoga for Rock-Hard Abs" are a mainstay at every gym, what can the practice offer for true spiritual seekers?

      
    ENLIGHTEN UP! A SKEPTIC'S JOURNEY INTO THE WORLD OF YOGA
    Directed by: Kate Churchill.
    Produced by: Kate Churchill.
    Written by: Kate Churchill, Jonathon Hexner.
    Cast: Norman Allen, Alan Finger, Sharon Gannon, B.K.S. Iyengar, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Cyndi Lee, David Life, Dharma Mittra, Dallas Page, Nick Rosen.
    Cinematography: Jonathon Hexner, Jeff Stonehouse.
    Edited by: Jonathan Sahula.
    Music by: Krishna Venkatesh.

    Related links: Official site

    Kate Churchill's documentary, "Enlighten Up! A Skeptic's Journey Into the World of Yoga," explores what yoga means in its current pop-culture context. Kate has practiced yoga for seven years, so instead of sending herself on an intense yoga adventure, she recruits a skeptical newbie, journalist Nick Rosen, and immerses him in six months of yoga. Through the course of this journey, Nick meets famous yogis, keeps a detailed journal, and annoys the hell out of Kate. It's a great idea for a documentary but, as in yoga, the "how" and "why" are more important than the "what." Despite its potential to entertain and educate, "Enlighten Up!" is a superficial and unsatisfying account of a potentially fascinating experiment.

    Enlighten Up! A Skeptic's Journey Into the World of Yoga  

    The film focuses on the tension between Nick and Kate without giving any real background on either of them, or their relationship. Kate doesn't explain her process for recruiting yoga guinea pig applicants. We see a brief clip of her sitting in front of some photos of potential skeptics pinned to the wall and then she tells us that she's chosen Nick, without telling us why. Wouldn't the out-of-shape 74-year-old be more interesting? Nick is 29, cute, and kind of an ass.

      
      If I'd seen this film before trying yoga six years ago I would probably never have gotten started.
      

    Through the course of the film, it seems like Kate has chosen him because she secretly wants to sleep with him. As her frustration builds, over the course of their shared travels though Hawaii and India (at one devastating moment, he tells her in an interview that he hasn't been alone with a woman in months, adding an "oh, except you"-type remark as an afterthought), she becomes more and more shrill, annoying, and unlikable. This could just be my theory, of course, since Kate never really explains why she's feeling so hostile. Kate and Nick are both enormously unlikable, but their story could make for great cinema if we were privy to it.

    Enlighten Up! A Skeptic's Journey Into the World of Yoga  

    Also, the treatment of yoga — and the famous yogis — is disappointing and, at times, condescending. Several of New York City's finest yoga teachers (I was surprised to see so many people I know in the film) have had their interviews hacked into seconds-long sound bites that make them sound wackier than they are. Worse, Kate plunges Nick immediately into intermediate level classes and higher, so he never learns the basics that new yoga students study for months before accelerating their class level: one breath per movement, relax the muscles of your face, don't strain or injure yourself, wrenching yourself into a pose while tensing your jaw and breathing raggedly is not yoga.

      
      Several of New York City's finest yoga teachers have had their interviews hacked into seconds-long sound bites that make them sound wackier than they are.
      

    If I'd seen this film before trying yoga six years ago, as a skeptic appalled by the yoga's New Age-y, touchy-feely reputation, I would probably never have gotten started. Churchill shows us a bunch of stereotypes. Both her interviews with Nick and the shape of the film seem shoehorned into forgone conclusions. No wonder he seems defensive. "Enlighten Up!" isn't particularly enlightening, either for skeptics or true believers.

    MAY 6, 2009
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK



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