Review: “Enlighten Up!”

I consider myself a yoga newbie. While I’ve done some intermittent bouts of home-based yoga since I was about 20, I was really bitten by the yoga bug in the last year or so. Since I’m a big ol’ history research nerd, when I got more serious, I wanted to learn more about the history and practice of yoga. Being a yoga newbie is a really fun experience, because there is much to learn: so many interesting personalities, blogs, books, philosophies, styles of yoga, etc. It’s not a bad thing to be in a position to absorb all of this new information like a sponge. Searching for fun resources, I discovered the yoga-themed documentary, Enlighten Up! streaming on Netflix.* While not perfect, it is a film I would recommend for anyone interested in yoga.

The premise of the movie is an interesting one: can you change someone spiritually as well as physically? Is it possible for a yoga newbie to reach enlightenment? Motivated by those questions, yoga practitioner and documentarian Kate Churchill decides to do a film about yoga–only she feels she cannot be the star, because of her enthusiasm for the discipline. She recruits a skeptical journalist, Nick Rosen, to experience yoga–lots and lots of yoga!–and report back on his feelings about enlightenment.

The film is helped by a strong central performance from Nick, who is both attractive and charming in his frustration with the challenges of being thrown into an intense yoga & travel regimen. One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is how Nick is torn between the lawyerly, rational influence of his father and the contrasting attitude of his mother, a spiritual healer. I found Nick’s journalistic tendencies–note-taking, reading, questioning–to be really sympathetic and I wish there was a way viewers could access the notes he appeared to be keeping during his yoga journey. It’s a pity they aren’t the basis of more on-screen discussion, or at least, they don’t appear to be utilized as much as a viewer might like. The cool thing about Nick is how much of a writer he is–he has discipline and curiosity, even as he admits his initial expectations aren’t all that earth-shattering. I found his approach to the yoga experiment to be the perfect model for a non-fiction writer. I’m holding out hope for a yoga memoir from Nick’s perspective.

Here’s the trailer:

Another of the great things about the documentary is the presence of so many yoga luminaries, like BKS Iyengar, who Nick is able to interact with during his yoga experiment. Sadly, I feel that the documentary misses out on giving the necessary historical context for many of the interviewees, so that a yoga neophyte understands who is speaking and why they are important to yoga. Only later did I begin to read more about American yoga and realize the importance of interviewees in the first sequence, individuals like Judith Hanson Lasater and Cyndi Lee. Still, I would recommend the film to yoga fans.

*As of this writing, Enlighten Up! is available through Netflix.

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