2009, NR, 82 min. Directed by Kate Churchill.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 19, 2009
If you're one of the millions of Americans who practice yoga, either for its obvious physical benefits or its alleged abilities to raise human consciousness to a more spiritual level, then chances are you're already familiar with at least a few of the yogis, gurus, shamans, and (occasional) hucksters found in Churchill's globe-hopping documentary. Those who still associate yoga with tambourine-wielding Hare Krishnas, sweat-sodden contortionists, and flaky, New Age psychobabble will find plenty to meditate on, too, as Enlighten Up! is billed as a skeptic’s journey into the big om. Churchill, who admits up front that her own yoga discipline has changed her life dramatically, chooses 29-year-old New York journalist Nick Rosen to serve as the control factor in her argument for the benefits of yoga. It's a great choice on her part. Rosen is open to experiencing yoga in all its myriad forms and styles, yet remains wholly unconvinced that nirvana is attainable simply by clearing one's mind and bending in ways that would have likely made Mahatma Gandhi's aged bones splinter like raw spaghetti. As Churchill spirits her dubious charge from one American ashram to another (including a stop at the home of “Diamond” Dallas Page, where the professional wrestler tells Rosen, "Most yoga is about namaste; mine is more about T&A"), Enlighten Up! takes on the borderline comical edge of a crocodile-out-of-the-Ganges story. Rosen strains hard to keep up with everything from the overheated Bikram yoga that swept the U.S. several years back to the Indian-based "laughter yoga" (which, self-explanatory though it may be, looks like a lot of fun and an excellent aerobic workout to boot). The highlight of Rosen's journey is an audience with legendary yogi B.K.S. Iyengar in Puna, India. Iyengar, looking every bit the “lion of Puna," is something of a scoop for Churchill – who appears increasingly exasperated with Rosen's ongoing skepticism regarding the soul-transforming power of the discipline – since Iyengar is regarded as notorious for his temper and fiery rhetoric. Surprisingly, and to Rosen's evident relief, he allows that nirvana is not necessarily the goal: "You want health; I want health." That's the yogi equivalent of Nike's "Just Do It," and while Enlighten Up! is ultimately just a surface look at yoga (kundalini is only briefly touched on), it's still interesting, if not exactly enlightening, to watch the true believer and the jaded New York journo clash their way down the road to, one hopes, some sort of spiritual resolution.