‘Enlighten Up!’ Asks Whether Yoga Equals Bliss—or Just a Good Workout

The documentary, now on DVD, leads to questions about achieving a clear mind through other activities.

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If, like me, you've ever taken yoga classes and waited fruitlessly to be infused with ancient wisdom, you'll love a documentary out on DVD today. "Enlighten Up!" traces the journey of Nick Rosen, a guinea pig handpicked by the documentary's maker, Kate Churchill, as he tries various styles of yoga and travels in the United States and India to explore its roots. The pair scores interviews with figures ranging from B. K. S. Iyengar, who created the popular eponymous style of yoga, to "Diamond" Dallas Page, a former pro wrestler who now teaches yoga to "regular guys."

The tension in the film comes from Churchill's Tracy Flick-esque determination (via her questioning of Rosen) to make him see the light when it comes to yoga's spiritual, transformative side, even as he remains skeptical. Rosen is a journalist with a pitch-perfect pedigree for this project: His father is a lawyer and his mother a shamanistic healer. While he appreciates yoga for what it contributes to his physical fitness, its deeper meaning is elusive. I won't ruin the end, but suffice it to say that while he isn't untouched by the experience, he doesn't achieve the result that Churchill probably wished for him at the outset of filming.

Toward the end of the film, there's a shot of Rosen rock climbing in Colorado, where he relocated after the project was over. It occurred to me that his careful, controlled motions probably allowed for the same kind of thought and feeling patterns, if you can call them that, that yoga devotees find in their chosen activity. Over and over, the yogis Rosen interviewed said that the meaning of yoga can only be found through its practice, and I suspect that other physical activities that allow you to clear your mind—rock climbing, running, swimming, even a long walk—can achieve the same meditative effects.

My colleague Deborah Kotz wrote earlier this year about her quest to elevate exercise and fill it with meaning. If that's your goal, too, don't worry if yoga or another activity in the mind-body category doesn't float your boat. Do what you enjoy, and see if letting your mind go quiet during a 30-minute, no-distraction (that means no iPod) exercise session doesn't make you feel, if not one with the universe, at least a little less harried and a little more centered.

[Check out why yoga is a great cross-training option for athletes and how it helps one 50-something triathlete remain competitive.]