Enlighten Up!

Today while writing wedding thank-you notes, making dinner, and trying to keep up with the ever-rising pile of dishes, I decided to watch a movie that I heard about today in yoga class.

Enlighten Up! is a documentary about a filmmaker’s idea: take a person totally new to the practice and follow him to his inevitable enlightenment. You can probably sense my tone here: the concept is contrary to the essence of enlightenment through a yoga practice, and that’s what makes it really fascinating. The filmmaker’s subject, Nick, does find that yoga has made a difference, just not the difference the filmmaker (Kate) was expecting. And that’s the point, really; just as we all have our own perspectives and therefore our own truths, yoga is a different journey for everyone.

What really drew me in was the small references to the yoga industry in America. There’s a part where Kate stands in front of a sign in New York, smirking, and says, “It’s just funny to me that this is the “Yoga Core Spa.” Nick, in an effort to learn more about what yoga is, visits a variety of studios and teachers with a variety of approaches to yoga. One teacher is Diamond Dallas Page, a former pro-wrestler who found yoga to be so helpful for him physically that he created “Yoga for Regular Guys” to reach out to individuals similar to himself, as opposed to all them peace lovin’, granola-eatin’, third-eye touchin’, loonies. To sum up, he says his approach is less “nameste” and more “T and A.”(I wanted to wash my hands the entire time he was on the screen. However sleazy it seemed to me, however, I have to acknowledge that it probably speaks to other people.)

Ryan gets frustrated with the yoga industry. I do, too. There’s no question that people are flawed, and people take advantage of others through yoga. Christianity works the same way: we all believe in God (those of us who do) and have to wade through a disgusting pool of sexual scandals, building projects, fear and hate-themed sermons, and merchandise featuring Anglo-Saxon Jesus. But, as my sister-in-law pointed out to me, just because a practice has flaws doesn’t mean the benefits are benign.

Yoga has taught me to be kinder, more generous, more patient, and more self-aware. Do I like that I’m constantly wondering when the next groupon will come out so I can actually afford to practice with a teacher? No. Do I like that my classes are mostly made up of people who at least give a visual representation of wealth and privilege? No. But my practice is my own, and my practice requires certain elements: that I accept there’s nothing I can do about my current financial state, that I recognize and speak up about diversity, that I continue to think about how I can share yoga with a broader spectrum of people in the long-term, and lastly, that I not judge people whose practices aren’t the same as mine.

That last one is the toughest for me. As a community organizer, I’ve been trained to speak on behalf of the vulnerable to a “target;” someone who can say yes or no to the demands of the poor. It’s an “us vs. them” method, and it must be that way in order to accomplish things. I’m learning now that yoga, and really all spiritual practices, is different.

I can’t expect people to be just like me, I can only observe my own journey, recognize where I need to grow, and be satisfied and happy with that.

On that note, it’s stuffed pepper night tonight at the Lynch house. Time for dinner.While we’re doing that, you may want to watch this movie for yourself. (it’s free on hulu!)

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