Sunday, September 14, 2008

Enlighten Up! the movie - Up Close and Personal with Kate Churchill and Nick Rosen

This past Friday night, I had the pleasure of attending the Boston premiere of a beautiful movie about yoga - Enlighten Up! It is directed by writer, documentary film director and fellow yogini Kate Churchill. The premise of this movie comes from a local Boston couple Ted and Jeanne Hagerty who met yoga guru and indologist Norman Allen in Hawaii in 2003. They were inspired by him, which sparked a passion to create a movie on yoga, their first movie production. Ted and Jeanne connected with Kate to create the concept behind the movie "A skeptic's journey into the world of yoga".

Kate found Nick Rosen, a journalist by profession who had recently quit his job, He was mountain climbing in Europe when Kate offered him the opportunity to be the subject. Nick was a yoga novice, a skeptic, but at the same time a very intelligent and thoughtful man, who had grown up on a farm in Quebec and exposed to eastern philosophies and religious movements of the 70s. Kate was hoping to transform Nick by putting him on this 6 month journey of exploration and learning of yoga by connecting him to some of the great yoga luminaries in the US and India. She hoped that some of that transformation at the end would rub on her and she would gain some enlightenment from that experience as well.

The six month adventure started in New York City where Nick was introduced to yoga through classes at a variety of yoga studios in the city. Nick's struggles to get into the various contortions and poses are funny and reminiscient to many of us die hard yogis, as it reminds us of our own struggles, the challenges, the fears and the exhaustion we faced when first took a yoga class.

Nick tries several classes including Hatha, Vinyasa, Bikram, Dharma Mitra, Jivamukti and Kundalini. His conversations with the teachers and fellow students are honest. funny and real as he as he attempts to understand the true meaning of yoga. He is struggling with his understanding and feeling pressure to develop this "transformation". He is constantly being questioned and challenged by Kate, who expects him to continually evolve on this path of enlightenment. He describes Kundalini - Kundalooney, causing the audience to break into laughter.

Nick is on a compressed journey and his first "true yogic experience" occurs in Hawaii when he travels to the big island to experience yoga with Norman Allen. Norman is the inspirational character behind the movie. He spent many years in India studying Indian Religion and History and is a gold medalist from Mysore University. He also brought Ashtanga yoga to America. Nick is challenged in many ways, both physically, intellectually and spiritually by Norman.

From Hawaii, Nick and Kate travel to Mysore, India to experience Ashtanga Yoga at the Yoga Shala of Shri Pattabhi Jois. Nick is physically challenged by this practice but he finds little spiritual connection. "Practice Practice Practice" says Guru Jois when asked about how to find this path to enlightenment. Nick finds himself out of place at the Yoga Shala - though later he admitted that he liked the Ashtanga style of yoga.

From Mysore Nick and Kate travel to Pune, India to meet the grandmaster of yoga, Shri BKS Iyengar at his institute, RIMYI. He gets an audience with Guruji and I think this is probably the time where some of the confusion in Nick's mind is resolved. Guruji tells him he didn't even think of the spiritual aspects of yoga till 1960, nearly 30 years after he started doing yoga. It was all physical for him prior to that. That hit a chord with Nick and he describes Guruji as "cool". There several scenes from the insitute with Nick on the ropes in Prashant Iyengar's class and the interview in the library.

This was a touching moment for me, as it was reminicent of my own experience in Pune and bringing back memories of own experience at RIMYI. I saw Nick practicing next to Abhay, one of the teachers I took classes from in one scene. A most poignant moment was when Nick slowly and cautiously glided his legs up into a balanced Sirsana. Three months prior Nick struggled with keeping his legs up; he crashed down while being instructed by Dharma Mitra.

This was a physical transformation that Nick experienced. I am uncertain if he realized that as he was still questioning and trying to find the pathway to enlightenment. All through the movie Nick was experiencing a transformation that he continued to challenge and question and butt heads with Kate. Nick mentioned in the Q and A later that the Iyengar style definitly connected with him, especially in his mountain climbing experience.

There are many such poignant moments. There was one towards the end of his time in Mysore when Kate questions him about his experience in Mysore. Nick was missing his family by then and had missed thanksgiving with them. He gets emotional and tears rolled down his cheeks as he remarked that the healing atmosphere of Mysore somehow reminded him of his mother and the yoga experience in Mysore connected him back to his mom.

My tears rolled down at the same time, it was too close to heart, as I am many times reminded of my mother and family when I practice yoga, especially in India. I think many of us have experienced some strong connection back to our family and home during that time. I think that was a transformational point for Nick.

The journey then moves to Brindavan in North India, where Nick experiences Bhakti Yoga, the most devotional aspect of yoga. Nick has a guide "Shyamdas" an American he met at Jivamukti, who has lived in India for 30 years and can speak Hindi and Sanskirt. Shyamdas connects Nick with many Sadhus and Yogis, who are much more absorbed in the spiritual aspects of yoga rather than physical. The most inspiring and telling experience was with Guru Sharan Anand. Nick asks about the path and practice to enlightenment; to which he responds "Its inside you, you are the mostest important person under the sun, happiness is within you, whether you believe in god or not, practice yoga or not".

Guru Sharan's simple but powerful discourse and conversation with Nick summed up this intense and challenging but most inspiring adventure of Nick and Kate. Towards the end, there is a quiet scene with Nick, Shyamdas and Kate on a boat on the river Yamuna. Nick is reflective and doesn't know what to say, when Kate asks him what he was thinking. Shyamdas remarks "sometimes you don't need to share or say anything to preserve the moment".

The journey to India ends when Nick leaves home for New York at 190 days from the day he started. He missed his family and it was time to go. The music all through the movie by composer Krishna Venkatesh was uplifting and inspiring.

Nick's life journey had only begun. He came back to New York confused and challenged. He decides to move to Boulder, Colorado, where he starts a new life as a writer and documentary film maker for rock climbing. He admits he is no longer practicing yoga regularly, though occassionally he will gear up and attend classes when his back his hurting and feel better and then the pressures of life take over. Nick feels there was some tranformation and enlightenment. His mother visits him regularly in Boulder.

This movie is a must watch for anyone and everyone whether they do yoga or not. There are some very special and inspiring moments that have been captured from these amazing spiritual gurus. I was very engaged by the movie, as there were many moments during the film where I personally could relate and connect with both Nick and Kate, including the skeptisicm, along with the burning desire to transformation. His connection to his mother in Mysore hit home with me in a very deep way.

His conversations with Guru Sharan were incredible and simply inspiring. There are lots of funny moments and many where you reflect on yourself and reflect and reminice your own experiences in life. This truly is a beautiful creation and believe it or not there is 485 hours of footage that has not been shown. It took 4 years for this project to be completed. Nick and Kate started filming in 2004.

There are so many pathways to experience yoga, sprituality and enlightenment and it all starts from within, from you, as you take a journey from the outside to inside to discover yourself and who you truly are. Enlighten Up! tells a story about this so personal and profound experience. So please go watch it and if its not yet scheduled to come to your city, lobby for it.

Thanks again to Kate and Nick for letting me interview them. The movie will play at MFA through Sunday and then play at Kendall Square through September. Kate tells me there are definite plans to take the movie to many other major cities including Portland. We hope to see you there. Please visit the Enlighten Up movie website for more information.


The Yogi

Video: Upclose and Personal with Kate Churchill and Nick Rosen

Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

Enlighten Up! Trailer

Out Takes from The Movie


Michael said...

Wonderful interview! You are taking this blog to a whole new level with yoga journalism.

Theyoginme said...

Michael, Thanks for your feedback and compliment. I am open to taking it to any level if it is of interest to the readers. I would like more feedback and comments. There are a fair number of regular readers, but its hard to say if my writing and posts are interesting and have a positive impact.

Also comments tend to create interesting conversations amongst the readers and that is what I really want is to create conversations and more interactivity amongst the readers of the blogs

Cody said...

Hey - nice work on the interviews! Those were fun to watch.

Deborah Rummelhart said...



I have done a variety of types of yoga and eventually settled on Iyengar Yoga, which I have practiced for over 10 years. I believe the great strengths of Iyengar Yoga are that the teachers are very highly trained and tested, and that BKS Iyengar devoted a lot of his time, expertise and genius to developing the therapeutic use of yoga for various physical and mental ailments. I also scoffed at the spiritual benefits of yoga, until they started creeping up on me.

Deborah Rummelhart, author of Where Are My Ankles? How Iyengar Yoga Rescued Me From Stress, Fear and a Very Bad Back. Read sample chapters and get a coupon for a free yoga class honored at 45 yoga studios nationwide at

Nicholas said...

Hi, I can't watch the videos, it says we have to be friends. How can I friend you?

Katrina Rasmussen-Ream said...

I was wondering if Guru Sharan Ananda from the movie "Enlighten Up!", had completed any writings. I have been unsuccessful in finding additional teachings from him. Thank you for your help.