Last night I had the opportunity to go see the new yoga movie, "Enlighten Up" with one of my fellow yoga teachers. I think we both found the film very thought-provoking. Now I feel compelled to write out some of my own thoughts about both yoga and the movie.
The film was a documentary that focused on the yogic journey of a man named Nick. The filmmaker (Kate) wanted to see what would happen when a non-yogi immersed themselves in yoga so she followed Nick around the world as he met and practiced with various yoga teachers. It seemed that both Kate and Nick hoped he would have some deep, spiritual revelations and that he would also be led to some life-altering changes. During most of the film, both seemed frustrated that this was not happening. The ironic part is that Nick's journey lasted less than a year, although he traveled as far as India. I found this ironic because each of the teachers (gurus) he met along the way told him that yoga was a "practice." Each one questioned what he wanted from his yogic journey and each one said that for the most part, there is no quick path to enlightenment.
There were times during the film when I wanted to leap into the film to talk to both Nick and Kate. Nick's approach actually made more sense to me than Kate's at times. Nick wanted spiritual revelation, even though he maintained that he was not a believer and needed to experience things for himself. Kate seemed to insist that if Nick would just embrace the process, he would be transformed. In both cases, it often seemed they were missing the point and never fully observing the wisdom of the teachers they visited.
If I could boil down what each teacher in the film was saying, it seemed that they felt there was validity in Nick's idea that he must experience the divine himself before he could believe. It also seemed that each teacher was saying that there is no one, right path in yoga. They emphasized the importance of each individual, suggesting that every man or woman must find the yoga that is right for them.
I think that part of both Nick and Kate's trap was the idea that yoga is the practice of "asana" or physical posture. They seemed to think that by practicing with different masters, they would eventually find a form of asana that would lead to enlightenment. Interestingly, Nick did not really make any big spiritual or life breakthroughs until near the end of the film. At that point, he met a Bhakti yogi(one who practices the yoga of devotion that often involves chanting but no physical asana at all) and he asked this master about what yoga was "right" for him. The Bhakti master basically said that this was for Nick to decide. He said that Nick needed to find his true self and that self would know. Nick objected that he did not know how to find himself. In fact, it seemed that's what Nick's quest was really about. The master told him that it is not easy to know oneself but that it was a process that often meant sifting out who we are not, before we can really know who we are. After this encounter, Nick was left speechless. He dreamed about his mother. It suddenly became clear to him that he was conflicted about the yoga partly because of the dichotomy between her beliefs and those of his father. She is a Shamanic healer and his father is a lawyer. After meeting with the Bhakti guru, Nick realized that he now had much greater acceptance for his mother and that he was no longer ashamed of her beliefs. He also found he had greater compassion and tolerance for his fellow human beings.
Nick left the whole experience uncertain about what he had learned. He claimed that the experiment was a "failure" and yet after his experience, he restructured his entire life. He left his home in New York and moved to Colorado. He got a new job writing for climbing magazines ( a job I think is in tune with his nature). He reconnected with his mother. The film ended by stating that Nick no longer practices yoga but I found that claim a misnomer. Nick may no longer practice asana, but his experiences with yoga have fundamentally changed him. In my experience, one does not have to practice asana in order to practice yoga. Asana is how we often view yoga in the western world but asana is not "yoga."
One of the most important patterns I have found in the yogic literature and in the words of the masters is that yoga is a very individual practice. It is primarily about finding the "true self" or "Atman" (the divine within each of us). The Bhakti's may emphasize devotion to "God" but God is not necessarily defined in one way. It seems to me that the one thing all the yogic masters seem to have in common is the idea that in each of us is the spark of the divine. When we practice yoga (in whatever form) we are seeking to find that divinity within. In many ways, this may sound very selfish-- yoga is all about you. On the other hand, if each individual strives to find and be their best self, they may find happiness. If the world is full of complete, secure, happy people, it might be a better place. No one would feel jealousy. Many of the things that lead to conflict and war would be eliminated. We would not grasp for what others have. We would not compete for recognition or resources. Sharing and compassion might become the status quo. I am not positing a world where everyone can stand on their head but I am suggesting a world where we acknowledge the worth of each individual, a world where we acknowledge our own worth, without outside validation.
I find that yoga (not my asana practice alone) is changing me fundamentally. I myself have focused on the process of sorting out all the things that I am not, in order to find who I truly am. The more I engage in this process, the more I am finding who I am. The closer I get to my true self, the healthier and happier I feel. Almost all of my stress comes from trying to meet a set of expectations. Although I set many of these expectations, it is my ego that has created them. I imagine what others expect from me, what is the good and "virtuous" way to do things in this society and then I try to live up to this set of expectations that are based purely on perceptions rather than reality. When I stop worrying about all these false expectations and focus on what feels most right for me, I feel better.
Today I am grateful for the clarity given to me by my own mental interactions with this film.