Seeking discrimination in Yoga

Last night we saw a documentary on Yoga called Enlightened Up!  A young man new to Yoga was selected as a subject on which to test the hypothesis of the documenter Kate Churchill, that Yoga can “transform” anyone who practices it.  The 29 year old,  Nick Rosen had no real interest in Yoga beyond its physical benefits. He admitted to not being interested in anything more than happiness. Even so Kate was determined to prove he would have a spiritual transformation.  It was obvious from the start that transformation was what Kate was looking for from this work with Nick.   The definition of transformation was never defined.   For the next 190 days, Nick taste tested a “Baskin-Robbins” (his words) assortment of Yoga in the West with both caution and cynicism.

Kate and the documentary moved around with him as he was first introduced to Yoga in the New York area and then took him to California studios and then on to Hawaii where he met Norman Allen and got some blunt and rather obtuse advice and finally we follow him to  India.

In India he is given the privilege of practicing with Pattabhi Jois at his Yoga Shala in Mysore and allowed a personal inteview with B.K.S. Iyengar  in Pune.  Nick admitted to feeling alienated by the devotional nature of the student/disciples of Patabhi Jois and seemed much more interested in dating the “one” cute girl in class.  In rebellion of the process he disappears from Kate’s camera for a few days and then resurfaces in a tearful interview homesick and whining about missing his mother.  Our first glimpse of Nick’s inner world was neither endearing nor self reflection; it was more a self-centered diatribe.  Perhaps his date did not go well.

Sri Iyengar was quite amazing in his openness.  He shared with Nick and Kate’s camera that he practiced his Hatha Yoga with his teacher Krishnamacharya for the first 25 years strictly to strengthen his health.  He said that it was not until 1960, when his physical body had healed that he began to understanding that Krishnamacharya’s Yoga was not only physical but was Philosophical.  “Yoga,” he said, “is both external and internal and the transformation that results from its practice depends wholly on the nature of the practitioner.  However, when your physical being is sick, what good is philosophy?”  From Iyengar’s very open, profound and intimate disclosure, Nick chose to hear that Yoga was not spiritual, but merely a physical exercise for good health!

Nick was then whisked off to the spirit of a devotional Northern India, to an area called Brindavan where Nick received through the guidance of Bhaktiyogi Shyamdas, the most valuable insights of the movie and a true and rich darshan with a wonderful Swami Sharan.  Nick tells Swami Sharan that he cannot be devotional because he is not spiritual and does not believe in God.   Swamiji, smiling, explains patiently and lovingly to Nick that each of us is spiritual, whether we believe in God or not and that happiness is always to be found within us as that is where we touch the Lord.

Shyamdas asks Nick how much time he is willing to give to Yoga.  Nick says a few more weeks.  His immature attitude is absurd and I was surprised that Shyamdas was so gentle in his response.  It is only after darshan with Swami Sharan that Nick appears to be truly affected and reflective –his only real moment of self-reflection, is when Nick doesn’t know what to say to the Kate’s camera.

The documentary was a good description of a dilettante view of Yoga, or what happens when you skirt the techniques of Yoga without willingness to surrender to the process.  There was no explanation of prana or pranayama, bandhas, mudras, mantras, the subtle body or even meditation. It never touches on the importance of controlling the mind, senses, emotions, just the body. There was no mention of the yamas and niyamas, the restraints and discipled observances required.  The focus was on Yoga is the performance of asana and mostly on the practice of Ashtanga Yoga.  In a short interview with two Kundalini Yoga teachers in NYC, he denounces it as new-agey and kundalooni.

I came away from the documentary wondering how Kate who is obviously loves Yoga and deeply desires her own transformation had learned so little about what transformation requires.  How is this possible?  Why has the West been allowed to highjack Yoga and still create the mystique that it is transformational?

Most of us on the Spiritual Yogic path, regardless of how long we have been on it, have still not managed to control all of the lower parts of our being.  Until we have purified ourselves of the influences of our own subconscious tendencies, our samsaras and the external forces that penetrate our body and mind we must continue to develop reason.  We must use reason and discrimination as a stepping stone to Higher Knowledge and to that something, which is beyond it.  Reason will help us discern truth from what egoism and the mind tries to convince us.   But also we must be open to the messages, which arise from the heart.  We must be willing to listen to the heart and sincerely heed its advice.

Kate’s aspiration was real,  you could feel it burn,  but even at the end of the movie, even with all she had been witness to,  she was still in the mindset that postures would get her there.   I was touched to the core as I watched her resigned body spill to the floor from an unbalanced headstand.  She still wasn’t getting it.  I wanted to help her up.

  1. It really does make one wonder doesn’t it?

  2. I saw this movie recently and couldn’t really relate to the title of the movie and the ending with an unbalanced sirasasana. The only respite in the movie was the conversation with the Swami. “Be yourself, and throw out what is not your self”. Swami conveyed a very deep meaning in this and I wonder if they even got it!

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