Book Review - Movie Yoga: How Every Film Can Change Your Life, by Tav Sparks, 2009, Hanford Mead Publishers, Santa Cruz, CA 95061, $18.95, pp. 192

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

"Even if all this is brand new to you, and it works best to play it like we outlined it above, when you are more used to it, this is the way you'll be able to do it too. What's beautiful is, after a while, Movie Yoga will become like second nature --- just as easy as breathing.
This is when we really get cruising into a new way of living: clear and clean on the inside, running light,
no excess baggage dragging us down, bright-eyed and wide open on the outside.
A whole new world, and worth it."

- Tav Sparks, Movie Yoga

Tav Sparks has had almost twenty-five years of experience of working with psychiatrist Stan Grof leading therapeutic work in non-ordinary states of consciousness. In Movie Yoga, Tav emphasizes that when we are having feelings as a result of viewing a movie, the ultimate origins of the feelings are from within us, not from the movie itself. Experiencing those triggered emotions can open up a whole new perspective to life as the more practice we acquire we will automatically figure out when and where those original feelings were laid down in our psyche.

The book is about how to allow, nay encourage, those emotions aroused in us by the movie to be felt once again, as a self-therapy experience, as we can go back as far as our very beginnings. Really? Yes, really! The catch is that you've got to make it easy for this to happen, otherwise those early hurts won't get felt as there is a great force within you which does not want them to become conscious. There are many ways of doing that, and the author writes about one of those ways. The movie yoga way might be more natural for him because he's very passionate about movies and writes that he views at least 100 each year and many more than that at home.

The author furnishes a listing of 104 movies which were particularly emotionally triggering for him and he uses parts of these specific films as illustrations of important elements in practicing movie yoga. Doing movie yoga is easy to do theoretically, but may be difficult to put into practice, because unconsciously we just don't want to feel those feelings. The reactions we have when viewing a scene in a movie seem like a reaction to the movie, are, in truth a reliving of an emotional experience from our early past, albeit with a different cast of characters! Knowledge that those feelings only seem to happen spontaneously is a huge help in overriding our defenses and thereby become a movie yogi. (P.S. You can do that in real life situations also, but it might be better to wait until you get home!). If we didn't have those defenses, we wouldn't need the hints and instructions for doing movie yoga.

We like to feel the feelings when they happen on screen to others but Tav writes that we are on a short leash as it can be painful to use those emotions stirred by the film as stepping stones to feel those very same feelings during their origins in our early life. That's true, and sometimes scary even though we feel so good when we connect with those early pains. Sometimes our defenses need encouragement in the form of emotional battering and ramming!

This is true especially since regressing to those early hurts makes us cry! That's something you will almost always invariably do when you hit the pay dirt of connection to a hurt in your early past, unconsciously or otherwise. That's what the tears shed in movie houses are about, but as self-therapists we're aiming for their ultimate or end source when we do Movie Yoga. Going back to the scene of the crime, the time we were hurt, and experiencing what we repressed earlier can be very helpful in resolving our life issues. Doing movie yoga is all about using and tracking down those early pains which the silver screen or television gives us an opportunity to track and feel. Going there is not always easy and can be scary as those feelings were shunted away to our unconscious mind for good reasons.

So movie yoga involves getting the help we need to uncover our past. Unfortunately, we'll never live long enough to resolve it all. We need to follow Tav's techniques when we practice movie yoga as we don't have the free will to just let it happen. As he writes, our free won't is usually in charge. Our defenses are strong and want to keep us safe. They don't understand that we're grownup now and even if it hurts we can process those early hurtful feelings. They have been waiting so long to be felt. And they hurt so good when finally felt! We will then slowly get the freedom to learn how to stop our early pain from interferring in our day-to-day life, in our actions and and in the bad feelings we have. It's past time to cut the strings of the puppet master in our brain. Movie yoga is about having more free will and becoming more joyful by living life away from those early hurts. We will begin to realize that often we are just automatons.

In the meantime, the earlier imprints we suffered make us nervous, depressed, angry, jealous, clingy, guilty, inadequate, and other of the weaknesses to which flesh is heir. When those negative emotions begin to diminish, you'll lead a happier, healthier and more contented life. But, I'll warn you that when you're getting close to a real biggie, you will revert!

Tav writes a lot about how movies track the four zones of the death/birth matrix, being the Safe Zone, the Trapped Zone, the War Zone and the Free Zone. (Methinks the biggie is in the middle zones!) At the same time these zones have parallel areas in our individual lives we live as well in the movies. They are all a replay of the death/birth matrix from which they are derived. Wow! This is getting serious but hopefully not too deep.

Recognizing this matrix when we view its elements, explains a lot about the movies we see and helps us to uncover the the "whys" and "hows" of the life we live and lived. You'll insightfully discover a lot of your behavior and will know and understand many "so that's whys." It's no fun being controlled by these negative forces. How can producers, directors, screen writers know so much about us? Simple. Because they are also people, and like us, also ultimately live in the phases of their death/birth matrix.

But the author just doesn't jump into an explanation of this important subject. He enters into this core part of the book very slowly and methodically. He doesn't want to shock or scare anyone or make them want to put down his book, maybe permanently! Believe me, you've already been shocked and scared. And he wants you to believe him - that we've all been though that matrix before and it will become familiar once again when you get used to looking for it in movies and recognizing its elements, even though it has been a long, long time ago since they were experienced. Hint, Hint - They've been a part of our lives since our very beginnings. When you recognize them, and feel them the opportunity to heal finally begins.

Tav Sparks leads us gingerly on that important matrix route and points out the sights and feelings along the way, especially the scary parts we can look for and identify. Like I keep saying, we've all been there before. Focus and recognize. If you practice movie yoga you will understand the process and you'll get better at it. It's like the movie was made just for you. Wow! You will learn that you have been there and did that - that you've been there and felt that and seen that and maybe even heard that! All of your sensory inputs might again become open as you live an incident in your past. And perhaps nothing will happen. Our unconscious can guard its secrets too well!

The enthusiastic author dissects many movies for us. He's a good teacher. We learn about their plots. From a feeling viewpoint, they're the essence of familiarity. But his film analysis is not just filler material. From Tav's book, we will get a good idea of what to look for, and about which parts of specific movies are about particular zones. Yes, again I emphasize that even apart from the zones of the birth/death matrix what you will feel in the darkened theater applies to you too! Why not a guide of movies for our particular emotional issues? Oh, but that's been done. They're called movie reviews.

Some of Tav's favorite movies are Bladerunner, Alien, Gladiator and the Lord of the Ring trilogy. He tours portions of those and of many other movies for us and gives us a guided tour of the zone features for which, with practice, we will develop a knack for recognizing. He also furnishes us short plots. His excitement about movies never falters. Gad, but Tav Sparks loves movies! And he writes so well about them!

What follows is a smidgeon of what he says about the Free Zone, the first part of the birth/death matrix:

Like we said, the Free Zone is heaven. It's about feeling safe - maybe like being connected to the mother, either our physical, or perhaps even the Divine Mother. It's about getting our needs met - food, love, and so on. It corresponds to when the baby's in the womb. So, when something triggers us and these kinds of feelings come up, we might experience it metaphorically, like a heaven. Or we could experience it biologically, like hanging out as the fetus in this warm watery universe, the unborn baby connected to the mother. Or we simply feel content, safe, and cared for. -- p. 79.

While they can be blissful, other zones may not proceed smoothly or contentedly. Sometimes they can even be called hellish! Don't forget that Shakespeare's tragedies are much more popular and satisfying than his comedies and, by the way, they're also loaded with issues of the birth/death matrix. Yeap, Will was a human being too, although he must have been inspired by angels! So we can have had a toxic womb environment. If not early in our development, then in the War Zone towards the end of the ride - the ride of your lifetime and perhaps the ride of a deathtime! You should find hell there also. Chapters in, Movie Yoga, are devoted to each of the zones where movie plots and insights are definitely not ignored.

I'm getting near the end of the book and Tav has still not given the essential instructions needed to become a movie yogi. What gives here? Not to worry. I soon discover, they're there, in Chapter 13.

Reviewer's Note: At 78 years of age, and with rapidly declining health, I have just about given up on feeling the "re-birthing" phase of my birth/death matrix. Over the past 25 years, I have felt, hundreds of times, the "death and dying" part of my matrix. On these occasions my feelings have never progressed to that last matrix phase in my mostly self-primal-oriented therapy. Despite, this incompleteness, I have nonetheless derived many benefits from regressive work over the decades, even though the completion of this matrix continues to evade my grasp both with and without a regression therapist in both primal-oriented and holotropic breathwork therapy.

Dr. Stanislav Grof comments about this plight:

"It is important to emphasize that this kind of healing and life-changing experience occurs when the final stages of biological birth had a more or less natural course. If the delivery was very debilitating or confounded by heavy anesthesia, the experience of rebirth does not have the quality of triumphant emergence into light. It is more like awakening and recovering from a hangover with dizziness, nausea, and clouded consciousess. Much additional psychological work might be needed to work-through these additional issues and the positive results are much less striking." - The Cosmic Game: Exploration of the Frontiers of Human Consciousness, 1998, pps. 146-7.

It was during a holotropic breathwork session that I came closest to completing the important birthing phase in my therapy. (See breathwork session .) Unfortunately, the experience was incomplete - perhaps because I was unconscious at the time of my actual delivery. I don't know for sure. For a recounting of this possibility and of a subsequent phase of my birth, see Pre- and Peri-natal Agonies .

An excellent source of film reviews is a website established by the New York University School of Medicine which lists hundreds of feelingful movies. Besides furnishing a short plot, all of the emotional issues (keywords) in each movie are listed above the movie plot and linked to the movie database. You thus have a means of locating other movies in the database which also explore that particular feeling. Often there are too many listed, which makes it difficult to choose one movie since one does not know if the feeling only occupies a small portion of the film or whether it is its main issue.

See Literature, Arts & Medicine Database at NY University. After accessing the link in the line above, in the webpage which presents, look in the column on the left, under Performing Arts, and click on Film/Video/TV Adaptations.

There is no reason why you can't be entertained while resolving your early hurts! That's because the movies you will particularly enjoy the most are often the ones which are about you and your personal issues.

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