March 30, 2009

Selling out yoga

I began my yoga practice in 1996 and knew I had stumbled upon something exhilarating, insightful, challenging and delicious.  There weren’t a lot of yoga studios in 1996 and I had to truly seek out a practice that fit my personality and my needs.  My friend, Marla, led me to Bryan Kest in 1997 and by 1999 I ditched the gym and developed a dedicated and consistent practice with Bryan and Caleb Asch.

My yoga practice was a wonderful constant in a sea of change and chaos.  It also provided a truly unique place to get to know my body in a new way. It was the first time I paid attention to my body’s rhythms and desires without imposing my own expectations and will.  I became more forgiving, more loving and more in tune.

My teachers and my practice inspired me to give up my obsessive tendency to beat my body during a workout and made movement pleasurable, beautiful and loving. My teachers and my practice taught me how to respect and nurture my body, accept my body and, best of all, love my body.

As a person with a past rooted in dieting, obsessing, over exercising and generally abusing my body, this was new and welcomed territory.  The yoga mat had been one of the few places in our media-driven, thin-obsessed and youth-oriented culture that I was not subject to these distorted messages about what I should look like or who I should be.  I could just be.  Sometimes that meant happy, other times sad, often times tired and curled up in child’s posed without judgement and at other times, fierce and energetic.

As yoga became more and more absorbed by the mainstream and yoga studios popped up around town like Stabucks coffee houses, I noticed yoga’s message of unity and acceptance become filtered through the lens of the dominant consciousness and consumerism.  I began making public commentary on these changes in 2003 that I presented at  a variety of conferences and public lectures: Celebrity Yogis: The Intersection of Yoga, the Cult of Personality and Consumerism, Yoga and Popular Culture, McYoga: The Spiritual Diet for Consumer America, Consuming Spirituality and Spiritual Consuming: Capitalizing on Yoga, and the McDonaldization and Commodification of Yoga: Standing at the Intersection of Spiritual Tradition and Consumer Culture.

I was particularly interested in the reproduction of mainstream beauty standards in the pages of yoga magazines. All the models were thin and polished. After examining the mainstreaming of yoga for several years with frustration and sadness, I put down the yoga magazines and withdrew from the increasingly commercialized yoga community that had previously provided me with solace and acceptance and made my practice more personal and, in many ways, made an attempt to safe guard it.

It worked.

Recently, though, I picked up a copy of Yoga Journal and was dismayed to find advertisements for diet pills. I’d noticed more and more corporate ads before I abandoned my subscription but this hit home.  Not only had Yoga Journal succumbed to accepting corporate dollars for products that seemed unrelated to a healthy yogic lifestyle but now they had allowed the ultimate self-esteem crusher to enter: advertisements that reinforced larger cultural messages telling individuals that they must lose wight and that they don’t have to do the work of eating healthy and exercising.

Pop a pill.

In so many ways, the proliferation of ads for diet pills confirmed what I had already known for years: yoga had passed through the filter of the mainstream capitalistic consumer culture, and in passing through that filter, had emerged altered.

Yoga had come out thinner, sleeker, more polished with soy latte in hand, designer yoga bag slung over a lean shoulder and a bottle of diet pills in the belly.


2 Comments »

  1. [...] earlier version of the following post was originally published as “Selling Out Yoga” at Feminist Fatale, March 2009. It has been revised in light of [...]

    Pingback by Should Members of the Yoga Community and Yoga Publications Emphasize Weight Loss, Size Zero Bodies and Advertise Diet Pills? | elephant journal — September 14, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

  2. Your work on “Celebrity Yogis” and “McYoga.” Is there somewhere where the public can read this work? I’d love to read more in detail what you have written.

    I personally write a blog that doesn’t get written as much as it would if I posted pictures of “Lady GaGa,” praised “Yoga Journal” or even cited some celebrity “Yoga Guru” as someone I was seeking to be. So I’m still in the yoga culture, affected by its cracks, and also leaning on the strength of my own practice.

    Thank you for writing this. I have something coming out today, you may enjoy at Thursdayyoga.com.

    Be well,
    Renee

    Comment by Thursdayyoga.com — August 4, 2011 @ 10:24 pm

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