The Naked Truth: Yoga Journal Speaks Out.

Via on Oct 22, 2010

Many yoga teachers are asking: where is yoga heading? According to the article, “What happened to yoga?” by Linda Matchen in the Boston Globe, several nationally known Boston-based yoga teachers, including Patricia Walden, were part of the recent summit “Balancing Acts: Poses, Products, and the Future of Yoga in America.”

“Everyone is afraid to talk about the white elephant in the yoga room,’’ said Justine Wiltshire Cohen, founder of Down Under Yoga in Newton, to the Boston Globe.

The white elephant in the yoga room refers to the many yoga teachers who feel yoga has lost touch with its original purpose—peace, wellbeing and enlightenment. Instead, yoga has primarily become a commercial venture serving more materialistic and ego-driven needs.

The yoga studios, according to Boston yoga teacher Natasha Razopoulos, have become places where people behave like “lunatics.” That is to say, just as compulsive and materialistic as they behave outside the studio.

She gave an example of some students texting in the studio during a three hour practice that included meditation.

Linda Matchen’s article states: “There is yoga for every taste, energy level, and aspirant — hip-hop yoga, hot yoga, rock pop yoga, weight loss yoga, Christian yoga, even “Yoga Booty Ballet,’’ which bills itself as a dynamic fusion of yoga, booty sculpting, and cardio-dance. If there is any doubt that yoga has left the ashram and joined the mainstream, consider that yoga was part of this year’s Easter Egg Roll festivities on the White House lawn.

The article further states: “Practiced by celebrities, fitness buffs, and fashionistas, yoga is a $6 billion industry with some 16 million American followers. Many of those millions are pouring into the trendy lululemon yogawear stores — purveyor of $90 yoga mats, $25 yoga water bottles, $40 yoga towels, and other nonessential yoga accessories such as yoga thong underwear and an $88 “yoga mat carry system’’ with a “Helmet friendly design.’’ [So you won’t hit your head with your mat while riding your bike.]”

Kaitlin Quistgaard, editor-in-chief of Yoga Journal—which had recently been criticized by Judith Hanson Lasater for running too many sexy ads in the magazine‚—does not seem to think this development is a problem, however.

She tells the Boston Globe: “[W]e also need to run a commercial venture…We are Americans and one thing Americans do is shop and like nice things. And one of the ways we identify ourselves is having a certain look. The yoga industry does support our desire to create self-identity through what we wear or what we purchase.’’

So, that’s what yoga has become according to Yoga Journal? Just another way to create self-identity through shopping? Just another way to support our desires to accumulate more stuff? Just another way to have a certain look?

My kind of yoga is about trying to develop pretty much the opposite: simplicity, non-attachment, self-acceptance from within…It turns out many of the most well known yoga teachers in the country agree.

But not Yoga Journal. If I understood the editor’s comments correctly, yoga is, let’s face it, an industry, a self-help industry supporting people’s desire to have a certain—shall we say, sexy yoga—look.

Not so sure Patanjali would agree. That old sage was hardly into sexy ads for ToeSox and shopping for $40 yoga bottles, was he? Nor was T. Krishnamacharya.

What about you?

About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes was born in Norway and lived for nearly three years in India and Nepal learning directly from the masters of tantric yoga. He has written extensively on tantra, yoga, culture and sustainability, and his articles have appeared in books and numerous magazines and newspapers in Europe and the US. His forthcoming book on Tantra will be published by Hay House India soon. He is currently contributing editor of New Renaissance and a columnist for Fredrikstad Blad, a Norwegian newspaper. He lives in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Visit his blog here: Eight Fold Path. His book Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit: A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra can be purchased here.

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21 Responses to “The Naked Truth: Yoga Journal Speaks Out.”

  1. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Good points, Linda-Sama. Even the totally naked and wild sadhus in India have a certain look. So "the look," your personal taste, your sensibility, is not the point. It's that certain commercial kind of look that Yoga Journal wants to push on us that more and more yogis are questioning… the yogi counterculture to commercialization is growing. Healthy sign!

  2. Don says:

    I have a tendency to agree with the idea that yoga in general and YJ in particular is becoming way too commercialized, but it was through a YJ ad that I discovered Paul Grilley and Yin Yoga, so it does serve a purpose. And yes, there are also countless ads that I could care less about. What is the old saying, "Let the Buyer Beware". Maybe that should be "Let the Buyer Be Aware".

    And since I'm just as judgmental as the next person and have started taking a look at myself, I've even been thinking of taking some classes at a branch of what some consider to be the Starbucks of Yoga studios. I figure I can't denigrate them until I try it, then at least I can denigrate guilt-free. :) I do welcome the counter-culture against the commercialization and feel that this is another tool on the path to wherever we are headed.

    • Ramesh says:

      I hear you, Don. It's not a black and white issue. Like you I think the critical voices are important, the counter trend happening is important, the discussion is important; and Yoga Journal does serve many positive purposes, for sure. My wish is a political economy in which ads are informational, not sensational. Long way to go…..

  3. pauloone says:

    Fortunately we live in a society where we have the freedom to practice as we see fit without the need to get a seal of approval from the Orthodox and where we can express our opinions openly.

  4. AlmadeLuz says:

    All of this seems a bit sanctimonious to me. Don't take yourself so seriously – you may be getting a bit too attached to the rightness of your point of view and the self-ascribed purity of your path..
    Don't spend so much time reading the magazines, watching TV or staring at those lululemon billboards. Spend more time in commercial-free zones like the wilderness.
    "What happened to yoga?" Yoga will always be yoga.
    At least people are exercising more.

  5. Ramesh says:

    AMO, thanks so much for your detailed reply. Very balanced and thoughtful. I have actually never visited Lululemon; just quoted that from the Boston Globe and also do not practice in yoga studios, but in my home studio here in the woods. I am familiar with Yoga Journal, though, a magazine I used to truly love and read back to back, but not so much anymore due to all the selling of more stuff rather than yoga and spirituality.

  6. mareynolds says:

    Yoga Journal and Lululemon are the way in to practicing asana for many in our image-oriented, materialistic society. And doing asana has a sneaky way of changing people, not just making them more fit, but more aware. And some yogis drawn to acquire the yoga butt and expensive mats will go on to explore more. Some will read the Yoga Sutras, practice bhakti, and look at the yamas and niyamas and how they operate in their own lives. (Needless to say, this also may accompany growing mature. It happens!) And the awareness developed from asana practice may show up elsewhere, and before you know it, these yogis drawn in by YJ and Lululemon are moving into pranayama, and are on a path to samadhi. It's a brilliant scheme that benefits all sentient beings. Eventually.

  7. Ramesh says:

    Sure, Mareynolds. I know people just like that who came to yoga for fitness and ended up enjoying the more spiritual aspects of yoga… so point well taken… there are also people who realize simplicity is better after living a materialistic, throwaway lifestyle. Still, less junk, less stuff is better for both yogis and the planet…

  8. pauloone says:

    Well said Waylon.

  9. Greg says:

    Nice post. I find the materialism and commercialism of a Yoga Journal a bit much as well. "The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali" can always help keep one on track with some self-discipline (tapas), practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagya). Keep up the writing.

    • Ramesh says:

      Greg, thanks for your kind comments. I am writing this comment from Denmark where I just landed and am staying with a friend doing a documetary on yoga, which I will be part of, and he just handed me a copy of Marshall Govindan's commentary on the Yoga Sutras! So your comment is quite synchronistic.

  10. Dawn says:

    Yoga is a reflection of its practitioners. As with all paths there is a point of beginning and that is all. No labeling is necessary. Teachers have the responsibility here not the students.

  11. Melanie Klein Melanie says:

    As always, thanks for your articles. I know you read my recent post on yoga, size zero bodies and advertising diet pills so I know you know how much I appreciate your writing. I am in gratitude.

  12. Padma Kadag says:

    Great comments…The business of spirituality is just that…a business. It seems from self help gurus and book writers to "Yoga Instructors", as seen on ELE, there is a lot of spirital business frequenting their ideas and comments regularly. This concerns me. I am concerned about the sincerity and authenticity of "living the spiritual life". If the business is driving the teaching, and it is, what will really be accomplished spiritually?

  13. [...] I declared that the trouble with yoga stemmed from Yoga Journal and Lululemon and $80 yoga pants and the slick marketing of ridiculous, superfluous products such [...]

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  15. [...] YOU KNOW: Yoga is now a $6 BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY?* And for some reason it seems to revolve in large part around [...]

  16. pauloone says:

    Damn kids and their rock and roll….

  17. Ramesh says:

    The kids are alright….damn the corporations exploiting the kids and their music….

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