Yoga Porn? Or Boundless Expression.

Via on Oct 13, 2010

When I found myself going to yoga after work practically every day and on the weekends, I suspected I was hooked—like, seriously interested in yoga.

I remember sometimes justifying the expense of doing yoga frequently by telling myself that eating out would cost about that much (or more), and I wouldn’t be eating out because I was going to yoga instead. Then, somewhere along the way I began to trade my graphic design services for classes at the yoga studio, which meant that I could go as much as I wanted!

Once, I was hanging around in a bookstore in between work and yoga class, looking at Yoga Journal. I wanted that magazine. I wanted that dream world that the images and stories seemed to hold for me at that time. So I decided to buy it. But, I remember feeling a bit ashamed—like I was buying pornography, or something. I mean…yoga just seemed to be so body-based, and I had thought that I was more cerebral, or something…but I was really into this yoga thing.

I ate, slept and dreamt yoga. When I was at work I thought about yoga. When I was with my boyfriend I thought about yoga (oops).

Yoga, yoga, yoga…

November 2010 Toesox Ad in Yoga Journal

And now, about 11 years later, I flipped through the pages of the November 2010 issue of Yoga Journal—an ordinary activity by now. On page 59 I came across the Toesox ad featuring yoga teacher, Kathryn Budig totally nude (except for Toesox) as photographed by Jasper Johal.

And on page 98 there is a Yoga Journal Conference ad featuring topless (modestly so) yoga. The model is in Pasasana (noose pose). And I wonder: Do we inadvertently put a noose around ourselves when we seek to limit the expression of other beings?

November 2010 Yoga Journal Conference Ad

The human form is beautiful. I’m all for celebrating it. But after all the intense interchange around Judith Hanson Lasater’s (she was a part of the group that started the magazine) letter in the September issue where she made a request…

“My request is that Yoga Journal doesn’t run ads with photos that exploit the sexuality of young women in order to sell products or more magazines.”

…I was a bit surprised to see Yoga Journal’s ad, above, after all of the dialogue and drama. Has anything changed?

Looks like the answer is a big, “No.” “Request denied.”

…guess we just need our sexy ads, sorry.

Thing is, I like Yoga Journal in spite of the many ads that fill the magazine. [ed: they have to run a sustainable business, after all, and, still, most of the ads are yoga or health-oriented]. And, yes, sometimes I am grateful for the ads (when I see something I want to buy). Some of the articles are good. It is often beautiful to look at.

The second definition of “porn” according to the Apple dictionary on my computer:

“television programs, books, etc., regarded as catering to a voyeuristic or obsessive interest in a specified subject”

Hmmm. Yoga porn. “…catering to a voyeuristic or obsessive interest,” doesn’t seem far off the mark. Maybe we do need to just practice yoga more, instead of requiring this extreme representation. Or perhaps yoga is just intense.

It is for me. So the representations might need to be as varied and extreme as our imaginations can accommodate.

About Brooks Hall

Brooks Hall is a Yogic Muse from Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity she teaches Yoga, writes about Yoga, and generally enjoys it. You can find her at: brookshall.blogspot.com.

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25 Responses to “Yoga Porn? Or Boundless Expression.”

  1. shazam says:

    Hmmm. I think yoga is naturally sensual. And advertisements–especially print ads using a female body–are very much based on a beauty aesthetic. the two–asana plus body– imply a natural marriage. It would be nice to see some yoga ads that accentuate the actual shape of the asanas, as opposed to the body performing them, but it's tough to separate the two.

    • Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

      What an interesting point! The body is so beautiful in asanas (yoga poses)—including all body types: young and old, male and female, slim and heavy, and so on…

  2. YogiOne says:

    Brooks,

    It may to too early to notice any changes. Ads are often bought months in advance and the magazines printed well before they are shipped. This ongoing debate has me pondering how the use of terms like "porn" and "exploit" both drive and distort the dialog. Sure, words like that get attention, just like nude pictures do and there wouldn't be much discussion without them. However, the argument, "My request is that Yoga Journal doesn’t run ads with photos of young nude women in order to sell products” explained by exactly how such photos exploit women would be more educational and perhaps more persuasive. By logically supporting the judgment of exploitation, the argument would have been less easily dismissed. On the other hand, failing to be able to adequately articulate the basis for the accusation of exploitation may have led the author to different paths of dialog.

  3. [...] more here: Yoga Porn? Or Boundless Expression. | elephant journal Tags: every-day, found-myself, like-seriously, seriously-interested, the-weekends, weekends, [...]

  4. Paul says:

    Move on children. This topic has been blogged to death.

    • Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

      Thanks for reading, Paul (assuming you did). Your daddy-style advice seems condescending. Maybe you see that there has been some kind of resolution in this matter?

      I see this as an important matter that is so far unresolved.

  5. Sam says:

    well, Kathryn Budig and ToeSox are now a household name among those familiar with the magazine or the yoga community. Quick question though, how many of those people have purchased ToeSox? I love the ads, I love Kathryn, I love Jasper's work. It is a celebration of beauty, light, and freedom. That is also what YOga is to me. Thank you for showing me what I can aspire to! I am you. You are me. Thank you for showing me MY beauty.

    • Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

      Hi Sam,
      Thanks for sharing your light and inspiration. It is a joy to read about your celebration, even though I might not celebrate in exactly the same way. It’s just hard for me to understand the use of nudity (even though beautiful) to sell sox.

  6. Jon says:

    If I was going to look at ads in yoga magazines with the intention of masturbating*, the fully-dressed Hard Tail ads are a lot more sexually-enticing than the Toe Sox ads, even if the latter shows more skin. All exercise and lifestyles and health is sold with a bit of sex or hedonism as the hook for the advertising. People don't want yoga clothes that make them look frumpy, they want to look good. They want to exercise for their minds and bodies, and we can ignore the bodies all we like and concentrate on the mental aspects of yoga and the "proper" way to practice, but the facts remain: most people are in a yoga studio or just wearing yoga clothing to either look sexy or be sexy. And that's not so wrong. It can go overboard, as any topic related to sex tends to, but exploitation is in the eye of the beholder.

    *Completely hypothetically speaking, of course.

    • Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

      Hi Jon,
      I appreciate your candor. And, yes, we are bodies and sexual beings as well as “higher aspirations”. The process of yoga includes all aspects of being human, in my opinion.

      And when it comes to sexual boundaries, I think that we are relatively un-evolved culturally. It’s really hard to understand because sexual lives tend to be hidden and very private. So when the sex hits public advertising, as it regularly does, our social responses are primitive. Some get pissed off, and others get turned on. I don’t think that people are always completely conscious about how sexuality affects our actions (in somewhat covert ways).

  7. Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

    Yeah, maybe the shadow of inspiration is disappointment for some people. Some readers are inspired by the Toesox ads, and some see in them a mirror that shows how they don’t measure up to an ideal.

    And, yes, yoga can pave a beautiful road to self-acceptance. We all seem to process this stuff differently. It is such an education to learn from everybody’s viewpoints on this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

    Thanks alignbetween. I appreciate reading your thoughts on this.

    This point from your response calls to me:
    “…the level to which advertisements and commercialization are influencing the yoga community and lifestyle in the macro sense.”

    Yes. How do these ads affect us personally and socially including the group-mind of yoga? Something to ponder…

  9. Carine says:

    I think it's sad to see woman's nudity exploited that way… Here they are portrayed as pure object, nothing has changed in our society. I dislike those commercials so much, they are very disrespectful of women in general and yoga as well.

  10. richard smith says:

    The advertisemants with pictures of Judith Hansen Lassiter nude are in Yoga Journal to entice you to buy products. Period. If some people are so offended by the ads, or view them as dreadfully pornographic, they should cancel their subscriptions. in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), Justice Potter Stewart said it perfectly: "I shall not– attempt to–define (hard core pornography)", but I know it when I see it." That succinct, vague, personal opinion still obtains today. If the ads are patently offensive to you, do everything that you can to avoid them.

    • Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

      Hi Richard! You’ve turned the whole thing on its ear: Judith Hanson Lasater “was a part of the group that started the magazine” as stated in the article. See a picture of her and read more here: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/08/walk-the-t

      And, yes there is legal precedent for this, and it sounds like it is just sort of avoiding the issue to me. We don’t know how to talk about this, yet. Intimacy and sexuality have been very private issues that we are forced to navigate when they come into the public sphere through advertising.

  11. lindsayyoga says:

    Brooks, I just want to congratulate you on yet another thoughtful and beautiful post. Most of all, I am impressed with how you have responded to every comment. Not only have you started the (difficult?) conversation, but you are also considering what others have to say. I can tell that you give each response a lot of thought and respect. Kudos!!

  12. nancy says:

    no one seems give a toss about the diet pill ads with anorexic models?? that's yoga?

    • Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

      Hi Nancy! Body image issues are definitely important. Maybe you'll write more about this in another post. I know there is a good audience of similarly-concerned people.

  13. [...] let me just say this. There is nothing wrong with nudity, naked performers or porn, ok? (Photo: [...]

  14. Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

    Yes, YogiOne, I see (since you mentioned it) that “exploit” is an anger-word. And so the letter did seem to unleash anger among women who resonated (probably emotionally) with it. And your thought about specifying exactly what the problem is could be helpful for people who don’t automatically have that emotional resonance. Not everybody “gets it” the same way. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Also, I like your thoughts on the higher aspirations in yoga. And I do think that people and companies making money in “yoga” should hold themselves accountable to how they are contributing to making the world a better place.

  15. YogiOne/Scott says:

    Yes. I'd say it is certainly a "judgement" word. Explaining the basis for using it also helps those who have an automatic/emotional reaction to the ads. In my experience, my automatic reactions often reflect what I would now call Samskaras. Reviewing the reasons for the automatic reactions we have gives us the opportunity to review and revise our beliefs in light of new information. We may strengthen our previously held beliefs or decide to go in a new direction.

    For myself, I never had the intention to buy Toesoxs or prickly mats. It is just possible that I might go to a Yoga Journal conference sometime. I even had the one in Florida somewhat in the back of my mind, but after seeing the topless ad for that conference, I immediately decided that I wasn't going to that one.

    YogiOne/Scott

  16. Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

    Yes, YogaDarla! Your point about having the model face the camera seems relevant to me. The butt seems appropriate to show (as evidenced by this picture) but we’ve never seen the front—it’s usually cleverly positioned just out of view.

    Somehow the phrase “shooting them in the back” is coming to mind. It’s just a vulnerable position. When facing someone “head-on” is more powerful…

  17. Jase says:

    Stellar work there eevornye. I’ll keep on reading.

  18. Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

    Hi Yogabird! I’m glad that I’m not the only one who goes back and forth on this one!

    Yoga = sacred, advertising = profane: what a fascinating connection. I’m with you in pondering this…

    Thank you!

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