21st Century Yoga: Questioning the “Body Beautiful”: Yoga, Commercialism & Discernment. ~ Frank Jude Boccio

Via on Dec 3, 2012
photo: saritphotography.com / design: drewfansler.com

The following post is part of the 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice book club exclusive to elephant journal. It’s based on Frank Jude Boccio’s essay, where he uses the buddhist practice of satipatthana to deconstruct the very notions of “the body” and “beauty.”

This post looks to explain the notion of “transparency” and the challenge it presents in any in-depth investigation. As the book was a collaborative effort, showcasing a myriad of voices and opinions, we hope you’ll comment and create a dialogue in response to this hot-button topic.

“Yoga Body” in the Media and it’s Impact

In Melanie Klein’s contribution to the elephant journal book club for 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice, she writes: “I’m not discounting individual agency but people make choices within a given cultural environment, one that is sociohistorically specific and variable. That cultural landscape’s taken-for-granted norms and values play an influential and powerful role in determining what we consider desirable/undesirable, good/bad, beautiful/ugly. And the images that shape our desires, aspirations and notions of beauty are inescapable. We’re soaking in them.”

Others, including Klein and Chelsea Roff, both co-contributors to 21st Century Yoga, have written eloquently about these images and the media that showcase the “yoga body” and the often detrimental effects such imagery has on yoga practitioners and potential practitioners and I also touch on this in my contribution to the book.

In particular, I refer to the many books and articles that question the impact that over 12 hours a day of media imagery has on developing girls and women of all ages. The documentary, Miss Representation, shows how the media’s emphasis on women’s appearance and sexual desirability locates the value of a woman in her appearance, and how the message is not lost on young boys who grow up to be men who value women primarily for their bodies—as long as they look like the images that have been presented to them.

In such a toxic media bombardment, it is no wonder that in a recent survey, 90 percent of women reported that they dislike their bodies.

But here, I’d like to emphasize the central thesis of my essay, which in a word relates to the transparency of the cultural and economic media through which these images are conveyed. I’m using the word transparency as it is used in contemporary philosophy: we see only the content, never the (contextual/conceptual) carrier. We do not see the window but only the bird flying by.

Subjectively, this transparency creates the feeling of being in direct contact with reality.

In the context of the “yoga body” and the “body beautiful,” this means we fail to see the construction of the “ideal,” or concept and unquestioningly accept the image as “real” or inherently self-existent. This failure to see the context and the very construction of such concepts as “the body” and “beauty” is a form of ignore-ance, which is itself a form of avidya, literally, “not seeing.”

And every yogi and yogini knows—or should know—that it is avidya that is the root cause of duhkha. And it is duhkha, the existential sense of lack or discontent with which yoga practice has traditionally aimed to engage.

Roland Barthes said that he was interested in examining those subjects that “go without saying.” My essay in 21st Century Yoga is one attempt to investigate and deconstruct that which is all too often unseen in the very act of “seeing.” I mean to investigate what the psychoanalyst Jeffrey Rubin calls the “blindness of the seeing ‘I.’”

As Melanie Klein refers, (with an appreciation I share in) to Kathryn Budig’s remarks about her own body image issues in a recent interview, it may be instructive to note the (non-conscious?) ambivalence Budig holds regarding the body and in particular the notion of the “yoga body” that proliferates in popular yoga photography, advertisements and images in the major yoga media.

In a Huffington Post article written in defense of an Equinox ad featuring yet another young, lithe, scantily clad woman, Budig wrote: “Our intention was to inspire and show the beauty of a body that practices regular yoga to get people back on their mats.”

Setting aside the many comprehensive critiques of the effects of advertising and the commodification of women’s bodies to sell product within a yogic context, it is the un-thinking, feel-good “celebration of the body” that has been interpellated into contemporary yoga that I address in my essay. I believe this seemingly positive celebration of the body is merely a specific cultural and historical manifestation of the shadow-side of hatha-yoga and its historical tendency to fixate on the body.

As early as the 10th century, the Garuda-Purana warned “the techniques of posture do not promote yoga. Though called essentials, they all retard one’s progress.”

Now, that’s a strong, damningly harsh statement with which I do not fully agree, because I do not believe asana (or any yogic practice technology) is inherently supportive or unsupportive of yoga’s aim of liberation. But, taken as an assertion that a superficial fixation on the physical, rather than being a mere distraction or diversion, can be a total and complete obstacle to liberation. I believe the statement should brook no real dissent.

Of course, that would then imply that yoga as practiced and conceived of by the contemporary, commercialized mainstream is, at least much of the time, actually an impediment to liberation. Today’s contemporary glorification of “the body beautiful” seems to prove this. In fact, many practitioners of “popular yoga” seem to have little if any idea of duhkha and the liberating purpose of yoga practice to free us from it, and equal ignore-ance of the duhkha their “feel-good” celebration actually perpetuates and encapsulates!

At the time of the Buddha, yogic culture saw the body inherently  as an obstacle to liberation; this was one of the major factors that led to the practice of extreme austerities (tapas) of other groups like the Jainas. After trying and rejecting such practices, the Buddha undertook the radical investigation of the true nature of the body as the first of the four satipatthanas.

Today, an integrated practice of this, satipatthana can free one from our culture’s narcissistically driven identification with the body as ‘self’ through what seems like a paradoxical deep intimate experience of the body as body, or as the Buddha phrased it: body in the body.

Satipatthana is the deconstruction of the concept of the body and any of the attributes we may project onto it, including “beauty.” To be clear, there is no rejection of the important function of conceptualization, but merely the necessary and important reminder that concepts are constructed within an unconscious ideology and making ideology conscious allows us to choose a more sustaining, healing ideology over one that can lead to individual and societal suffering.

It is the transparency of the conceptual constructs that satipatthana attempts to make seen; it’s the attempt to see the window through which we see “the body” and “beauty” that together make up the “yoga body” that Budig implies is the result of “regular” yoga practice.

As my essay makes clear, among the elements that make up this “carrier” or conceptual construction are biological, social, economic and cultural forces. The images presented are nearly always the same: young, white, female and slim (and when they aren’t, the laudatory response only serves to point out the homogeny generally presented) and these images are used to either sell product or the image itself without any hint of self-awareness.

For instance, my essay attempts to point out some of the cultural conditioning behind the notion of “beauty” and then goes further in suggesting that the “beauty” being “celebrated” is not to be found inherently existent in the body that is perceived, but in the very conditioning behind the perception and the blindness to that conditioning.

It asks: “what is this body we call ours” when 90 percent of its DNA is non-human and without which we could not live? In effect, it asks, though we are all familiar with the cliché, that “beauty is only skin deep,” why do we not act from that knowledge and seem to forget that rather than inherent in the body, beauty is constructed and projected?

When these images remain unquestioned, they are taken as “natural” (another conceptual construct).

This is how the imagery conditions the shocking prevalence of disordered eating and body dysmorphia we find in what should be a healing and liberating practice. This is how, as Melanie Klein writes, “the yoga industrial complex upholds unrealistic representations of beauty” that leads to someone like Kathryn Budig sharing that she has experienced “body image issues,” while participating in the “complex” in the creation of images that—though meant to inspire—only reinforce those same unrealistic representations.

As someone old enough to have protested the Vietnam War and to have a table upfront at CBGB’s where I wrote about and participated in the nascent punk movement, I feel there is nothing that I have ever done that has the counter-cultural, subversive possibility presented by the kind of “investigation of dhamma” (dhamma-vicarya), the Buddhist yoga tradition of satipatthana offers when coupled with hatha-yogasana practice.

But, being inherently empty of any essence or “self-nature,” I am fully aware that it can also be used to prop up the mainstream status-quo and its transparent ideology that makes the corporatization of yoga seem “natural” and inevitable.

And, with that punk spirit intact, I want to question this steam-roller momentum and do my part to undermine its taking over completely. As the Buddha often said, “living an awakening life is one that goes against the stream.”

 

 Poep Sa Frank Jude Boccio is a certified Yoga Teacher and Zen Buddhist Dharma Teacher ordained by Korean Zen Master, Samu Sunim. His eclectic approach is influenced by his study of a variety of yoga approaches and his many years of Dharma practice, evidenced by his emphasis on mindfulness and compassionate action. His book, Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath, Body, and Mind is the first to apply the Buddha’s Mindfulness Meditation teachings to yogasana practice. He maintains two blogs: www.mindfulness-yoga.blogspot.com and www.zennaturalism.blogspot.com. Based in Tucson, where he lives with his wife, Monica, their daughter Giovanna and their two cats and two chickens, he travels worldwide, leading workshops and retreats. He can be contact through his website.

~

Editor: Edith Lazenby

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34 Responses to “21st Century Yoga: Questioning the “Body Beautiful”: Yoga, Commercialism & Discernment. ~ Frank Jude Boccio”

  1. Melanie Klein Melanie says:

    Stellar! Just stellar.

  2. I hear ya, though when yer body's as beautiful as mine, there's really no downside…
    Seriously, what's important, I think, in decrying how far modern yoga has gone from its roots in celebrating the "body beautiful" is also acknowledging that a lot of those roots involve an anti-body ascetic dualism that's every bit as destructive. Gotta admit, I tend to get suspicious when I see yogis and Buddhists describing themselves and their practices as "punk" or "rebel," as, similar to Christian gangsta hip-hoppers adopting a bad-ass tone to rap about side-hugs, there's usually a deep conservatism underneath the posturing. (Then, according to noted Republican Johnny Ramone, that was true of punk rock, as well, and he may have had a point).

  3. Jay, (that's your name, right?), I totally agree with you about the anti-body ascetic dualism and its destructiveness. That's why I argue there is no inherency in ANY of the yogic practices or techniques. Dhamma-vicarya, practiced through the (philosophical) naturalist lens leads to seeing the body both beautiful and gross DEPENDING ON CONDITIONS. The glorification of either over the other is narrow and imbalanced. Seeing that the body can be either and/or both allows for a clear-headed intimacy. The image I share in the full essay about my wife's dream of me helping her to put her guts back in her body — with no sign of disgust– is included to convey this. With no disgust expressed, the shame she was feeling in her dream dissolved.

    As for the punk thing, I generally don't wear my creds on my sleeve — as do folk like Brad Warner or Noah Levine — but I was so punk I wore Herman's Boots and flannel shirts to CBGBs and The Pyrimid Club. When others questioned my girlfriend at the time, she said, "He's so punk he doesn't have to wear the uniform." (Hope you can hear the smirk in all this). As that same sweet punk-rocking girlfriend used to say, "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

    Thanks for your comment, though. I think remembering the so-called "traditional" anti-body perspective of the roots of much yoga philosophy is an important corrective to the contemporary myopia of kow-towing to "tradition" — much of it totally misunderstood by practitioners themselves.

  4. Carol Horton carolhortonbooks says:

    Speaking of tradition, I would say that there's more than posturing or nostalgia in Frank's invocation of his punk rock past. I have always felt that an important element of American yoga culture grows directly out of this country's tradition of alternative socio-cultural movements. You can trace yoga in America back to the Transcendentalists (as, in fact, Julian Walker does in his 21st Century Yoga essay), who were radicals in their time. Then, of course, there was the whole tie-in with the 1960s counterculture. This is only one part of the story of yoga in America, but it's an important one, and worth reflecting on.

    To my mind, many of the most important divisions in the American yoga world center on questions of: to what extent yoga should merge seamlessly with mainstream culture, and to what extent it should resist, challenge, or create alternatives to it? And then, what do each of those alternatives look like concretely, and why?

    Essays like this give us much to work with in terms of both critiquing mainstream culture (in large part, simply by understanding it better) AND pointing toward how yoga and meditation can open up alternative and more liberating ways of living. And such valuation of liberation IS "traditional," even if what we mean by it is not.

  5. Billy Bangdouglas says:

    Lovely essay, Frank Jude. I can hear your voice so clearly. Props on "yoga industrial complex" – it reverberates with the original punk spirit that you and I remember so well. Balance and equilibrium. Body/no body. Your analysis, as always, right on point. And yes, the world is rife with traditions established by those who themselves lack understanding. Witness the followers of every iconoclast recasting their leader's new ideas into the same old molds in order to render them "safe" and "comprehensible" to everyone! So much that presents itself as analysis and commentary only demonstrates a complete lack of any real understanding. By the way, the world will always believe in the world, in what is "natural". Unable to see the preconceptions and prejudices for what they are, a set of faulty constructs that, on the surface, appear to make sense only because of their transparency. Bird and window, yes, well said that. And most definitely, the most subversive idea that I know of is the extinction of preference and desire. Whenever I try to explain duhkha to someone, they look at me as if I had just arrived from another planet. Glorification of the "body beautiful" with its built-in set of conditioned prejudices and preferences is the inevitable by-product of the Big Lie of consumer culture, that one may attain happiness and perfection whilst engaged in the field of time and space. Your voice is needed and appreciated, if not often heard and understood. Keep talking. I'm looking forward to seeing you again in the new year. Peace, bBd

  6. Daniel. S. says:

    I completely agree with this post. The media is intoxicating every one with so many ideas, thought and more this cultivation is causing a massive amount of discomfort for people in particular women in which are drowned in these constant images everywhere from magazines to commercials to even advertisements that have nothing to do with anything have a surprisingly gorgeous extremely skinny woman with all these features that don't come with certain weight. Shockingly enough these enormous amount of women featured in advertisements and related media type programs are not actual real women and these feature are attainable and these poor women falling victims to this have banging body's for no lack of a better word for the norm yet are not happy even after all that work that sadly turn to methods in which are unhealthy and dangerous the next step here is how can we regulate the media in a manner that it will not be damaging to the viewers.

  7. Nathan R says:

    I think it’s horrible how the media uses Yoga as a way to sell their products. Yoga should be used as a self-enhancement mechanism for growth, not a means to further grow your bank account. Also, I find it interesting how whenever I mention the word media in discussions and debates with friends regarding influence, they immediately jump the gun and say “oh well so nothing is my decision?” I quickly respond, “No!” So many people mistake the word “influence” and “control.” While the media has a powerful impact on what we buy, say or do, it is not the sole factor. Additionally, it is really unfortunate how there are so many people with body dysmorphia problems and eating disorders. I wish that they could use Yoga as an outlet to relieve some of that tension and negative influence. Maybe then they won’t feel as pressured by society to conform to their unrealistic standards of beauty. After all, Yoga is freeing one’s mind the from oppression reigns of society.

  8. NatashaN says:

    I have done yoga many times, not only for exercising purposes, but also for spiritual purposes. Many people do not understand the real purpose of yoga, which is meant to be liberating for the soul. Personally, when I do yoga, I feel like a whole new person and it makes me much less tense and relaxes my body, including all of my muscles that I didn’t even know existed. Also, I agree with the fact that “beauty is only skin deep,” however, society seems to only value beauty, and forget what is on the inside.

  9. Mita S. says:

    I agree with this article on how the media is protraying yoga and how it's using the media to sell yoga products. Instead, of focusing on yoga and relaxing, excercising and finding your inner peace and such, I think yoga nowadays has been destroyed with its products. Now I may be wrong, but I want to be comfortable when I work out and not worry about what I have to wear to catch that guys attention. Yoga pants are becoming such a hot item among guys lately, because it's so tight it shows off your ass (literally) when you are wearing those pants, you can tell if someone has a tight ass or saggy ass. I thought yoga was about your inner beauty and not your outer body. Because the media is destroying something as positive as yoga I believe that's why so many girls are suffering eating disorders and body dysmorphia problems. because instead of focusing on losing weight or working out to be healthy, you cant even walk into a yoga class without having the latest "fashion" of yoga, and if you are wearing those tight yoga pants you might feel self conscious that someone is looking at your ass or your body, when you're really there to actually get more confident and find your inner beauty. I like the quote in the article "beauty is only skin deep" because it's true there's more to beauty than what you see on the outside.

  10. Danny S says:

    I also agre that the media is brainwashing everybody with so many false ideas. Which is caused drastic affects to people and especially women. Because they are being brainwashed the most because of all the constant images they see. All the magazines, commercials, and even advertisements have attractive, extremely skinny woman with features that are simply fake and unreal. Which they are in fact truly fake and unrealistic women featured in advertisements and the media. And unfortunately women think that those features are attainable. And as a result women are falling victims to having a body like these fake photoshopped female models. And sadly these methods that are unhealthy and dangerous are becoming a trend to our women in our society.

  11. Angella F says:

    After reading this article, I completely agree with what the author is arguing. The media is using the practice of yoga to sell different types of products. Instead of portraying yoga as a spiritual and relating practice, the media is cultivation the population with different types of products and skinny women with yoga. I come to agree with "beauty is only skin deep" but people tend to forget that yoga is a practice that you must relax yourself and learn more about your inner thoughts and your body. Because of the media and advertisements, women are falling as victims. They see the thin photoshopped bodies of the models and they associate that with the norm. They don't realize that those images are fake and those body ties are not real. These ways are dangerous in society and are leading to unhealthy habits in women.

  12. Oliver M says:

    Great article ! 90% of those women need to love and accept their bodies. The reason they probably don't accept their bodies is because of the "perfect body" the media sets. Which the standards for a perfect body is unrealistic. Its crazy how much of an affect the media has on female's insecurities. Which the media themselves are insecure, I bet the people who's portraying the perfect body aren't happy with their own body. I like how yoga is a great outlet to get in tune within yourself.

  13. Ellie G says:

    All you have to do is pick up a Yoga Journal or any Yoga magazine and all you will see is pictures of fit, skinny, (insert popular yoga clothing brand here) clothed yogis and yoginis. But for the most part, if you go to a yoga studio that isn’t one of the uber popular celebrity filled studios, you will find people of all ages practicing yoga. In my experience, the older people that have been practicing yoga for years are often the most calm and the most engaged. One of the hardest things for me to do is “keep my yoga on the mat” because with my body issues I am constantly comparing size, strength, and yes, even clothes. It is really up to us to put a stop to buying into the expensive yoga clothes and the skinny body envy. Marketing will always be marketing, and as long as there are buyers, the concept of doing yoga to “look good” will sell. Asana practice is really about going inward, and most of us who love yoga and want to learn more about it understand that yoga is what happens off the mat.

  14. milab says:

    Mind blowing article! I was fortunate when a friend introduced to yoga over a decade ago. Feeling self conscious as a new student, I remember the experiencing a "welcome" dynamic. Since then this has been my home base, when I veer the wrong way, yoga is always there. I have practiced yoga with pleasure every time noticing internal growth and light. It is very unfortunate that media and marketing reached and dug into the practice of yoga by advertising and promoting bodies, sex and the common unrealistic bodies. Reading this article reminds me of a participant in Miss Representation as she says "when is it going to be enough". How much further can the media push "health related" dysfunctional boundaries and false perceptions to young women and (some) men. Food for thought – implementing a mandatory academic curriculum class as early as 5th grade to bring awareness in self-worth, respect, love and motivation for the impressionable, naive, media consumed tender humans everywhere promoting awareness.

  15. Michelle says:

    I teach and run a small Ashtanga studio in a small but hip college town. My shala is a little off the beaten path, and so are my students. Unlike the more popular (read "cool") studios in my town, I have very few willowy, young, tattooed practitioners, (although I do have a few students that fit this profile.)

    My students are of all genders, ages, shapes and sizes – they prove Pattabhi Jois's assertion that anyone – men, women, old, young, sick, healthy, strong, weak – can do Ashtanga. One of the things my own students mention they like about my studio (and I've heard this from visiting Ashtanga practitioners, too) is that they enjoy seeing "real people" practicing there.

    There's a culturally driven propensity for all of us – even the supposedly more "conscious" Yoga practitioner – to want to look "good" – youthful, strong, flexible, sexy. And, there are studios that cater to, and, dare I say it, even encourage this mindset through how and what they teach (i.e. yoga as competition, yoga as exercise, yoga as physical prowess) and also through the examples set by their teaching staff, who are, after all, subject to the same culturally coerced desires and attachments that all of us are subject to, and need to resist.

    I'm reminded of the video of the man (see video here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qX9FSZJu448) who lost 140lbs and began to walk and run again after doing Diamond Dallas Page's yoga videos – he says that "most yoga teachers turned him away." That's just really, really sad.

    What message do we send our students as teachers? Is it, "You can do yoga here if you look good, if you look the part." Or is it, "Anyone can do this yoga, I want you as a student no matter who you are, or what you look like, and I am going to try my best to teach you. And, if I don't have the skills to teach you, I am going to help you find someone who does."

  16. [...] Questioning the “Body Beautiful”: Yoga, Commercialism, and Discernment ~ Frank Jude [...]

  17. MansourR says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I think it is horriable how the media portrays yoga. I do yoga very often. Eventhough I am very spiritual I still do it. I do it becuase it is relaxing and its good for your soul. When you take your mind of anything and think of nothing you are detaching your self from eveything. I do yoga everyday for about fifteen minutes, and it really helps me relax. It even helps me sleep an night. I believe that these women need to just accept their bodies how it is.

  18. Dorsa D says:

    Anything the media can get its hands on and sell, will grab the opportunity in a blink of an eye. The media influences every choice and decision we make, and soon enough the mainstream media will start to control us! The media is feeding us with false images, and setting high expectations. The media industry is money hungry. They have taken away the real reasons why people should practice yoga. The point is to self-identify in yoga, not show off your body to others. Women need to stop worrying about what the media is saying and should accept themselves for who they are. Yes, this is harder said then done, but it is true. In order to be able to move on in the world with a smile… you must be happy about yourself. Also men need to stop imaging women that they see in the media, because that is simply a fake image. Yoga used to be relaxing, until the media took over.

  19. Saman M. says:

    It is no surprise that the media uses any product they can to promote our society's expectation of beauty. When I see advertisements for yoga products or to convince people to come join a yoga program,the girl in the image is always very skinny wearing spandex pants.This will obviously affect women because it will cause them to start disliking their body which the statistic shows that 90 percent of women hate their bodies.That is shocking and when women who do yoga see these advertisements of a skinny woman doing yoga,theyll start feeling bad about themselves and they shouldn't because they should accept themselves the way they are.The images in magazines are fake and they are more real than they will ever be!

  20. Alexander K. says:

    In today's modern era, inner beauty doesn't seem to be perceived as somewhat valuable. We live in a culture where being beautiful is more important than current event problems such as world hunger or world peace. Each day, many companies are advertising and brainwashing naive girls that they worthless. They indirectly give the message that their value depends on what they wear. I find this really stupid because it also indirectly gives the message that their personality isn't worth anything. I'm glad that their are articles like these that give women the mentality that they are beautiful. If they want to be happy and learn more about themselves, they should practice yoga. I've read so many articles about yoga and learn that is the perfect way to help the body and give woman the answer of what true beauty is. From what I've read. beauty lies within a person and even if a woman gets the perfect body then even then, they won't be able to be happy with themselves.

  21. BrittanyP says:

    Once again, the media has found a way spread the wrong message. It is a shame that they have gotten their hands on Yoga, for it is the total opposite of how it is being portrayed. Yes, it does get you in better shape and yes, you can have the ideal yoga body if you commit to it but that is not its purpose. Being someone who does yoga a couple of times a week, it makes me angry to know that people are not focusing on the more important factor of yoga: its effect on your mental well being. It really expands your perception and way of thinking. I hope that even if one decides to do yoga for the wrong reason, the yoga catches up to her and makes her realize the mental benefits

  22. CourtyanaF says:

    Its very sad how the media turns things like yogo into somethig it isnt. The media has changed so much over the years. It has taken “touch ups” to a entire different level.” People don’t even look like themselves anymore. Many of us aren’t even aware of it. We think its normal and all natural. What we see in the media makes us believe its how we should look. We are blind and have lost the concept of true beauty. Beauty isn’t the 90% enhanced photos we see in magazines and on TV. Beauty is all of us individually. If we all embraced our natural born given beauty, so much negativity would be gone. Until then we will continue to over exercise, use photoshop, and get plastic surgery to creat an unrealistic look.

  23. Sofia F says:

    I think negative body image is a serious problem that probably is more widespread than anyone realizes. Because the extent of media influence on this problem cannot be empirically measured with any degree of accuracy, it is easily denied or ignored. Nevertheless, a careful review of the facts together with some logical inferences, as presented by the authors and contributors, highlights the damage being inflicted on young women. If body image is a psychological representation of what we look like, distortions in those images must develop from some stimuli – images seen, experiences, etc. I think it’s pretty well established how much media time most young Americans endure each day – something like 3,000 ads per day, maybe. If those ads, most or many of which feature thin, young, blonde females were not influencing viewers to buy products, then the advertisers would stop using them. I appreciate the authors’ efforts to put this all in perspective.

  24. JoseB says:

    This article highlights many of the topics we covered when discussing about the media and the impact it has on determining what considered ” desirable/undesirable, good/bad, beautiful/ugly”. Interestingly the article also mentions one of the documentaries I saw in class titled Miss Representation, which focuses on women’s appearance and the author also mentions how, as a result of the toxic media bombardment many women, “90% of women dislike their body”. At this point I recalled the term cultivation in the media and how the media has shaped and created values and norms in our society. This cause and effect has created expectation for everything, now becoming normative, and at the same time we are unconscious of it. I also remember our professor talking about the significance of what we unconsciously taken in by the brain, which is more powerful. An example I remember she have us the example of having a black female model in a magazine being out of place, but it is only due to all of the millions of images we unconsciously take in, which are in most cases uniform. As a result, when we see something different we become surprised and have in our minds a standard of what becomes acceptable and desirable.

  25. Lucy M says:

    Its so refreshing to hear this being called out. I see so many ads for yoga and all of the girls represent the "ideal" beauty image. This has intimidated me in the past and made me think that only those type of people can practice yoga even knowing thats not what yoga should be about. I thought yoga was about awakening yourself spiritually and being in a safe place without judgement. All of the yoga classes I have taken at the gym embody the same idea for the ideal beauty and finally I found a place in downtown Santa Monica that gives me those feelings. It crazy to me how "main stream" they are making yoga and by that I mean having the same views as in a patriarchal society. Nothing is untouched by this and I think it should be known what yoga is really suppose to be about.

  26. Tiffany N. says:

    I think it is horrible that ads for yoga are only representing the women with the "ideal" body type. It should be known that women with all different types of bodies with different sizes do yoga. Yoga should be something that is spiritual, and calming. It should not matter whether or not you have the ideal body. Women with all shapes and sizes should take yoga, and enjoy it. With pictures like these, women would not feel comfortable doing yoga, and that is not right.

  27. Taylor W says:

    Great article. The media exploits yoga, and tells women that their bodies aren't perfect. The marketers then start selling all kinds of yoga clothes, and really only cater to that "perfect" body type, rather than focusing on real women who want to practice yoga. The clothes they wear should feel comfortable and appropriate for yoga; not be a fashion statement or a way to look sexy.

  28. OliviaW says:

    I totally agree! The models for the equinox ads were so skinny they looked frail. I would think they starve themselves so much would be to weak to rest in downward-dog. Additionally, it does seem very counter productive to yoga's purpose when overtime I look a yoga magazine or clothing line there is a picture of a tall skinny woman.
    I think more people need to bring awareness to these issues because its getting to a point that I feel uncomfortable showing up to a yoga class because it feels like high school. Many times I see that people are in competition with one another to show off whose body is more flexible, who has the "trend" yoga gear, and they even congregate like teens do!

  29. Tasnim D says:

    It is nice to see an article talking about the history of yoga and explaining how the media has twisted the original intention of yoga to the focus of the body image. As I have been taking yoga at Santa Monica for a semester I have been able to better purify my mind from the constant bombardment of weight issues that caused my disordered eating. Now I am able to see my body not as a “beautiful image” of the unrealistic photoshopped woman but has myself with all my flaws and all because that is what makes me. I like how Poep Sa Frank Jude Boccio takes down the “main stream” yoga that is marketed to sell an ideal body image instead of the original intentions of yoga. It is the media fault that ninety percent women feel insecure about their own bodies, We need to create change in this patriarchal society and bring women to accept their owns bodies for being themselves.

  30. Shahriar M. says:

    Yoga helps free your mind from stress and teaches you to love yourself for the person you are. Yoga should not promote outward beauty and should not be an excuse for women to look "sexy" and show off their bodies. People, especially women, practice yoga to find their inner beauty and become satisfied with themselves. By establishing yoga as a trend where women are given a reason to wear tight pants and show off their bodies, more people will be put under pressure and this will only defeat the purpose of yoga.

  31. "But, being inherently empty of any essence or “self-nature,” I am fully aware that it can also be used to prop up the mainstream status-quo and its transparent ideology that makes the corporatization of yoga seem “natural” and inevitable."

    What an interesting commentary on the practice. I have a superficial knowledge of Buddhism as I have not practiced it or studied the practice deeply. But are you saying here that if one is an empty vessel, so to speak, that one is available to be filled with random pourings at other's will? I find that a fascinating throw away line there but maybe I misunderstand.

    I agree with your assesment of the pollution that hovers over a good bit of yoga though I am a woman who has celebrated her physicality and experieced the admiration of spectators which has been empowering. I recognize that if there is any validity to that admiration it is a result of my joy, not my prowess or looks. It is joy that is attractive. It is a lively mind that is a draw. It is kindness and friendship that sustains. Looks fade otherwise or even the most perfect of human forms have no appeal ever at all.

    • Hi Hilary,

      Thanks for your comment. Regarding the statement of mine that you quote and ask about; perhaps the key teaching of the buddha is that all phenomena (that is, everything we can experience) should be understood to be contingent or caused and conditioned by other phenomena. Rather than think of "things" or "entities," he suggest we see every aspect of our experience more like a dynamic, every flowing stream. This is what I mean when I say that the practices of yoga (like everything else) is "empty of any essence or self-nature." In fact, it is because we are empty of any inherent nature that we can change.

      Think of how when someone lies, we are so quick to label him "a liar" but is that all they are? Is that there real nature? Does one lie — or even 10,000 make someone "a liar?" Even such a person also tells the truth in some situations. When I look deeply into my body and mind, I see that there is no "thing" that is unchanging, persistent, and independent of other causes and conditions.

      In regard to yoga practices, some people assert that just doing asana, for instance, will lead to specific things like more compassion, deeper interest in spirituality, etc. I agree that for many people that is so; they may begin practice to look good in a bathing suit, but over time they become interested in meditation, and other more "spiritual" pursuits. However, there are others for whom asana remains simply a physical workout. That is because they have no inherent nature to always lead to more "spiritual" understandings. When someone does become interested in the "deeper teachings" of yoga, it says more about them and the causes and conditions that make them respond that way than any inherency in the postures.

      I hope this clarifies this point. Again, thanks for writing.

      For more in depth explication of this important and central teaching of the buddha see: http://zennaturalism.blogspot.com/2010/03/going-a

  32. [...] It’s ironic that even a collective dedicated to writing critically about yoga would struggle so much over the question of how to create a “marketable” cover that didn’t reproduce the commodification of the “yoga body” that the book itself so forcefully critiques. [...]

  33. [...] 21st Century Yoga: Questioning the “Body Beautiful”: Yoga, Commercialism & Discernment. ~ Fr… [...]

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