There’s Something Wrong with Our Fame-Driven Yoga Community.

Via on Mar 27, 2013

hardtail yoga ecofashion

There are times when I get so sick of dealing with the yoga community hoopla that it completely turns me off to practicing yoga.

This lasts for about five minutes, because the second that I get out of my head, away from yoga media, and back into my body, I want to hop on my mat and move straightaway.

At the same time, there’s a real disconnect between yoga’s top dogs and the general snobbery and the “this is the only way to practice yoga” mentality that is a real turn-off.

I have to admit that I subscribe to the magazine Yoga Journal, and that I love getting my new issues. I also enjoy using their free online podcasts and website. However, as a writer, I find myself more and more turned off by Yoga Journal (and more and more inspired by a site like elephant).

The reason is simple: to me it seems apparent that Yoga Journal promotes yoga celebrities.

I’ve had several people ask me recently why I don’t try and write for Yoga Journal. My response is often limited, as I usually don’t want to get into a detailed conversation about this, but if I’m being honest and complete, my answer is as follows.

At one point in my writing career, I would have absolutely adored writing for YJ. Now, however, I think it’s pretty obvious that YJ wants writers with a more famous resume than I have to offer—and that’s actually led to me to being less impressed by the quality and content than in years past.

I really don’t want to have an anti-YJ article here, or start a conversation that’s as heated and aggressive as another recent piece I wrote. What I do want is to point out that I, personally, am appalled by the frequent combination of more athletically inclined yogis and fame.

Yoga and fame should not (necessarily) go hand in hand.

As someone who teaches and writes, I definitely understand the need to have a level of success and an ideally highly-populated audience. Still, this isn’t my goal of practicing, teaching or writing. Quite frankly, maybe that’s why I’m not super famous and wealthy, because honestly, I don’t even have a concrete goal. I do these things because my passion dictates that I must.

I just feel like I might just itch to death if I don’t get that blog from my brain to my fingertips!

I feel like something is deeply lacking in my life if I don’t share my yoga practice with others.

My day is entirely thrown off if I haven’t set eyes, or foot, on my yoga mat.

I practice, teach and write because I feel I must in order to survive.

Yet, if I’m not being melodramatic, I can understand that yogis have to reach a level of achievement in order to teach for a living. The reality of life is that money pays our bills and helps us make greener choices. Regardless, I can’t help but be turned off by the entire scene more often than I’d want to admit (as yoga is such a huge part of my life and self-identity).

Where there are people, it seems there will always be drama, gossip, self-righteousness and elitism, but I just can’t help having a utopian dream that my yoga community could be different—that we could all treat others and be treated with verbal and physical respect, that what comes out of our mouths and back into our ears and souls isn’t hurtful, spiteful or self-indulgent.

I guess that’s why dystopian novels are just as successful.

Anyway, take from this stream of consciousness what you want, but my purpose for writing it was simply to honor the authentic dream that lies within me that dies a little bit each day.

Is our world too humanly egotistical to ever practice true yoga?

I guess in my own small way, when I step on my mat and move through my postures, I’m trying to lend some positive energy toward a larger yogic movement.

Every time I send in a piece to elephant journal, I’m hoping to open people’s hearts and minds in some small way to a (possibly) new idea or way of thinking.

I’m not entirely sure what I hope to gain from this particular article. I do know, though, that it’s important to me that if we decide to call ourselves “yogis” and want to add something dynamic and important to the yoga community, that we begin to more fully assess what our end desires are.

Maybe it’s just me and my own life experience, but I happen to believe (for now, at least) that we often achieve our best results when we let go of our obsessions with attaining them.

The passion has to be in the action and the journey, not on the intention your ego seeks.

 

Like elephant Yoga on Facebook.

 

Ed: Brianna Bemel

About Jennifer S. White

Jennifer is a voracious reader, obsessive writer, passionate yoga instructor and drinker of hoppy ales. She's also a devoted mama and wife (a stay-at-home yogi). She considers herself to be one of the funniest people that ever lived and she's also an identical twin. In addition to her work on elephant journal, Jennifer has over 40 articles published on the wellness website MindBodyGreen and her yoga-themed column Your Personal Yogi ran in the newspaper Toledo Free Press. She holds a Bachelor's degree in geology and absolutely no degrees in anything related to literature. She's written one book that has yet to be published and is currently working on another. If you want to learn more about Jennifer then make sure to check out her writing, as she's finally put her tendencies to over-think and over-share to good use. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram and on her new website.

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31 Responses to “There’s Something Wrong with Our Fame-Driven Yoga Community.”

  1. Dan says:

    Ultimately yoga is your own practice, and your volition to share it with others says more about your coming out of ego than writing for an established, famous, controversial publication.

  2. Michelle Marchildon says:

    Dear Jennifer,
    You are right. I have been asked to write for YJ, submitted, been accepted, and then cut at the last minute. When I opened my magazine, I see they ran a piece by Stephen Cope instead. Um, yes. I get it.

    • Jennifer White says:

      Wow, extremely interesting and poignant feedback, Michelle. Thanks for getting the conversations started :)

  3. fragginfraggin says:

    The agenda of yoga is to uproot the kleshas. If teachers change the agenda to finanace a Mercedes, expect chaos in their kula. If you want to generate an income. Get a job. If you want to serve others, teach yoga.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Too bad the economy is what it is.

      Teaching is just another form of selling. A selling of knowledge.

      Many of the yoga teachers I've had the karma to meet have talent enough to sell me furniture or lease me an apartment, in the same way.

      If only there were plenty of jobs.

    • Marshall Zalc says:

      You amazingly said everything about the subject in just one paragraph. Thank you very much. Yoga shouldn't be a way of living like working for a corporation or sell insurance.

  4. mizboognish says:

    I really enjoy Yoga International produced by the Himalayan Institute. I actually read that magazine compared to YJ, which is lacking in depth. Maybe its not a bad thing not to write for the mass media…

  5. Donovan says:

    It's all an illusion. Even believing that another person has an ego.

  6. BCE says:

    I loved this article it is from your heart and that is always good. I would not say problem I have, just my perspective is that you cannot ascribe what your beliefs are in yoga to every one else. That is a statement that goes hand in hand in any type of belief, I do not like to compare yoga to religion, BUT, it is a good analogy. Looks what happens when that is done in the "religious" world, not normally a good thing. I am finishing my yoga teacher training at age 41 and I think that life stage you are in plays a massive part of yoga practice. I want to teach yoga because I enjoy passing knowledge onto others, thats it. I am not going teach beyond ensuring the physical practice of my students, yes it encompasses meditation and some spiritual aspects, but students need to "want" to chase that on their own. Like religion, that aspect of yoga is a personal choice. We should all be happen that students show up for us to teach, beyond that, the only expectations should be on your own practice. Peace

  7. lesliemesslie says:

    Something is wrong.

    Yoga business supports yoga celebrities. It's a tried and true formula….to make $$$.

    • MatBoy says:

      I agree. I think only in America could someone like Bikram succeed. There is something in our culture that looks up to a person who can take something, anything, and turn it into a money making venture. We turn these people into celebrities because they have gotten ahead financially. YJ is just one example of that happening – I'm guessing here because I have never actually read it.

  8. YogaGuest says:

    Great piece! I too get disgusted with YJ – they reinforce that stupid notion that 95% of people who practice yoga are female, young, white, and a contortionist. How about showing real people doing asana…..full figured, thin, disabled, male or female, any age or ability, and every color under the rainbow? These describe yogis in the real world!

    Also, because of their recent jerk move to make a buck – I'm not renewing my subscription. Out of the blue they are sending dvds in the mail….if you like it you keep it, pay for it, and keep getting and paying for more. If you don't want it you need to hurry up and send it back in the envelope they provide. This return envelope is not big enough for the plastic case, so unless you have the means to recycle it or reuse it – the case gets pitched into the garbage! Is every subscriber getting these things in the mail? What a waste, and a lousy way to try to sell their product. …..and I watched the dvd before sending it back- it sucked.

  9. jsb says:

    Wanderlust would be another example of the sickening promotion of Yoga Celebrities. And once more, naming the various levels of buying in as some type of experience which delineates ones level of worldly wisdom is obnoxious (sage, seeker, etcet). Do people really buy memberships to enlightenment?

  10. Robyn says:

    I kind of like yoga celebs. If not for some of them, I might not have really been introduced to yoga. I mean, obviously I knew yoga existed, but it was coming across several websites/blogs/FB pages of people who might be classified this way that got me feeling inspired to really give it a try or to try different types that I knew nothing about. I understand your bigger point, but I think there is a place for them in getting people interested. I love having a FB feed full of yogis who inspire me.
    I'm sure my comment will cause people to mock or criticize me in that special yogi way I so often witness on here. ;)

    • Jennifer White says:

      Well, it won't be me mocking you! I hear you and completely agree. I also heard of yoga through celebrities (Lilias on PBS when I was in high school and Kristin McGee's MTV dvd's introduced me to vinyasa later on)—and I think it's important to not forget that I wrote in here that I still enjoy and read YJ. I love attending workshops by popular yogis. Point: I'm not against fame or famous yogis. My question lies a little bit deeper, both in ourselves and in media. I'm asking yoga teachers to question why they teach to crowded rooms (or teach at all), and I'm asking yoga media to reconsider unnecessary promotion of unnecessary "celebrity."

  11. Allison says:

    I have had this debate with myself a lot whether I respect a lot of these famous yogis or if I think they are sell outs. So I do agree with you to a certain extent. But at the same time, they are spreading the word of yoga to a mass amount of people. I read an article elsewhere about yoga not being a bad "fad". Even if it is something people are making money off of and people who may not be as serious as others are taking part of, is it really something bad? To spread the word and inspire as many people as possible, only seems like a positive thing in my mind even if you may not be doing it in the most "yogi" way. Trust me, there are plenty of Yogis who drive me nuts because they are just preaching to make their money (Mr. Bikram himself… I cant stand the man..) But if you can do something you truly love, spread the word to a large amount of people, and make money off of it, is it necessarily wrong? I am solely playing devils advocate here because like I said I have had this debate plenty of times. I love the article though and I love that you respect elephant journal more than yoga journal. I could not agree more with sticking with the small non- corporate business'. Thank you for keeping my brain churning.

  12. macpanther says:

    I think two things about this. First, I think it isn't necessarily the case that one has to be a celebrity to appear in Yoga Journal. Cate Stillman isn't necessarily a household name, but she appeared in a recent article. Granted, she appeared alongside Desirée Rumbaugh. Was this because of Desirée's celebrity, or her accessibility and groundedness?

    The second is that efforts to continue to understand yoga community solely from a psychological perspective are doomed to fail. The psychological perspective will get one as far as personality, but not necessarily community. There are interactive effects above the level of the individual that make the whole more than the sum of its parts. We need to know how to resolve conflict, build commitment, and balance leadership. We are not the first utopian experiment. Why not try to learn community from other experiments, and from other cultures?

  13. Leslie says:

    There is a lot of judgement being passed here. Why is it wrong to earn a living? Why is it wrong to have others like you and become popular? Why not be happy for another's success?

  14. DaveTelf says:

    When I spend time with yoga celebs, I most often find that they are where they are for good reason. They have incredible presence, experience and knowledge to share, and it radiates through them. This is obviously not true of all of them, but I would direct criticism more towards those seekers (perhaps including the YJ editors) who choose to idolize certain individuals and place them on a pedestal.

    This is a bit of vedantic nit-picking, but I would also take issue with the suggestion that there is "something wrong" with any of this. As Allison pointed out above, this yoga fad phenomenon is the most inspiring popular trend I've witnessed in modern Western society. Seriously, what could be more promising than millions of people being exposed to these ancient, universal practices and ideas? There are always judgments about the right or wrong way for this to happen, and that is something to notice and work/play with, but ultimately it's moving us in the right direction.

    I am especially convinced of this because of the authentic integrity of our best leaders at the moment — Seane Corn, Richard Freeman, Shiva Rea, Kathryn Budig, MC Sweet — these folks are dedicated to their practice and devoted to their community, which extends the people in their workshops to the entire planet.

    Sorry to poo-poo the poo-pooing, but there is nothing wrong. Everything is wonderful.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      I love consequentialism. It is the fallback position of the popularizer.

      But it makes sense. What's a pragmatic person to do?!?

    • nunh says:

      I agree with you. Some people are famous for a reason. Whom am I to judge? YJ has pretty damn good articles – I don't need to star gaze to enjoy their articles and EJ's.

  15. RAS says:

    Some years ago, Erich Schiffmann mentioned how embarrassed he was by his video 'Yoga Mind and Body' which featured Ali McGraw.

    At the time, it was the best-selling yoga video ever made. (It still may be.) His embarrassment came from the 'perfection' of the asanas performed in the video — unattainable for most practitioners and off-putting for most who tried.

    Erich's later videos were of actual classes as taught in his studio in Santa Monica. Just two VHS video cameras stuck high in corners of the studio filming everything: students coming in late; obvious beginners; the less flexible; the more flexible; the more 'perfect' body; the far-from-'perfect' body; the young; the middle-aged.

    The "amateurishness" of the videos were what made them so appealing. If you looked like 'this,' there was a place for you in yoga. If you looked like 'that' there was a place for you in yoga. If you could do 'this' there was a place for you in yoga. If you couldn't yet do 'that' there was a place for you in yoga.

    Interestingly, one of Erich Schiffman's teachers was the iconic Joel Kramer — who abandoned teaching to concentrate on his practice.

    Your mention of Lilias Folan reminded me that she gave all rights to all of her PBS television shows to PBS — free of charge, in perpetuity.

    The Birkrams of yoga world have much to learn. Sadly, they now outnumber people like Joel Kramer, Erich Schiffmann and Lilias Folan by a ratio of about 10,000 to 1.

    For Judith Lasater's views about Yoga Journal, the magazine she helped to found, go here: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/08/judith-han

  16. Johnny Axelsson says:

    I once was a avid reader og YJ and a teacher – funny – now i`m neither. Didn´t they loose it around 10 years ago? Nice article, thanks.

    "still a yogi"

  17. Tiffany says:

    Amen! I honestly couldn't have written this any better myself. You took the words right out of my brain and into the blog. Thank you!

  18. Matthew says:

    Very interesting. Here's my input. The girls in the article pic have the best butts I have ever seen.

  19. Markie Schwitau says:

    Any yoga is good yoga. However, it hurts my heart to see yogi's with full-on personal entourages trailing them. Anyone, who has ever been to "Wanderlust" must know what I mean. It's not the problem of the teacher …. It's the strange predilection of the student ….. to be over enamored with the teacher.

  20. Myster_G says:

    Why should Yoga be exempt from superficiality? Spirituality in general has become a big business cult of personality driven by superstars who had the fortune to stumble upon something real before gurus came in three day packages. Glossy spiritual magazines flog books and programs by celebrities and sell meditation accessories and paraphernalia for exorbitant prices.

  21. Kirsten H says:

    Hmmm…..I hear what you are saying with this and then I ask you to turn it around – why would you care so much if not being driven by ego and maybe some tiny part of jealousy. All yoga is good yoga – gym yoga, mainstream yoga, "celebrity" yoga has it's place. Think of the countless number of people that have come to a more spiritual place or found Bhakti through conventional, modern means. Isn't that a good thing. YJ is just a magazine, it is accessible for people new to yoga or practice and that is good too. The work you are doing is excellent as well. We need both shining stars and empty space to make the brillance of the night sky. I challange you to turn your focus off of critical thinking and onto something more compassionate – Do More Yoga.

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