It’s no secret that sex sells ~ and this is something that yoga product companies caught on to a while ago. But it seems that some yoga teachers and practitioners are saying, “Enough is enough!” In the September issue of Yoga Journal, Judith Hanson Lasater, one of the magazine’s founders (and a long-time contributor), wrote a letter to the editor stating her concern about the magazine and its advertising policy. She wrote:
Yoga Journal was born in my living room in Berkeley in 1975, where I was one of five yoga practitioner-teachers who gathered to create the magazine. I have loved the magazine ever since. But I’m concerned about ads that have stimulated both confusion and sadness in me about where the magazine is now and where it is headed.
I am confused because I do not understand how photos of naked or half-naked women are connected with the sale of practice products for asana, an important part of yoga. These pictures do not teach the viewer about yoga practice or themselves. They aren’t even about the celebration of the beauty of the human body or the beauty of the poses, which I support. These ads are just about selling a product. This approach is something I though belonged (unfortunately) to the larger culture, but not in Yoga Journal.
Finally, I feel sad because it seems that Yoga Journal has become just another voice for the status quo and not for elevating us to the higher values of yoga: spiritual integration, compassion and selfless service. 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. Thank you for your attention and willingness to hear another point of view.
Judith Hanson Lasater
San Francisco, CA
From a glance at Judith’s Facebook Fanpage, she’s not the only person feeling this way. Her Fanpage is full of supportive comments from people who have similar issues with Yoga Journal’s advertising policy, and the representation of yoga. Her letter has also sparked a passionate discussion about the ways that yoga is marketed and presented in North America, and the future of Yoga Journal. As she said on her Fanpage, “It is not my intention to harm YJ. It is my intention to open the dialogue and be clear about what my values are.”
Judith also willingly agreed to an email interview with it’s all yoga, baby to further explain her point of view.
Q: I understand that you must be disappointed to see YJ become another “voice of the status quo” and I’m sure that wasn’t your intention for the magazine when you helped start it 35 years ago. What kind of voice did you hope it would become?
JHL: I would love to be able to say that we had such a clear intention all those years ago, but it is not true. I do remember clearly that we all loved yoga (not just asana) and wanted to share it with the world. We were crazily naive about everything that went into publishing a magazine. We learned over and over again that you can’t publish if you can’t pay your staff, your distributors and your mailing costs. Business is the way of the world and nothing wrong with that. But I had and still have dreams about how the magazine and the world can be, part of my character I guess as an optimist.
Q: There have been many conversations and discussions about the commercialization/sexualization of yoga, and the response from many people is, “Yes, well we live in a capitalist society; everything is commercialized. Why not yoga?” But I see that you feel differently. What do you see as the problem with using sexual imagery to sell yoga? What is compromised?
JHL: I just want to help create a safe space for yoga to be taught. With all this sexualization of yoga clothes, props, etc., it must spill over into the environment of yoga classes in ways that do not honor the boundary between teacher and student. In the US, we pay people the most money who can distract us the best: actors, personalities and sports figures. Entertainment is all about distraction. As I understand it, the deepest practice of yoga is about the opposite: refusing at first, then later embracing, the act and art of not distracting myself anymore from myself and the moment. So it seems to me that the use of naked bodies to sell yoga products is about using distraction to sell introspection. For me it is not about the nakedness; rather, it is about using bodies to distract us instead of using ads that inspire us to practice yoga, to live in the present and to be open to compassion and grace in each moment. I am sad when I see yoga in general, and many yoga classes in particular, becoming about distraction and entertainment.