Slim, Sexy Yogini + Car, and what the heck are we sayin’ here at Elephant?

Via Brooks Hall
on Aug 14, 2010
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Nissan, SHIFT_the way you move

What’s good about this Nissan car ad with Tara Stiles is that it communicates about a car that has the potential to cause less harm to the environment, and it gets yoga to the eyes of a mainstream audience. But it makes mistakes in message, too.

There is a big pull-out centerfold advertisement in the July/August 2010 issue of Women’s Health magazine featuring Tara Stiles, yoga and the 100% electric, no tailpipe, zero emission (for tailpipe emissions) Nissan LEAF TM.

It seemed like quite a synchronicity that I just happened to find it during the week of the “maelstrom of discussion” around Judith Hanson Lasater’s letter to Yoga Journal about sexy ads. Added to that, in an interview, Waylon had just asked Ms. Lasater, “…A sort of crass commercialism or “spiritual materialism,” as my parents’ teacher put it, seems to be at issue. So wouldn’t SUV ads be more offensive?” Well, here is an ad about a zero tailpipe emission car (there is no tailpipe on the car!) that also shows the commercialization of yoga! But, I’m really getting ahead of myself…

This issue of Women’s Health boasts stories on the cover like, “Eat, Drink & Still Shrink!” and “Flat, Toned Abs, High, Tight Tush, Jiggle-Free Arms.” Are you feeling insecure, yet? I am…

get your best-ever summer body, Tara Stiles, yoga master

In the past (is it still happening?) it’s been bodaciously breasted and curvy women used to sexualize cars in those male-targeted car magazines. Tara Stiles cuts a much more slim and even girlish form as she poses in the Nissan ad. With her hair in a tight bun and clean look she reminds me of a classical ballerina, almost like a girl from the dancer paintings of Edgar Degas without the tutu.

Tara Stiles Nissan ad

In the language of opening a centerfold, the message is clear. (I remember, when I was a girl, pulling apart the little tacky pieces of glue to access my practically life-sized picture of Jon Bon Jovi from Teen Beat or similar magazine…) The yoga sequence is actually in the easy-open part of the ad. Inside the glued part of the spread—the most cherished part—is a picture of the car on one side of the spread and this message on the other side, taking up a whole panel on a plain dark blue background:

slimmer. calmer. healthier

Can you say “xenophobia“?

From the text:

“no chanting. No hard-to-pronounce pose names.”

and

“likewise, the Nissan LEAF is changing perceptions of what a car should be.”

Hmm…so does this mean that “hard-to-pronounce pose names” are like carbon emissions, and that chanting is equally old school/bad?

This ad is questionable (I’d say horrible) in terms of yoga and for global consciousness. When it talks about the “difficult-to-pronounce” names of the poses, I wonder about other “difficult-to-pronounce” words, like learning other languages and global communication (and what about things that can be difficult-to-say like, “I love you.”). Isn’t it important to move past the small worlds of our individual conceptions of things and into a more inclusive understanding of ourselves?

This ad targets something about yoga that I think is good and designates it as something that should be done away with—like an old car. And that’s a shame. Literally.

Tara Stiles will change the way you think about yoga

Yoga was discovered in India. The pose names may seem strange at first because they come from another language. The world is bigger than American culture (which has always been a “melting pot,” anyway), and this is healthy. Yoga can remind us of this important truth. And as a metaphor, the “otherness” of those sounds and chanting can remind us that experience is larger than our individual minds can contain. I love that yoga provides a technique that gives me relief from the tight strictures of my own mind.

The ways of materialist culture as seen in this advertisement seem to be trying to cleanse yoga of its Indian-ness, as if the strangeness of it is a form of pollution. I think that the difference and newness for us is good. We need to practice moving into new spaces and saying new things.

The Nissan ad could be a powerful way to get yoga to women. And though obesity is a national concern, this ad could be seen to feed off of women’s insecurites by reinforcing cultural pressures to be slim and burn calories, a personal concern of women’s bodies. It also taps into a growing concern about global warming, uniting an individual woman’s concern with helping the planet. But along the way, I fear it tramples on difference and ethnicity, also telling us that it’s good to do away with the difficulty of understanding what we don’t already know. [Bonus: a great thing about new media, as an evolution of print media, is that the web invites dialogue and respectful disagreement via our readers, not just writers. Please comment below.]

At places like Elephant Journal, there is a mission to bring consciousness to prevalent images and views. Our tools are also images and words the same tools as have created and support harmful human ways in our world, and we use these to attract attention to ourselves: I just think that it’s important to look inward and see what we are deciding to put out there and honor where it is really coming from. Even people striving to live a life of conscious actions and spiritual uplift can lapse into simple visual and verbal masturbation, reinforcing unhealthy stereotypes because that’s a lot of what we already know. I’m not talking about any specific post or person, but I just think that this is how to do it. We need to pay attention (and have fun). I see that we need to use the language (popular, visual, and verbal) that is already here in our common culture, but the established ways are polluting the world and harming our relationships. So how can we use what we know to create what we want?

Moving towards a life where we are living from our best conscious choices is a great aim. It is also stepping into the unknown; the way we are living now is still causing lots of harm.

Elephants: are we writing, speaking and sharing images from a creativity that is grounded in the knowledge of our lives and at the same time creating the future of our dreams?

Good (There’s a lot here that makes me think that the answer is ‘yes’). Let’s continue to strive in that direction, and continue to make all of the necessary mistakes along the way so we can learn how to do it.

What’s good about Tara’s Nissan ad is that it communicates about a car that has the potential to cause less harm to the environment, and it gets yoga to the eyes of a mainstream audience. But it makes mistakes in message, too. As a people, can we learn, and continue to refine our technology and communication, and understand as well as embrace our relationship with a global reality including environment, sexuality and community?

I say yes!

* This article is lovingly provided by Yogic Muse *

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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.

Comments

85 Responses to “Slim, Sexy Yogini + Car, and what the heck are we sayin’ here at Elephant?”

  1. Robert Allen says:

    well put Bob, well said.

  2. Baba Rampuri says:

    Bob, thank you for getting this going and for the important questions you are bringing up. I think this is an area that merits a lot of discussion these days.

    I'm sorry for my long-windedness, I'm just taking advantage of not restricting it to 140 characters.

    “No one really knows that level of detail about exactly what Patanjali was like. Historians can't even pinpoint when he lived beyond a range of a few centuries.”

    I think you mean “no one, that you know of, among Western academics know that level of detail…” But among some traditions in India, there are those that know the minutest details about Patanjali and others. I have known a number of yogis in my own lineage who have had this knowledge. Historians may not know, but there are others that can tell you the day of the week he was born, under which star, and anything else you would like to know using the sky as the clock, because that’s how the oral tradition has always measured time. When Western astronomy finally discovered the precession of the equinox, Indian historians had already been using it for thousands of years.

    “It seems to me the competition of ideas is very clear in the ancient texts themselves, especially the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.”

    Certainly as represented by those who consider competition among ideologies the “normal” and it IS in our current discourse, and translated and read by those assuming a universal competition among ideologies as always being the normal state of culture everywhere, it is not hard to interpret many things out of an old text, read out of the context for which it was composed and used.

    For one thing, it was never READ! It was heard, it was memorized, and it was articulated. Sort of like our White House Press correspondents.

    What you are referring to are sacred texts. They were not available in any market – they were not even books. You had to be an educated Brahmin to understand the recitation, and that’s the only access there was to them. The texts were not arguments that people would agree or disagree with, there was no debate. This is before literary criticism, which came thousands of years later – what we had in its place was “commentary.”

    The texts, in fact, are so loaded, that their true value and magnificence could only be understood by an elite that had access to that commentary. And commentary was also memorized and passed down, so these texts never stood alone, they were always accompanied by a very sophisticated context and exegesis. Without the context, the content may be wonderful, enlightening, and beautiful, but what the text actually is, what value it actually possesses, is lost.

    So, to superimpose cultural values of our present Age of Consumption, upon a sacred text of an elite group of highly educated members of a priestly caste living thousands of years ago can’t possibly produce results other than what some people can obtain by reading tea leaves in a cup, which some people can actually do.

    We can become inspired by great literature even in translation, it can give us amazing new thoughts and directions, we can realize certain knowledge – but all this doesn’t put us in a position to now represent this text, or this tradition without having the authority to do so.

    If we were in the Halls of Academia, playing by their rules, this discussion would be very different, because we would assign authority to the consensus of academic work on Sanskrit texts or Indian History or other departments of the Human Sciences. But since we are dealing with Yoga, then let’s be clear about who or what is informing us.

  3. Baba Rampuri says:

    (continued, part 2)

    “I don't know the full extent of what you mean by the Esoteric Tradition, but devout practitioners are notoriously unreliable as truthful chroniclers of accurate history, even though they can provide a lot of important source material and historical hypotheses.”

    Esoteric tradition means that whatever might be in a text is not enough, and if someone wants the real stuff, the inside knowledge, how something “really” works, he or she requires inside access and inside instruction. If you want to make a blockbuster Hollywood film, you had better have inside access and inside instruction. Reading a book about it just won’t do.

    If the people on the inside are unreliable, then how is that people on the outside are reliable when they only have artifacts. This is the agency a dominant culture assumes, that the locals’ knowledge must be represented by the Colonizer, because the locals are not objective about their own knowledge (history included), i.e., they don’t have the same categories and methodologies as the Imperium.

    “I don't know what you mean by "handed over to Mr. McDonald". Any broad-brush statement like this about Yoga in America is wrong on the surface because American Yoga is astoundingly diverse, from Tara Styles to the Himalayan Institute.”

    I mean by that, exchanging a Speech of Connection for a Speech of Consumption. That the very way we read the signs in front of us, the way we make the signs by which we are known will determine to a large extent what value will be realized. When we shop among competing ideas for something to consume, something to add to our life to make it better, or so we believe, there are many things to buy into, but the Sacred isn’t one of them. In the category of The Sacred, I would include Knowledge of the Self. We discover through the Tradition of Yoga that connection, knowledge, peace, happiness is achieved by giving things up, not out of penance or discipline, but because they have become excess baggage. Eventually, your body will become excess baggage. Austerities and renunciation, for example, cannot easily fit into a culture of consumption.

    American Yoga is diverse from the point of view of American Yoga. From the outside, from an Indian Tradition of Yoga, one can’t help but notice amazing similarities among many of the brands, and can’t help but come to the conclusion that much of it is basically the same, at least, when compared to the Tradition itself. I find even the Russian and Eastern European yoga movements to be vastly different from the American one.

    Let’s not universalize an American view of things, especially in world that has considerable diversity. In fact, lets get rid of Perennialism and Universalism altogether, as in the end everyone fights over who’s Perennial philosophy is truly universal. It’s an imperial exercise. Useless.

  4. Baba Rampuri says:

    (continued, part 3)

    “I'm guessing that if one had the data, it would show that far more people are being exposed to good solid traditional Yoga Sutra training today than 10 years ago. Just look at the proliferation of ancient text and commentary book sales. (I am personally about to read Edwin Bryant's 600 page "New Edition, Translation, and Commentary", which just came out). Same with the number of Americans traveling to India for study in traditional ashrams.”

    What would that data have to do with yoga. It’s information to which a statistician would have to determine what is Yoga Sutra, what is its training, and, what is good and solid and traditional. Again we hand authority to people who can only represent something on the basis of some somewhat sterile artifacts, numbers, yeses and nos, ones and zeroes.

    We are talking about markets, sales of books, people attending yoga classes, statistics compiled for their use in marketing. Nothing wrong with that. It’s great. Much better than almost any other thing I can think of, for yoga to be available and sold on markets. Again, I question why not call a spade a spade. Truth is our most precious commodity. There is no need here to sacrifice it.

    “In what way are we "losing access to that value"? It seems to me access is increasing along with access to everything else Yoga.”

    20-25 years ago, a Japanese student of mine, knowing how much I enjoyed to cook, brought me one of those legendary Japanese knives that probably cost a fortune, and gave me great pleasure when I sliced carrots. One day in my ashram in Haridwar, I took the knife out of a drawer and discovered to my shock that half of the blade was missing. I called one of my Indian chelas and asked him if he knew what happened to it. He admitted to me that the drawer was stuck, and as he tried to pry the drawer open with the knife, the blade broke in half. I asked him if it had managed to get the drawer open. He told me it did. He accomplished his immediate goal, and I lost my knife.

    Indian tradition possesses an intellectual capital, an immense treasure of uncalculatable value. Much of the modern pharmaceutical industry is built on a random sampling of Indian knowledge of medicinal herbs in the 19th century. The corpus of Ayurveda contains the knowledge to transform health and health care on the planet, and yet we sanitize it for the marketplace to the degree to which it becomes known as a new age massage technique. The marketplace does not accept magic, but standardized science. At least for the masses.

    “I wonder if you could address my response to your original point about fantasy.”

    Fantasy is a construction of thought, the fantastic is a compelling experience yet to be categorized.

  5. We are in different worlds, Baba.

    The only difference between us is that I accept you and your world,
    whereas you do not accept my world.

    I encourage you to live and enjoy your very special spiritual world.
    You seem to have nothing but derision and disdain for my world.

    I will continue to read about you and study your world.
    You feel you have absolutely nothing to learn from my world.

    I embrace you the way you are.
    You only want to fix me.

    I will continue to enjoy reading about you and your spiritual exploits.

    I will continue to love and enjoy my Western world and Western rational values
    without ever having the slightest inclination to tell you you should be more like me.

    You have experienced things I will never experience
    and that I can learn from.

    I can assure the reverse is also true,
    but I have no need to push my values on you.

    Thanks for writing.

    Bob Weisenberg
    ElephantJournal

  6. Hi, Arun. Thank for writing.

    I have no comment on your last paragraph simply because I have no knowledge of any of those things.

    As for history vs. lineages, let's just agree that they are two different things.
    They can learn from each other and feed each other, but let's never confuse one for the other.

    Let's never think that history can possibly substitute for authentic lineage.
    Likewise, let's never confuse the sacred traditions of a lineage with historical fact.

    These are two different things that offer different things to society,
    and one cannot replace the other.

    Bob Weisenberg
    ElephantJournal

  7. Thanks for being here, girlwarrior. Enjoyed reading you response.

    This has been a great discussion, thanks to the willingness of everyone to follow your advice above and get involved.

    Bob W.

  8. integralhack says:

    I'm grateful to read your post, Brooks, as well as Linda's and Carol's (thread below) comments. I find it ironic that we are finally getting back to Lasater's intent with her letter after the ridiculous segue way into ToeSox. Thanks for getting the issue back on track in regard to this topic.

    Indeed, as girlwarrior and Ramesh Bjonnes commented elsewhere, this is a systemic problem and many men and women are unaware that this is a problem endemic to our culture. And when we do become aware of the problem we tend to minimize it as just being a necessary capitalist evil of some sort. I think we can do better.

  9. Richard Bird says:

    Nice Article – I haven't seen the ad yet – As for the Nissan Leaf I've only seen the ads with Lance Armstrong during the Tour de France. A 100% electric car with no emissions excites me . . . environmentally speaking.

    As far as Yoga originating in India – there are several account that we can find it in Ancient egypt as well as Viking heritage. Not Brett Favre, but maybe it could give us ten more years of him!

    I no longer teach in sanskrit but it does carry a nice vibration . . . nice for Tara Styles, yoga master.
    BTY – have you noticed what industries are not using yoga to sell products? Me neither

  10. Baba Rampuri says:

    Bob,

    What kind of response is that?

    Don’t be so paranoid. Smile! I guarantee you that i don’t want you to be like me, think like me, or be anyone else but yourself. One of me is quite enough on the planet. I am not selling anything here, I’m pointing out what is obvious to many of us who have committed our lives to Yoga.

    There is no need to be my agent, represent my feelings, my thoughts, and interpret them in such an opposite way. What you write are not my statements or intentions, but misrepresentations. I haven’t attacked you. This is not something personal. I thought that we were yogis in discussion, and that we were above pettiness, which is one of Patanjali’s main themes.

    We are not in competition, Bob.

    Of course we are in different worlds, it’s obvious. Is that a problem? Must the “Same” reject the “Other?” I suggest that unless the “Same” engages the “Other” there cannot be communication, love, or compassion. The fact we live in different worlds is the value. Magic happens where worlds meet.

    I don’t reject your world, I haven’t a clue as to what your world looks like, your thoughts, feelings, relationships, and you couldn’t possibly accept mine as it is so obscure and has such difficult access. And I’m certainly not selling my world, there’s nothing to buy into. I don’t have an ideology to sell.

    But I do fully accept the American Yoga movement, the marketing and selling of yoga, as I see it as a powerful alternative to a civilization in collapse. That people can finally sit on the ground again, on the earth, experience and tune their bodies, question what they always believed about their health, and for some to question even further – this is great. And that others may earn a living teaching, writing, and speaking about this instead of a boring, useless job is God sent. Selling Yoga mats instead of Coca-Cola is balancing for our society.

    I tell traditional Indian Yogis the exact opposite of what I tell you. I tell them, “Look at these people in the West who have nowhere near the immersion in Yoga culture as you do – THEY realize the enormous value in this, be it monetary, spiritual, or health, and they have generated a multi billion dollar industry that is a sign, a mark of its enormous value while you guys take it all for granted, and sit on your asses. I really say it just like that. And its not money I’m talking about, it’s value, which is different. They don’t get offended, they understand I’m offering them some insight that I have because I have become equally a part of two worlds.

    A number of years ago, I was having dinner with Bikram at his home in L.A., and in a tone not inconsistent with his public personality he bragged not untruthfully, “If I hadn’t done what I’ve done, there would be one million less people practicing yoga.” “Bravo,” I replied, “But if some ‘naked baba’ hadn’t sat in that cave for all those years, you wouldn’t have the yoga to teach in the first place.” I’ve known Bikram for many years, it’s the only time I remember him remaining silent.

    Bob, we’re all in this together.

  11. Amanda says:

    Note to Bob, you don’t have to post an answer to ever comment. You are like a person who interrupts a conversation between several people commenting on everything someone says instead of letting it flow between everyone. Annnoying. These comments would be a lot easier to read without having to plow though lots of yours which essentially makes the same point. Thank you for your consideration.

  12. Brooks_Hall says:

    Yes, Thank you, integralhack! I, too, think that our capacity to re-imagine ourselves is of vital importance.

  13. Linda-Sama says:

    as a commenter said in my feminist response to the JL letter and YJ ad: "Judging by the images used to sell yoga, tranquilityy doesn't come with wrinkles, frizzy hair, blemishes or a pot belly."

    BRAVO!

  14. Brooks Hall says:

    Thank you, Baba, for sharing this. I am sitting on the edge of my seat as I am reading what you are saying about your conversation with Bikram:

    “But if some ‘naked baba’ hadn’t sat in that cave for all those years, you wouldn’t have the yoga to teach in the first place.”

    Amen (from my tradition). We are in this together, as you said.

  15. Hi, Baba.

    Thanks for your very calm and measured response to my impulsive and ill-considered response. Thanks to your refusal to let yourself be provoked, I think and hope we're back on track.

    We disagree about many things, stemming from our very different and in some ways opposite life choices. But you can rely on me to stick to those things from now on, rather than question your willingness to listen to me.

    I look forward to what I'm sure will be our many enjoyable future discussions.

    Bob Weisenberg
    ElephantJournal

  16. Hi, Amanda.

    Thanks for your direct and honest feedback. I appreciate that kind of straight-talk.

    In my mind, I'm always just trying to be responsive and involving. But with your suggestion, I'll think more carefully about when it's really useful for me to respond and when it's just distracting to the other readers like yourself.

    Could I ask you, are you just talking about this particular blog, or other blogs as well? The first thing I'm going to do is read through my comments on this blog from your perspective to see how they are coming across to you.

    But if there are other blogs where you've been annoyed, it would be very useful for me to look at those as well. With understanding I can try to do better.

    Thanks again for writing.

    Bob Weisenberg
    ElephantJournal

  17. Hi, Linda.

    I agree with everything you just wrote, and tried to allow for all that in my previous comments from which this conversation with Arun emerged. This is really an extension of my long exchange with Baba.

    If you look at the whole stream you'll see that Baba was arguing that the oral lineages, particularly his own oral history, trumps all Western oriented evidence based history. He explicitly debunks Yoga scholars I know you respect greatly, like Feuerstein and, I assume Edwin Bryant. He pretty much told me I was wasting my time reading Bryant's recent 600 page Yoga Sutra commentary, which I'm really enjoying, because it's just some more of those Western historians who aren't really tuned into the truth as he and his authentic lineage collegues know it to be through their oral tradition. He claims that he and his associates know all the intimate details about Patanjali' life, whereas Western scholars do not because they don't accept oral history without corroborating evidence.

    So in this final response to Arun, I was just trying to express my interest in and acceptance of both traditions and to state that they both have their place. It was my perception that Baba was unwilling to even consider the Western evidence based approach to history that set me off and led to my impulsive provocative response to Baba, which I have subsequently apologized for. But the issue of respect for the Western scholarly approach to history still remains. I think both Western history and the authentic lineages are important. But they're two different animals.

    All of the examples you gave above are clearly within the scope of both traditions, simply because your examples are all written down, and therefore accepted by both traditions, although Western historians like Bryant, will be trying to figure out whether any ancient text is literally true or just reflects the common thinking of its time, which, to the Western historical method, might be two different things.

    I agree with you completely that there can and should be a lot of interaction between the two, and that's what I was trying to say with my clarifying sentence: They can learn from each other and feed each other, but let's never confuse one for the other.

    Please tell me if I've answered your question adequately. I agree with everything you just wrote. I'm going to have to have some more discussions with Baba about this hopefully.

    I would greatly enjoy hearing your thoughts on all the ideas I've tried to express above.

    Bob W.

  18. Baba and I reconciled on another thread within this blog. He responded in a very warm conciliatory way and I apologized for my impulsive and ill-considered response above.

    We still disagree on a lot of things, but we are on good terms, and the above response is now irrelevant and looking more and more ill-considered all the time!

    Bob W.

  19. ARCreated says:

    I guess it's all balance 🙂 Thanks sister!! Keep my brain working!!!

  20. Janice says:

    Great thoughts here, Brooks! Especially like the exploration of the idea that difficult to pronounce words should be avoided. I worry about that with one of my colleagues. He is a great guy with a difficult to pronounce first name. I hope this doesn't impede his growth at the company where I work. He has so much to offer.

  21. Brooks_Hall says:

    And You offer such a great awareness, Janice. Thank you!

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