August 3, 2010

The New York Times’ Yoga Backlash. ~ via “it’s all yoga, baby”!

The New York Times has launched an apparent blitzkrieg on yoga in recent weeks, culminating in the widely discussed feature article on “Yoga Mogul” John Friend and Anusara Yoga last week. While obsessive, this kind of coverage isn’t unprecedented, and Roseanne over at it’s all yoga, baby is starting to think that maybe this is the beginning of the inevitable yoga backlash.

Last week, an obscene number of articles about yoga appeared in The New York Times (three in one day, in the Sunday, July 25 paper). Even people outside of the yoga blogging community seemed to notice it. “Why is the New York Times so obsessed – and confused – about yoga?” asked Paul Raeburn on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker (he followed up with another post tracking the NYT obsession). Good question! He astutely observed that “the Times, whenever it encounters yoga, seems ready to pounce on the entrepreneur-charlatan, or the spiritually inclined numbskull, or the 20-something fashion victim.” This prompted a summary – although no response or retort – on The Atlantic Wire.

Here’s a list of the articles that appeared in the paper in the past weeks (dates refer to online publication):

While the NY Times’ yoga coverage seemed to have reached some cosmic climax last week, it was only slightly more obsessive than usual. A quick glance at the NY Times Topics page for the subject of Yoga reveals 224 articles published since the beginning of time – or at least since the mid-90s, which is when the NY Times and the rest of the world really started paying attention to yoga.

Since the beginning of 2010 alone, the NY Times has covered donation-based yoga, “entertainment” yoga in hotels and resorts, and the ethics of yoga practice and food (especially meat, wine and chocolate). Last year, the paper was preoccupied with yoga competitions, Lululemon (repeatedly), the yoga regulation debate, and doga. The paper is especially fascinated by the marketing and commodification of the practice.

“The irony is that yoga, and spiritual ideals for which it stands, have become the ultimate commodity,” the paper quoted Mark Singleton, the author of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, as saying in the April 23 article on donation-based yoga. “Spirituality is a style, and the ‘rock star’ yoga teachers are the style gurus.” And in a gesture of even greater irony, the article itself appeared in the Fashion & Style section of the paper.

Which is where most of the NY Times’ yoga articles show up ~ or in the Fitness, Business and occasionally Travel/Leisure sections. Fair enough, since the paper doesn’t seem to devote a lot of space to faith or spirituality, and – despite what us yoga bloggers may think – yoga is hardly front page news.

But it’s difficult to deny that the underlying tone of the NY Times’ yoga journalism is often condescending, bewildered or critical. Even last week’s uncritical and supportive profile of YogaDork managed to trivialize her work in the opening paragraph: “In mid-July, while the oil slick in the Gulf and the Goldman Sachs settlement were dominating the news, a blog named YogaDork had a worldwide exclusive. “Lady Gaga Takes Private Yoga Class in Cleveland,” the post read…”

To read the rest of the article, click through to it’s all yoga, baby.

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Roseanne Harvey  |  Contribution: 400