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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howie long jersey Sep 19, 2010 7:51pm

Now the gunman had been arrested by Military police with his barry bonds jersey, but his name hadn¡¯t been disclosed yet.

Bob Weisenberg Aug 3, 2010 5:14am

This is terrific, Roseanne. I’m using your list to catch up on everything I missed. In general I had read all the commentaries but none of the original articles. Your roadmap here is really helping me a lot. Thanks for writing it And I'm so happy to see you here at Elephant.

Just finished reading all the articles above. It’s hard for me to imagine why there was such a fuss about the Friend article, with his rebuttal that was almost as long as the article. I thought the article was very positive and favorable to Friend and Anasura. (I myself had and still have a very favorable impression of Anusara, mostly because I know many fine devoted followers.)

And common’, do you think he really minded having to defend himself against that horrible nasty charge that women pressed their room keys into his hand? My guess is he loved the article. I could be wrong, but I think the rebuttal was written by his PR firm.

I agree with your main point–that there is a whole other story to be told about Yoga in America that will never get much coverage in the press.

Example–all the wonderful stuff going on at Kripalu, probably the best marriage of all the different strands of Yoga into a cohesive, serious yet modern, spiritual yet physical, Yogic yet universal whole.

It would not make a very interesting article precisely because they eschew any hint of the cult of personality. There is no character to portray, except the Swami Kripalu and the Amrit Desai of its history.

Stephen Cope is among the best American Yoga has to offer, but he’s just not any sort of character of the kind journalism thrives on. I think the same is true of the whole Kripalu approach. They have systematically evolved from the guru orientation (all lovingly documented in Cope’s “Yoga and the Quest for the True Self”, by the way.)

Bob Weisenberg

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Roseanne Harvey

Roseanne is a writer, editor and geeky girl who lives and loves life in Montreal. Her blog It’s All Yoga Baby, is one of the most popular Yoga blogs on the Internet. As the former editor of ascent magazine, Roseanne isn’t afraid to use her media literacy skills to call out the hypocrisies and contradictions of modern yoga. She is all for dismantling the dominant hegemony of rock star teachers, expensive class fees and designer clothes/accessories/products. She also loves supporting progressive yoga projects, innovative and independent teachers, and general awesomeness.
Rather infamous for being an overt voice against the commercialization of yoga, these days Roseanne is more interested in how yoga intersects with daily life, activism, politics and culture. While still fascinated by the ramifications of the popularity of yoga and its representation in popular culture, she has faith that yoga will maintain its integrity.

Comments, questions, ideas? Get in touch: [email protected] or @itsallyoga_baby in the Twittersphere.