August 9, 2010

Yoga Journal Controversy: why Judith H. Lasater’s plea will fall on deaf ears.

Update: Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis interviews Judith Hanson Lasater.

If you can imagine sexy women doing Buddhist prostrations in Tricycle magazine, then you can also imagine the evolution of Yoga Journal over the years: from holistic yoga magazine with a spiritual, hippie charm…to yoga lifestyle and fitness magazine with a seductive allure.

I’m oversimplifying of course, but you get the general drift! The intellectual and spiritual flagship of yoga in America has drifted far away from its original editorial course.

So far, Judith H. Lasater is right.

At best, Yoga journal has become a magazine with mixed messages.

At worst, Yoga Journal has become a yuppie magazine for yoga fitness lovers.

A closer examination of a recent issue of Yoga Journal reveals a gorgeous yogini (for they are always beautiful, always wearing not-too-much, and these days always female [probably because readers want it that way; they buy more copies of the magazine ~ ed.]) and the following titles:

Meditate for a calm, clear mind.

Restorative power of silence.

Mantra goes mainstream.

Move to the music: 10 poses + 10 songs = Joy!

These titles sound pretty body-mind-spirit balanced, right? Yes, indeed. Still, there has been a radical change in the content of many yoga magazines over the last 12 years or so, from spiritual and philosophical to seductive and commercial.

There has also been a visible shift from yoga as primarily a spiritual discipline to yoga as exercise and sport, a shift from students going to ashrams to yoga studios, a shift from holistic lifestyle to hard core capitalism.

Indeed, a radical shift from a minor yet powerful counterculture to a mainstream, multibillion dollar industry.

As if to underscore this commercial shift, the ownership of Yoga Journal—which was established in 1975 by several prominent yoga teachers (including Judith Lasater) and is the most widely read yoga magazine today—changed hands in 2000 from the Holistic Life Foundation to investment banker John Abbot.

In 2006, John Abbot sold the magazine to publishing conglomerate Active Interest Media in 2006. And if you follow the content, you’ll also witness this popular journal’s steady editorial decline.

Gone are the mile long and in-depth theme articles about yoga philosophy and practice by the likes of Stephen Bodian, Georg Feuerstein, and yes, Judith Lasater.

At worst, Yoga Journal has become a softporn yoga magazine.

But, nobody in charge seems to blush.

If you follow the money, you’ll learn that the circulation has skyrocketed during this last 10 year period, and today the magazine has over 1 million readers.

And, to underscore the shift in content from spirituality and health to fitness and health, Yoga Journal has won four Folio Editorial Excellence Awards for “Best Health and Fitness Magazine.”

Imagine, best fitness magazine! Can you then imagine Patanjali being nominated as the world’s best fitness guru?  Can you imagine the fitness industry turning the Dali Lama’s prostration practice into a sexy exercise routine?

Well, if you can, then you know and accept that Yoga Journal is a money making magazine that answers to the call of the shallow market and the sexy body rather than the call of the cultural, the wholesome, the intellectual and the spiritual.

As an old time yogi, I have reluctantly accepted this fact and therefore I prefer reading Buddhist magazines such as Tricycle and Shambhala Sun.

Reluctantly, Buddhist magazines have become my intellectual and spiritual food these days.

For Yoga Journal is not alone featuring yoga babes on its covers and mostly a series of yoga asana articles inside. All the other yoga magazines follow the same routine. The editorial standards have fallen, the shallow money market has risen, and the sexy cover girls have conquered us all!

So, Judith Lasater, nobody will listen unfortunately. Well, they may listen, politely. They may even quietly agree, but the market will rule, the sexy body will decide.

Because sex is what sells.

The standard has changed. Yoga has changed. Yoga Journal has changed. The message has changed: The subtle body is for Buddhists. The crude body is for yogis.

So, I don’t bring Yoga Journal’s sexy ladies into my meditation room. I reserve that space for my guru and a few other sacred objects.

I don’t want to be distracted when I practice my meditation and my yoga postures.

So, Judith H. Lasater, if you don’t like what you see in Yoga Journal. Don’t read it. Or, even better, start another magazine without all those sexy ads.

Ironically, I actually think there would be a market for it. If the Buddhists can do it, why can’t the yogis do it?

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