Fight the Power! A plea to Yoga Journal.

Via Nancy Alder
on Feb 12, 2011
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Okay folks, it’s time for me to rant and rave.

I got the latest Yoga Journal in the mail and while I was happy to see a man on the cover, those folks at the magazine made me angry.  The first thing I did after acknowledging the coolness of a guy chillin’ in Padmasana was look to see if they had published a letter from my pal Anna Guest-Jelley.

You see Anna is a curvy yogini, she wrote a brilliant and beautiful letter to Yoga Journal about a recent article they published on diet and body.  Her letter connected with a slew of people (she got 42 comments on her blog alone and a shout out at our pal YogaDork’s site as well).

[She’s been featured on elephant, too, and now has her own column here. We love her. ~ ed]

Her letter was a rallying cry about the lack of “real” yogis in Yoga Journal, and a sign that it was time for the magazine to start making some changes. I figured after the blogosphere hubbub that for sure Yoga Journal would post this letter in their “Letters to the Editor” section, but alas saw that instead they hadn’t.

I was mad.

Photo Courtesy Anna Guest-Jelley

My frustration with Yoga Journal got bigger last night when Anna posted that she might just enter their talent search for a new cover model.  After all she’s got tons of great pictures (see her Vira I, above) doing yoga—and she suggested that I apply as well since I also have a slew of such images. At first I thought, why the hell not, maybe Yoga Journal is moving forward and will pick a “normal” person for their cover.  Was I smoking something when I thought that?  I looked again at the “guidelines” of the contest and I saw that it said:

“Make sure we can see your whole body in the frame. Show us your face, if possible. Wear something form-fitting and bright, so that you stand out from the background.”

I was like, hells no I’m not entering.  Yoga Journal purports to promote yoga for the masses, after all anyone can buy an issue.  But asking people to wear something form-fitting and bright is truly insulting and instantly told me that they are looking for one model-type yogi for the pictures.  I know, some of you right now are saying “duh” to me, but readers I have faith that what I think isn’t always correct.  I wanted to believe that Yoga Journal would be willing to put someone like Anna or me on the cover.  I am not particularly curvy (well in places), nor am I 100% thin, but I think most people would say that my body is pretty okay.  I have had two children, cut out of my body no less, and at 41 I can rock some of the shazam pants and poses that the models can.  But other than some yoga pants with thick waistbands to cover my mom belly, I would never wear anything form-fitting.  No one save those with perfect, flawless bodies can wear really bright clothing, and how many of us like the way our faces look in pictures? Really Yoga Journal, you thought you were fooling me but I see right through you:  you only want perfection, and it stinks!

I once asked my teacher Sadie Nardini, who as you know looks like a model, if she was on the cover of Yoga Journal what pose she’d be doing.  She said she’d be in her traditional black (strike one) in Sukasana with her back to the audience (strike two). My homage photo is to the left (and taken by my favorite yogini in the world, my friend Ashley).  I loved Sadie’s response because despite her beauty, her shazam-pose abilities and her model-like figure she wanted to promote the quite and repose of yoga.  Even Sadie would be breaking the guidelines of this contest and that’s saying something!

Yoga to me is for every body, whether you are perfect and look like Christy Turlington or you look like the girl next door.  When I teach my 6-8 classes a week I rarely have someone who could be a model for Vogue in my class, I almost always have the average everyman/woman.  It is a shame that Yoga Journal can’t seem to get a grip on this reality and promote some yoga that can rock the local yokels and not just those of us who want to go to study with the teachers on the cover.  It’s horrid that they publish articles about body and weight and yet ignore the folks like Anna who intelligently point this out.  I’m tired of it, and I’m ready to fight.  I’m not famous, nor a Yoga Journal cover model, but I am a yoga teacher and person.  I want to see them publish Anna’s letter and I’m giving them two months (because who knows if there is a time lag, right?) to do it.  If by May they don’t pony up and show the weakness in their message I’m going to unsubscribe and no longer link to their website in my posts here on Elephant Journal or on my blog.

It’s not a big step, or a national protest, but it’s my way of saying: let’s fight the powers that be.  The next move is theirs.


About Nancy Alder

Nancy Alder is a 200H Registered Yoga Teacher in Connecticut. She teaches her students to connect with space and breath from a place of safety and humor. She writes for many yoga blogs and chronicles her daily practice to find the beginners mind on and off the mat at her own blog, She is co-founder of Teachasana,, a site by yoga teachers for yoga teachers. When not writing or doing yoga she is in awe of her elves, busting asanas in crazy places and counting the days until the next snowfall.


95 Responses to “Fight the Power! A plea to Yoga Journal.”

  1. Yogini says:

    With respect to the photo:

    1. She teaches a style of yoga where modifications are encouraged. Probably Iyengar. And is demonstrating a modification in perfect alignment.
    2. Dedication to yoga as a lifestyle for the householder in this modern culture, is not the same thing as dedication to yoga as a grueling, self-mortifying workout and cleansing/fasting program.
    3. Obviously, people at Wanderlust and major workshops have discretionary income and time; they are not a representative sample of yoga students.

  2. Adam says:

    yeah, try not to feed me crap. If you expect me to give anything you say any credence you could at least check your facts.

    According to these covers, the magazine was a fashion and lifestyle magazine for fat women, not fitness. In their own words:

    "If you've been waiting until you reach your "ideal weight" before you can dress and look and live the way you want…relax and start enjoyin life! Now, there's a magazine called IT'S ME, created exclusively for you — not for little women! Ands it's filled with helpful advice on how to dress, atc and feel better about yourself.

    IT'S Me shows you about the fabulous fashions you've always wanted to wear for work and play — in your sizes, 16 and over — and tells you where to buy them in your area…

    IT'S ME brings you fascinating make-up tips and flattering hair styles for the fuller face that make you look good and and feel more confident about your appearance."

    If that's fitness then I have a bridge to sell you. So try again.

  3. Adam says:

    Sexist much? So what if I do read Oxygen? I'm unimpressed with Ad Hominem attacks. Try addressing the topic not my character. I say, if someone is a dedicated yogi they MUST address asana, otherwise they are ignoring one of the 8 limbs, often because it's inconvenient, or physically hard. Look around you, humans generally do the thing that take the least amount of physical effort. That's why we invented machines. I'm not saying its right or wrong, I'm just saying that's how it is. Lets see, as for the 8 limbs of yoga, and its a discipline blah blah blah.

    "Today the very popular asana system of Sri K Pattabhi Jois (Guruji) – is also called "Ashtanga Yoga".
    Sri K. Pattabhi Jois says, "Ashtanga Yoga is 8 limbs yoga".
    Guruji's focus and emphasis on the study of Ashtanga Yoga starts with the 3rd limb or asana. We must purify our bodies in order to move to deeper aspects of the mind and spirit."

    "The practice of asanas will help us open our bodies and our minds and allow us to understand reality as it is, not as we would like it to be. — Sri K Pattabhi Jois"

    According to many gurus you must have the physical fitness gained from asana to properly practice the other 8 limbs. Or do they not know what they are talking about, so I should listen to you?

  4. Adam says:

    1. Prove it, show me a reference to a credible source that perfect alignment in Virabhadrasana I or some variation allows not stacking the front knee over the ankle, or lifting the back heel. Like these instruct:

    Hell, If the back heel is up its not even Virabhadrasana I, its a high lunge variation:

    and even if she were doing a perfect pose, she's still obese, and therefore unhealthy and in no way represents the achievement of fitness, which is what I want to see on the cover of my fitness magazines.

    2. No, but being dedicated to your practice still means doing it all the time. Also, I have never cleansed/fasted for any reason ever. Nor am I claiming anyone needs to engange in a grueling, self-mortifying workout. I'm saying that if you are a dedicated yogi you do asana regularly and put effort into it. If you don't you aren't dedicated, you are dabbling.

    3. I think you are dead wrong. I have been to many studios. Most of the people there were wearing Lulu Lemon, or Prana, Shakti Activewear, Be Present, etc. Most of them walk in wearing $300 or more in yoga clothes carrying a $80+ mat, pulling up in BMW's, and Mercedes, and Acura SUV's etc. The people that didn't fit that mold were greatly outnumbered. Not to mention, if you are dedicated to something and can't come up with $1000 to do it, even just once, you just suck at finances. My brother makes $12,000 a year and can afford to go. If $1000 is to much to spend on something you claim you are so dedicated to that its a lifestyle for you, then your lying to someone, and it might be yourself.

  5. Yogini3 says:

    "Talk that famous sadie mentor of yours into doing it."

    That's right. Because Tara Stiles WON'T…

  6. NotSoSure says:

    I understand the frustration. As a man, I do not subscribe to YJ because it is totally female oriented. No (or very little) content for me
    But still, I find the YJ bashing self serving. Let’s remember that it costs nothing to complain. But it costs YJ a lot of money to have issues that do not sell. YJ is a business and if they do not sell magazines they will be a business no more (See Waylons comments above).
    Would YJ sell if they put me, a 43 year old balding uptight white guy, on the cover? If you think there is a market for an “ordinary yogi” magazine, then it is time put your money where your mouth is. Get a marketing plan together and start your own magazine. I’ll be happy to be your first cover model and I work cheap.

  7. Janice says:

    I think Adam has a hard on for yoga journal cover models.

  8. NotSoSure says:

    Maybe YJ is missing boat. You sound like you are finished with them and I personally jumped ship a long time ago. I totally get your point.

    And do yourself a favor and put Sadie on the cover of your first issue of “Everyday Yogi”. Sadie wearing black, sitting in easy pose with her back to the camera AND shooting the audience birds with both hands still has TONS more charisma than I ever will. Come to think of it, if YJ used that image for a cover I would become a lifelong subscriber.

  9. Jen says:

    Adam, do you even practice yoga? Clearly, you do not understand that yoga is not about getting a hot ass. Yoga is a LIFESTYLE which should include kindness and compassion (ever heard of ahimsa?) The asana practice itself is not about gaining perfect form. Yes, many people DO loose weight doing yoga, but that just is not the point! The bottom line is that yoga is not a fitness regimine like running or weightlifting is. I think many people are so upset because this community is supposed to be inclusive, loving and accepting. When YJ only features super hotties (whether they be black, white, asian, short or tall, young or old….) it sends a message that you have to be a certain way to do yoga. I have what most people would consider a petite body, and there is nothing wrong with being thin if that you are healthy. I think that when YJ never uses "fat" (as you so rudely put it) people on the cover and wen they use ads for diet pills, they are contributing to eating disorders and self estem issues for certain people. Please see the article writtened by Tias Little entitled "Anorexea and yoga on the runways" which was posted on ele earlier this week. Namaste!

  10. Jen says:

    Whoops, soory for the typos, guys. I meant written. IDK what I was thinking writtened!?

  11. …really, dude? REALLY? Okay, so yours is the most obvious post of it's sort that got me to reply to all this, I want that known straight up, this isn't an attack against you, just the comments I see you as being an example of.

    Firstly, in general response to all this, at my fittest I was a US size 12. And even at my skinniest, a US 10 that I worked out 4 hours a day to achieve and maintain, thank goodness I didn't have a job at the time! (and which included Yoga, thanks much), I still had double D breasts and had Yoga teachers giving me grief about my weight (during teacher trainings mostly, and confusingly enough). I was the heavy and plus size student practicing with intention and vigor, and then training and then teaching. And I came into more contact with body-image issues in the yoga community than I did cosmetics for heaven's sake! Yoga does not in and of itself equal the sexy, uber fit and attractive ideal that the media would tell us, and the Yoga community in the West, being a product of as much as a creator of the cultural visual media, has got to get over that if we're going to ever move beyond asana=yoga. Where exactly are we drawing the lines between skinny, normal, and fat anyway?

    Secondly, as regards alignment issues with Anna's Virabhadrasana I – I suggest people go spend some time with Paul Grilley and get a basis in individual skeletal variation, applied anatomy, and the approach to postures that place function before aesthetics before they state unequivocally that she's got bad form. Try taking the movements and actions of a pose as the work, not the outer look of the pose; in other words, it's the process of practice (journey) not the biggest, baddest version of a pose (destination) that matters. Or maybe I'm smoking some ganga here… Either way, as Aadil Palkhivala once said, 'if you practice a pose today the way you did yesterday you are practicing a dead pose.' I don't want fascist yoga and I don't want necromantic yoga either…

    Thirdly, and this is just in response to Adam, but I'm afraid the sarcasm won't read well so be warned: I wasn't aware that it was mandatory to go to conferences and events like Wanderlust to be a dedicated yoga practitioner. Funny, I thought it was practice on the mat and in life applying what's been learned on the mat that marked one as a dedication yoga student, not fairs, festivals, the right label on my pant bottoms, and hype. Guess I'll never get my card-carrying yogini status since I have no interest in party events (and wouldn't waste the airfare and natural resources to fly to them from NZ anyway).

    PS – I get bored of pretty women in major poses on the cover, I'd like more men for sure, they could break out some of those fantastic poses that my arms just aren't safely going to perform. I appreciate the range of skin colours that has been shown. But really, what I want, is an interesting photo. Not just a good pose, I want a engaging picture. When YJ has stepped outside for a cover shoot I've been delighted, so I know they can go outside a studio. But put an artistic image on the front? I sadly doubt that.

  12. Star says:

    i think i love adam..YES rock on..truth!

  13. yogahopesue says:

    perhaps we should all practice our yoga and refrain from judging anyone or anything…including Yoga Journal?

  14. SriDTMc says:

    Very true. Perhaps the flourishing of pseudo-spirituality is a necessary growing pain in the global spread of yoga. Perhaps an aerobic exercise teacher/class could be a gateway for a person to discover the true all-encompassing life-science that is yoga. I completely agree with you, just probing for the positives.

    Also, wouldn't David Williams be a yogi? Whereas Anna Guest-Jelley is a yogini?

  15. Please see Sadie Nardini's comments in her sensitive and insightful blog response:

    Yoga Journal Covers: Who Really Calls the Shots?

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  16. Nancy A says:

    Her comments are terrific, the post rocks. I love it. My reply to all of this is here:

    Here's how I am going to work to change what I don't feel comfortable with, rather than just complaining.

  17. joqatana says:

    Beautiful. So sharing this.

  18. monkeywithglasses says:

    I'm with you! I appreciate party tricks as much as the next person, but seriously – of all the yoga classes I've taken in the past 10 years, there was only ONE person who looked like a YJ model and could do the super-bendy stuff. It was bordering on freakish when in the midst of a class of "regular folk". YJ has been too pristine for me for years.

  19. elephantjournal says:

    By gender…you mean not enough men? There's many female models, in keeping with the overall yoga community. Not sure of the criticism there?

    By age…I've seen at least a few older practitioners this year, and at least a few who are curvy, and I'm pretty sure I've seen practitioners of color and various ethnicities. I'm not trying to defend YJ–this is my honest experience. I feel like they do do a thoughtful job.

    That said, a talent search cover is an amazing idea and would generate a ton of publicity and public press for YJ, cheers to that!



  20. Tony says:

    How about we all stop buying the fucking thing?

  21. Valerie says:

    Let's talk about what YJ does offer. In every issue you'll find "Basic" and "Master Class" in which a venerable, experienced yogi(ni) breaks down an asana into the building blocks necessary to achieve the pose. Basic poses are explained to make them accessible to absolute beginners and to allow the more experienced among us to refine and explore poses we've rocked out hundreds of times. How many times have you made the tiniest tweak to a common pose to discover sudden limitless energy and freedom in the pose? In master class simpler poses are used to build up to an advanced pose (one you might expect to see on the cover). Exploring the building block poses teaches the movements and energy necessary to do it. We're all capable (barring any true physical impediment) of learning any of the "impossible" poses featured on YJ covers. The magazine introduces simple yogic philosophy and how it can be applied to everyday life in a section called "Wisdom." It's not an in depth discussion, but I don't expect to find theological/philosophical discourse in the pages of a glossy magazine (maybe a scholarly journal, but nothing I can buy off a newsstand in the airport). I may never have the opportunity to take a class with Cindi Lee, but I can learn from her each month in YJ, and to me, that is invaluable. The pictures are not nearly as important as the content.

    None of the cover models walked into their 1st yoga class and flawlessly demonstrated that pose. The people featured on the covers are not models, but working yoga teachers who have spent years studying and practicing yoga with true dedication. From all this work they created a strong, grounded base from which they arose with grace, peace and freedom. Look on their faces – you can see it in the smiles. I don't believe the covers are meant to be aspirational or perfect, but rather, inspirational. I for one find the cover models extremely inspirational. Maybe the only backbend you'll ever muster is bridge, but you can always experience the same freedom and beauty you can see in Amy Ippoliti in Ardha Chandra Chapasana on the cover of last months issue.

  22. Yogini3 says:

    You may be right with what you say about the covers vs. the content of YJ, but only in the fact that rank beginners may not know or care enough to either be intimidated by the cover pictures, nor to feel the cover pictures as some kind of reproach. If you are not doing any inversions in your regular practice for the first year-plus; trust me, you really do not care–you are neither inspired nor intimidated–you do not CARE. Once you move on from that, into that vast netherworld of being the advanced beginner or intermediate who is neither bendy, stupid nor self-mortifying in your grasping for what's next .. you start to really care and have nothing to identify with. Even I – and I play it safe 99% of the time (the new breed of ambitious teachers HATE this) – got injured in a class with a teacher egging me on; and I had been trying to go further (and got stupid at the time). Moreover yoga teachers on the whole think I have little or no motivation (ability is another issue to be addressed elsewhere) – and that is decidedly not true. Do you wonder that yoga studios have turnover? Do you wonder that (or why) yoga teachers find intermediate level students harder to teach than they have to?

  23. CDrishti says:

    Yes, HE is a yogi, and SHE is a yogini 🙂 Sorry, got carried away while passionately observation the sad state of the affairs…

  24. CDrishti says:

    But yoga has NOTHING to do with the way one looks… 🙁 That IS the problem!

  25. CDrishti says:

    All true, but "yoga" and "business" should never be found in the same sentence.

  26. CDrishti says:

    Believe it or not, over the years I've seen yoga teachers that by your criteria had non-flattering bodies. But they were great teachers. I wish we could spread this notion of separating the body image issues so common in the western culture from what yoga truly is about. You live, you love, you practice. What happens to your body is of secondary importance. Becoming who you truly are through your practice is first and foremost.

  27. CDrishti says:

    Your observation #3 is painfully correct, but that's where yoga and business got mixed up and people fell for the hype. Here's a tip – if you're really devoted to your yoga practice, try to go to a yoga studio at least once a week for several months if you're a beginner. It doesn't cost much, probably $40-50/mo. Meanwhile, go to youtube and watch abundance of excellent video clips for any asana you can imagine. Personally, I love the videos by David Swenson, but there are many good ones. You can also buy or borrow a couple of good DVD's. There are several excellent webb sites with detailed instructions. All of these will help you gain better understanding of the asanas as well as yoga in general, which in conjunction with live teaching and a couple of good books should help you deepen your practice quite a bit. After you reach a certain level, you really don't need a yoga studio. Once in a while you can go there if you really feel like it, but it is far from essential. Practice daily at home or with your friends and be very patient. Yoga is a life long practice, don't expect instant results. The key lies in regular practice, even if it's only 15-20'/day, especially on the days you're busy or tired. Catch one of David Williams workshops if you can. Or David Swenson. They will profoundly change the way you see and practice yoga. Or get a little book by one of his students Danny Living "Yoga: The Secret". Great stuff.

    Using the approach I described, I learned more about yoga than after months and months of practice in a studio (which is supposedly one of the best in town). Very few teachers will dedicate enough time to teach you about nauli or bandhas. Very few studios can afford to let you stay in savasana for more than a few minutes. I see many issues with the commercial aspects of yoga and teaching, but you gotta start somewhere.

    Good luck & stay positive.

  28. 32000days says:

    That's an option, but in that case Yoga Journal's organizational model can't work as it currently does. I'm not holding my breath for that outcome.

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  32. Liz says:

    I agree with you about the submission guidelines, but I decided to submit anyway. I chose the pose that is really the core of my personal practice and not what usually "graces the covers" of the magazine. Thanks for speaking out like this, I really felt uncomfortable after seeing all the model-like submissions. But this made me feel much better.

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