October 20, 2011

Yoga or Advil? ~ J. Brown

Exploitation of yoga in advertising is nothing new. When a product wants to associate with a low-stress or healthy lifestyle, inevitably the commercial features people doing yoga poses.  The increasing popularity of yoga makes the marketing demographic undeniable.

A recent Advil campaign has taken this phenomenon to another level. Instead of merely showing imagery of a yoga practice, there is an actual yoga teacher addressing the camera directly as spokesperson.  She says:

If I have any soreness, I’m not going to be able to do my job. Once I take Advil, I’ll be able to finish my day and finish off strong. I always find myself going back to Advil.  It really works.”

In a previous post I expressed views regarding appropriate practices and drew some distinctions between physical fitness and yoga.  I wanted to acknowledge that, even in the course of an appropriate practice, there is sometimes an amount of soreness that is felt as a body is conditioned.  Also, I don’t think there is anything fundamentally wrong with taking Advil.  In fact, I’m sure there are occasions when two Advil might be quite a blessing.

However, if a yoga teacher’s work is making them sore to the point that it actually impedes their ability to do their job then I feel compelled to suggest that something is awry in the practice of that teacher. I can’t escape the strong opinion that effective yoga practice would prevent a need for taking Advil, not create it.

In talking with some students about the commercial, the question of Tapas came up. The Sanskrit word, Tapas, is usually translated as burning or fire and is often associated with the heat that is generated in practice and the notion that this heat is burning away impurities in the system. The term is bandied around a lot in “hot” yoga classes and attributed to all the sweating. Some suggest that pain is Tapas.

In my experience, there is an amount of warmth that a practice produces but I don’t think that sweating means all the toxins are going out of a person’s body and I question the wisdom of conflating pain with Tapas. I tend to think of Tapas in a broader sense. Like many Sanskrit words, Tapas is not just a literal meaning but a principle:  “The removal of difficulty.”

Overworking a body to the extent that a healthy functioning is impeded, requiring Advil to get through the day and referring to discomfort that has been needlessly created, as Tapas is the kind of thing that makes me crazy.

Don’t we already have enough self-inflicted problems being utilized to exploit people these days?

In many respects, yoga and Advil don’t make sense together.  Masking pain may be warranted in some circumstances but, generally speaking, yoga is a means of addressing pain. That’s going to be kinda hard to do if I’m popping Advil all the time.

If I treat myself with care and a nurturing sentiment, I tend not to be sore in the least.  This may not sell many pain killers but is a much safer bet in the long run.

Photos: esquire.com,

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY.  His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy in Practice, Yoga Therapy Today and the International Journal of Yoga Therapy.  Visit his website at yogijbrown.com


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