October 3, 2013

Yoga’s Positivity Problem. ~ Fabian Adami

Enough with the fluff! Let’s be real instead of trite and fake.

Yesterday, I finally had enough. A particular piece on elephant journal finally made me reach my breaking point.

The piece talked about body image and exhorted the reader to simply accept themselves.

The yoga-verse is full of pieces exhorting readers to simply “let go” and to “just love themselves.” Pieces which tell readers, “all that matters is that you are beautiful on the inside,” articles I describe as “fluffy mantra pieces.”

There’s nothing wrong with them, per se. I generally love to read positive articles. But viewed in a particular context, these pieces aren’t helpful. And that is, when I flip myself around and remember what it was like before I entered the yoga community; specifically the impression yoga gives to the outside.

When I browse yoga websites and look at the yoga publications on the shelves in stores, what do I see?

I see cover after cover featuring a gorgeous skinny white lady, executing a complicated posture. The biographies of the authors read like something out of a travel journal. They live and work in Aruba, Bora Bora, the Bahamas, Bali, and the Californian Wine country.

In many cases they’re photographed practicing their asana on a beach, or a surfboard, with palm trees or clear blue water behind them. The same is generally true of yoga DVDs and books.

Taken with the exhortations in the pieces and the lifestyles these yogalebrities appear to lead, yoga comes across as incredibly intimidating. At least it did to me.

Apart from thinking yoga was something for girls, I was convinced I would be judged for where I was in life and that I’d be surrounded by beautiful people, mainly women, doing postures that I could only dream of attaining.

This is not exactly something that is going to make an individual comfortable stepping into a class, and it’s also something that is to a large extent perpetuated by the yoga clothing industry.

Again, this is fine to a point. I understand that yoga needs to market itself. But when the marketing is taken to excess, or is done at the cost of reality, the cost of what I see as  “preaching to the converted,” I have a problem with it.

My question is as follows: where are the Yoga Journal covers featuring men? Where are the covers featuring non-Caucasians? Where are the covers featuring an elderly person or an overweight person? Where are the covers showing someone doing a basic pose like Trikonasana?

Ninety percent of covers seem to feature the eponymous skinny white female who wouldn’t look out of place in Cosmopolitan.

Where are the articles from teachers that can be related to? Articles that contain what I would call the nitty gritty, addressing not only what a wonderful place the writer is in now, but also the question of how yoga can help the reader scrape themselves up off the floor and recover from surgery or post-partum depression, or whatever.

Where are the transformative journeys? Where, in short, is the depth?

I got lucky. My ex-girlfriend dragged me kicking and screaming, in the midst of severe depression, to a good yoga studio in Boston. I found two teachers who fit the yogalebrity mould from the outside, but who get it, and whom I remain in touch with. From them I learned how deep yoga actually is and I find myself making an annual pilgrimage back to Boston to practice with them. It’s my annual yoga retreat.

How many people are that lucky? If it wasn’t for finding a good studio and two teachers who are healers more than anything else, I would never have gone to yoga. The image presented is too trite and shallow. I struggle with this daily in my work as a massage therapist. The feedback I get from clients is that the idea of yoga is intimidating because “I’ll be surrounded by people who belong in Cosmo,” to paraphrase.

The depth of yoga is missing from its marketing campaign. I can find it occasionally, but in my experience, 80 to 90 percent of it is what I have described above.

I want the yoga community to grow, especially among men or people struggling with things like depression. To do that its message to the non-yoga world needs to reflect to a greater extent the reality of it—not the dreamscape.

The reality is not yogalebrity. The reality is more like people who teach as a second or third job, as a hobby or whatever.

The reality is people come in different shapes, sizes and builds. People come with baggage.

The reality is that it is hard work and that it is, or can be, a daily emotional struggle to be able to truthfully speak the exhortations that I list in the first paragraph.

There needs to be more of the grit and less of the shallow, trite “fluffy mantra” yoga journalism out there.

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Assistant Ed: Kathryn Ashworth/Ed: Bryonie Wise 

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Fabian Adami