Yoga’s Positivity Problem. ~ Fabian Adami

Via Fabian Adami
on Oct 3, 2013
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Childs Pose

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 


About Fabian Adami

Fabian Adami is a Registered Yoga Teacher (200hr) and Sports Massage Therapist living in London, United Kingdom.


14 Responses to “Yoga’s Positivity Problem. ~ Fabian Adami”

  1. jb1 says:

    Yoga Journal has a person of color on the cover a few times a year 🙂

  2. yogalime says:

    Hi Fabian, thank you for sharing your truth and observations. I agree, yoga teaches balance yet yoga media is anything but. Much love and wishes for a world that is representative and does not prejudice and discriminate in action. Love, Sky

  3. fabian adami says:

    JB1, yeah…a "few times" being the operative expression. Not nearly enough. and the last time i saw a man is ummm…..:)

  4. Mikel says:

    Hear, hear!

  5. Joss says:

    Totally agree!! The real meaning of yoga is UNION and I guess most of the people dont know a word about history behind, Patanjali and the yogasutras. Unfortunately at least in my country (Mexico) yoga is just a "culture in fashion".
    Im a yoga teacher and I´m trying to send a message in every class "connect with the universe, flow with nature and God"

  6. Brooke Bates says:

    This is a great article, Fabian. I don't think I could've said it better myself. The only thing I'd add is that the yoga clothing industry also perpetuates this idea that in order to really do yoga "right" or to at least look good doing yoga, you have to wear really expensive clothing. I understand that this clothing is usually organic but, honestly, you can do yoga just as well in a tank top and stretch pants from Target or the Gap. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Jonathan says:

    NEVER! We don't exist in the mainstream yoga world. But we exist here:

  8. margi says:

    Well said. It’s missing the point of yoga to dress fashionably or trendy or whatever when you don’t care to.

  9. Dan H says:

    As a 56 year old man who cautiously started doing yoga again last year, after a 15 year layoff due to some chronic injuries (not caused by yoga, but sometimes aggravated by it), this article really speaks to me. In terms of gender, age and flexibility, I do tend to feel like the "odd man out" in the classes I take. (And definitely compared to what you see in the yoga media!) On the other hand, I tend to see getting over that self-consciousness as just another part of my practice. One of my biggest challenges is simply reining in my ego from trying an asana that's likely to aggravate my injuries, even if most of the class is doing that pose. For me, just putting ego aside and being the only one in class meditating for a few breaths in child pose is the real accomplishment. Like the author, I've also been lucky enough to find instructors who, while they may look like "Cosmo Yoginis" on the outside, very much emphasize the inner practice in their instruction.

  10. amphibi1yogini says:

    Perversely speaking, I am now thin enough (and chronically ill enough–the two go hand-in-hand in my case) to be taken seriously by yoga instructors, when I affirm that I intend to have a primarily home practice (which is comprehensive and longer-than-class-length). That medical expenses and scheduling problems constrain me from being the frequent/regular attendee at class. That I am entitled to be proud of my home yoga practice. That I am not expecting any "freebies" from yoga instructors. That what I do has no bearing on them.

    On second thought, I think I've just had my last live studio yoga class last week. For a long time. Again. No more don't ask don't tell (about home practice) policy, since last spring, on my part.

    And calling a truce.

  11. Hope says:

    I can definitely get behind this! Appreciate the sentiments and your getting this message out there. Thanks Fabian

  12. Auki says:

    Yoga means "union with Source."

    Corporate America, or rather the multi-national corporations, exploit & corrupt everything for profit. Nothing is sacred to them except the almighty dollar. Mark my words: mainstream advertisements & commercials will soon exploit names & words like Hanuman, Lakshmi, Ram, karma, yoga, reincarnation ~ like Monsanto does now in India. There's a sucker born every minute & the world is a whorehouse!

  13. Joe Sparks says:

    Hi Fabian, sounds like you are a little disappointed in the Yoga world? It is what it is, and will not change unless each person decides to make it different. For most women you are stating the obvious, and have feelings about it. As men we need to be allies to women to help interrupt sexism, to be able to think well of women and value them based on them being intelligent, caring human beings. I have a suggestion you can start by asking, what do you think about this situation? This is One thing we can do right away as men, is to listen. How about starting a men's support group, to openly think and care about each other, so we can be effective allies to women is another suggestion. We need more guys like you! Thanks.

  14. @YogaFabs says:

    Hi Joe. Its not that i am disappointed in the Yoga world as a whole, just a particular aspect. I think that an intensely spiritual, healing life philosophy has to an extent been caught up in the shallow, materialistic, appearance- based world that we live in. My experience, as i say in the piece, is that were it not for a nagging partner, i wouldn't have stepped into class due to this–particularly as i was looking for depth in the midst of depression. That experience has made me intensely aware of how Yoga looks from the outside. it is my belief, and some may disagree with me here, that those who have the loudest and most obvious voices in the Yoga world (the publications and the Yogalebrities), have, to some extent, a responsibility to present that depth, rather than ONLY to play on the "beautiful" (physically) people aspect of it.