Archive for the ‘Sexy Yoga Ads’ Category

There are a lot of very, very, very serious issues afoot in the American yoga community these days. Please allow me to refresh your memory. First, there was the brouhaha boiling between yoga and christianity. Then there was all the hubbub about sexy yoga ads. Not to mention, the hullabaloo over the commercialization of yoga by “rockstar” yogi, John Friend, and “slim, calm, sexy” yogini Tara Stiles. Heck, just last week, The Boston Globe featured a piece called “What has happened to yoga?” which discussed a recent summit of some pretty famous yogis who convened to discuss their concerns over the future of yoga in America.

All of this has caused a royal ruckus in the yoga blogosphere and in yoga studios across the globe.  Many of these debates have raged right here in virtual pages of our beloved Elephant Journal. There are those who say that these issues are just the natural growing pains of a tradition that is still relatively new to this country. There are others who are ready to exit yoga stage left altogether.

I say, now is the time – now more than ever – for a little kumbaya. And what better way to do it than by throwing your own yoga-themed Halloween party?!

Read the rest at Elephant Journal…It’s pretty funny.


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Photo Courtesy of The Boston Globe


In tomorrow’s edition Home and Lifestyle section of The Boston Globe, journalist Linda Matchan tackles some huge issues in an article entitled “What Happened to Yoga”.  She does it by traveling to Down Under Yoga, a yoga studio in Newtonville, Massachusettes, where Aussie owner Justine Wiltshire Cohen has assembled some internationally recognized yoginis – Natasha Rizopoulos and Patricia Walden among them – to not only teach some in depth workshops, but to participate in a summit on the future of yoga in America.

To illustrate some of the problems with yoga in America today, Matchen interviewed none other than Stephanie Syman, author of The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America. During the interview, Syman outlines the issues:

[Yoga is] recombined with dominant forms of the culture; it’s very malleable that way,’’ said Syman. There is yoga for every taste, energy level, and aspirant — hip-hop yoga, hot yoga, rock pop yoga, weight loss yoga, Christian yoga, even “Yoga Booty Ballet,’’ which bills itself as a dynamic fusion of yoga, booty sculpting, and cardio-dance. If there is any doubt that yoga has left the ashram and joined the mainstream, consider that yoga was part of this year’s Easter Egg Roll festivities on the White House lawn.

It’s also been “monetized,’’ Syman said. Practiced by celebrities, fitness buffs, and fashionistas, yoga is a $6 billion industry with some 16 million American followers. Many of those millions are pouring into the trendy lululemon yogawear stores — purveyor of $90 yoga mats, $25 yoga water bottles, $40 yoga towels, and other nonessential yoga accessories such as yoga thong underwear and an $88 “yoga mat carry system’’ with a “Helmet friendly design.’’ [So you won’t hit your head with your mat while riding your bike.]

The article also touches on the recent debacle, which I wrote about, regarding the sexualization and Westernization of yoga, which is obvious in many of the advertisements in the popular yoga magazine Yoga Journal:

Even the venerable magazine Yoga Journal, considered the bible for yoga practitioners, has evolved from a nonprofit publication founded in 1975 in a Berkeley basement to a glossy magazine with celebrities on the cover and sexy ads for pricey yoga gear, a trend that’s infuriated one of its founding editors.

“I feel sad because it seems that Yoga Journal has become just another voice for the status quo and not for elevating us to the higher values of yoga: spiritual integration, compassion and selfless service,’’ Judith Hanson Lasater wrote in a recent letter to the editor.

Yoga Journal’s editor in chief, Kaitlin Quistgaard, said she “completely respected’’ Lasater’s letter, “but we also need to run a commercial venture. . . . We are Americans and one thing Americans do is shop and like nice things. And one of the ways we identify ourselves is having a certain look. The yoga industry does support our desire to create self-identity through what we wear or what we purchase.’’

Cohen seems to set a new standard for taking yoga back:

Her website makes it clear where she stands on the question. “We believe that yoga studios should act in ways that are consistent with the teachings of yoga,’’ it says. “We will never sell plastic water bottles that go into landfills [becauseahimsa means ‘do no harm’]. We will never sell $150 yoga pants [because aparigraha means ‘identifying greed’]. We will never accept offers from companies to promote their gear in exchange for free publicity or products (because satya means “truthfulness’’). We will never brand, trademark, or pretend we’ve made up a new style of yoga.’’

The article is packed with the biggest issues facing yoga today.  Matchan even goes so far as to address what she calls the the “irksome” trend of Anusara yoga and yoga rockstar John Friend:

One brand, though not the only one, that seems particularly irksome is the growing Texas-based global empire of Anusara yoga, a relatively new hatha yoga system founded by John Friend, who teaches worldwide and sells clothing, jewelry, and music. He blogs, tweets, and characterizes himself on his website as “one of the most charismatic and highly respected hatha yoga teachers in the world.’’ Friend was recently featured in a New York Times magazine article, which he noted in a three-page rebuttal posted on his website was “the largest article on yoga ever published in a major newspaper. . . . For me, it is another clear sign that Grace supports Anusara.’’

“The minute yoga is packaged and branded, you’ve lost it,’’ Wiltshire Cohen contends.

You can visit Cohen’s website at www.downunderyoga.com, where she outlines her yoga manifesto.  You can also read the full text of the article here.  What say you, yogis?  These are some pretty huge issues.  I say at the very least, kudos to Cohen for tackling them.  Maybe we need some more summits like this one?

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Stefanie Syman. Photo courtesy of Sara & Sarma Photography


During a little afternoon surf, I came across a blog post written by Stephanie Syman, author of The Subtle Body:  The Story of Yoga in America, with her reflections on the commoditization of yoga.  Her post grazes the surface of a debate that has been raging for weeks across the blogaphere.  I have yet to read her book; however, her post suggests how deeply she has researched the topic and makes me realize I am silly if I go yet another week without reading this book.  I’m posting the whole thing here for your enjoyment:

With the near simultaneous release last month of “Eat Pray Love” the movie and a Toe Sox ad campaign featuring a naked woman (save her “sox”) in various yoga poses, there is no denying we’ve exhausted yoga’s commercial possibilities. No doubt new yoga tchotchkes will be produced, and at least two more yoga memoirs are set for release this fall. But these are all variations on a theme. Like “Star Wars” or Matisse, the merchandising, advertising, and profiteering of yoga has run the full gamut, from action figures to deluxe vacations to how-to-books that apply yoga to almost every human endeavor (my personal favorite: “The Yoga of Time Travel”).

Now, there’s nothing left to exploit. But before you condemn any number of culprits (shareholders, American materialism, craven gurus, cynical marketers), you better understand that this process took some time — a century in fact — and yoga’s most committed followers have hurried it along.

During World War I, a select set — including, most famously Ann Vanderbilt and her daughters — was taking daily Hatha Yoga classes at a tastefully appointed, Manhattan townhouse on 53rd Street, complete with pristine studios, yoga mats, lithe young instructors, and a café that served health-building food. India was exotic, enchanting, and magical. (And Americans were far enough away to not be terribly bothered by colonialism’s offenses.) Yoga connoted magic and mystery, and yet, according to both Indian and American teachers, the discipline was scientific. This one was of its biggest selling points.

Within another decade, yoga had become a popular literary trope. Lily Adams Beck published romantic stories such as “The Flute of Krishna” in the Atlantic Monthly as well as several novels in which Westerners found redemption through yoga. Beck later wrote The Way of Power, a memoir cum guide book. Beck, like Elizabeth Gilbert, had been transformed by yoga, and she promised her readers that they too could peer through the “looking glass” to the reality beyond our ordinary senses. Published in 1927, The Way of Power preceded Paul Brunton’s far more famous book, A Search in Secret India, by seven years.

Both Beck and, to an extent, Brunton oriented their lives around yoga and made literary careers out of the subject. No one objected to this conflation of vocation and avocation partly because they presented themselves as ambassadors of India’s spiritual treasure at a time when travel to Asia was still difficult (it took weeks to get from New York to Bombay via ship in the 1930s).

Meanwhile, Paramahansa Yogananda had set up his own organization in Los Angeles, now called The Self Realization Fellowship, which ran his tours and published post cards, calendars, and other ephemera emblazoned with his image as well as a magazine and a popular correspondence course.

It wasn’t long before yoga was used to sell something else, something completely unrelated to the discipline. At first this seemed harmless enough. An ad in Life magazine featured two slim young women in a leotards, and another holding a book about Yoga. The copy read, in part, “So you’re having a go at Yoga… All of a sudden—Tiredsville.

What do you do? You sip a chilled 7-Up.” It’s 1963, Mad Men reign, and yoga is now shorthand for an active American life. Fast forward to 1967 and yoga was being used in much the same way, but to move a very different product—LSD.

The leap from leotards to nudity or from Beck’s travel tales to Eat Pray Love, is a relatively small one. And yet it marks a paradigm shift. One reason is scale. Yoga, as we’re frequently reminded, has become a multi-billion dollar industry, and so and it’s no longer possible to imagine yoga apart from money. And to associate yoga with money is to admit that it’s subject to the motives and corruptions money always entails.

And the second, perhaps more damning, reason is that we have a much harder time forgetting anything as a culture. Up until now, Americans would periodically forget about yoga. Zen, psychedelic drugs, Arica, EST—any number of other spiritual techniques might preoccupy us for awhile, and then, these would lose their luster, and another generation of Americans would “discover” yoga. No more. The beauty and curse of the web is how readily you can retrieve the past, via Google books, YouTube, or just back issues of your favorite magazines. Yoga is here to stay as are all of its crass permutations.

Sigh.  Even “pologa“?  Go on, click the link.  I dare you.  Thoughts?

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The blyogasphere is yet again abuzz with the issue of the sexualization/commercialization/westernization of yoga.  Last month, it was this very issue that got me to start thinking about blogging again when Judith Hanson Lasater issued her response to the ToeSox advertisement published in Yoga Journal featuring a buck-nekkid — well, okay, she was wearing a pair of socks — Kathryn Budig striking a series of various and sundry asanas.

The Toe Sox ad begged a lot of questions amongst readers of Yoga Journal and the readers and writers of yogacentric blogs (what I like to call the blyogasphere).  While we’ve gotten used to seeing half-naked chicks in advertisements for alcohol, perfume, and jewelry, why does the Toe Sox ad strike such a dissonant chord?  Is it unwise to advertise a yoga product with a young, nude woman?  Are we denigrating the value of yoga?  Does it make yoga and yogis seem shallow, superficial, frivolous? Or, are we being puritanical?  After all, isn’t the ad simply a celebration of the human form?  On the other hand, if it were a celebration of the human form, why not use model who is older, and more pleasantly plump?

Another rumpus has been raised over the ad for Tara Stiles’ new book, ‘Calm, Slim, Sexy’.  The cover of the book (see below) somehow isn’t as as bad as the full marketing campaign, in which Tara, while wearing more than a pair of socks, doesn’t seem to be sending a good message about body image.  Moreover, given the subtitle of the book “The 15-minute yoga solution for feeling and Looking your best from head to toe”, it doesn’t seem to be sending the right message about yoga.  What, you mean, you weren’t satisfied that the publishers put the “feeling” before the “looking” in the subtitle?

It is an interesting controversy, and one that stirs up a lot of emotions.  I, for one, can’t help but feel frustrated and saddened seeing these advertisements.  It somehow wouldn’t be such an affront if yoga were just a form of physical exercise.  But it is not.  And that’s the issue which seems to get most people ready to throw down.  I haven’t read it, but apparently, Tara’s book is quite substantive and in it she shares her personal stories of struggling with body image as a young model.  If her book is at all aimed at helping others through theirs, she certainly lost touch with her message on her way to the printing press.

What say you, yogi friends?

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