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Celeb Yoga Endorsements: Good or Bad? What if it’s Paris Hilton?

in Celebriyogis, Public Display of Yoga, YD News, Yoga Pop

If you’re a YD frequent visitor you probably know we love ourselves a good debate. We also love our pals at elephant journal! And who doesn’t looove Celebriyogis? *eye roll* OK so not everyone loves them a celeb endorsement and the folks at elephant journal took it to task and asked the perennial question, “Celebs + Yoga, Who cares?” which then snowballed into a debate over “any publicity is good publicity” vs. ” but what if it’s by a not-so-good celebrity”? We’re still talking about yoga here. So Jennifer Aniston, maybe. But what if it’s someone like…Lindsay Lohan, or Paris Hilton?! Turns out they’ve both been rumored to do the down dog. On the mat! you dirty minds. See Ms. Hilton, in a comedic attempt above.

So what do you think about celeb yoga endorsements and publicity? Do they detract from “real” yoga? Are they beneficial in spreading YogaPop in the West? As for us, we pretty much dig it. Yoga’s for all! And if we weren’t an image-conscious culture obsessed with food and fitness, and celebs, we probably wouldn’t even know how Heidi Klum shed those extra pounds after having her baby!

EarlierJennifer Aniston and Mandy Ingber: Yogalosophied

20 comments… add one

  • seems my vote is the popular one, whatever works to bring people into themselves is good, and yoga will do that, eventually… so the sooner they join, by whatever means (within reason), the better.

  • frankly, I’m totally bored with all of them. “Celebrity yoga” had its 15 minutes of fame when Rodney Yee was on Oprah.

    YAWN.

  • Yogadork, thanks for the kudos and links—and brilliant writing, as always.

    Linda, we’re allll with you. But this question isn’t about you, or me. This question is about: since fame is simply an ability to broadcast a message from on high to millions, wouldn’t that be a good thing if that message had something to do with peace, compassion, with working through tough stuff…with yoga?

    In the case of a neutral or positive messenger, I and most folks seem to say “sure” or “hell yes.” In the case of a “bad” messenger…well, that’s the question posed above. Is it a good thing to spread yoga to the masses? I say yes, whoever the messenger—just so long as there’s plenty of great teachers and great studios that can plug any newbies into a yoga that’s about more than a “yoga butt.”

  • I have to admit that I am in the camp of more is better. If thousands, hell, millions of adolescent boys and girls head over to a local yoga studio because they saw (insert celebri-yogi here) on tv/youtube/itunes then how could that be bad. Does it matter if they go for the right or wrong reason as long as they go. Only time will tell if their new practice moves in the right direction and this will weigh heavily on their instructor(s) and the life choices the youth of today make. My vote will solidly remain in the shout it from the (virtual) mountaintop camp!

  • I’m with Waylon and Andre. Here’s what I wrote on Elephant, in case you don’t have a chance to get over there:

    “Well, yes, the Yoga blogosphere’s been a little quite lately. What a great time to re-ignite the epic Rainbeau Mars/ It’s All Yoga Baby Yoga endorsement and authenticity debates! (Although I thought we finally put an end to that with Yobo/Ratra comprehensive solution.)

    Anyway, in spite of my being a Ratra (Radical Traditional) Yoga practitioner, I’m with you all the way on celebrity endorsements. Like you I believe that the more popular Yoga becomes, the better it is for everyone involved, both because exercise Yoga is worthwhile in its own right, and because it’s a feeder system for more traditional forms of Yoga. (At this point I always tell the story of how I began Yoga to improve my flexibility for tennis–it was offered right there at my club!)…

    I wish there were some way to prove it, but my observation and experience (particularly from editing “Yoga in America”) tells me that all Yoga boats are rising with the popularization of Yoga. There is no reason to think of one type of Yoga taking away from another.

    Indeed, I think the opposite is true because commercial Yoga feeds those who are interested into tradtional Yoga. It appears to me that all forms of Yoga, from exercise only, to the most traditional of Yoga centers, are thriving.

    I actually did try to prove this by just tracking the growth of Yoga teachers over the last 10-20 years by type of Yoga. But the data doesn’t seem to be available anywhere.”

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  • “appears to me that all forms of Yoga, from exercise only, to the most traditional of Yoga centers, are thriving. ”

    what do you call “thriving”, Bob? I can’t speak for anywhere else, but in my neck of the woods yoga studios barely survive and literally don’t make money — more than a few yoga studio owners have told me that. The success of a yoga biz is dependent on location, location, location. I can tell you that in the last 6 months EVERY teacher I know has told me their classes are down. So how is that “thriving”?

    I really don’t see how “tracking the growth of Yoga teachers over the last 10-20 years by type of Yoga” has anything to do with anything because not everyone who takes a yoga teacher training program becomes a teacher or even wants to teach. Many take TT programs just to increase their yoga knowledge and deepen their practice. Sure you can say 20 people took a TT program but if they don’t become teachers your statistics are flawed or meaningless. And not everyone who is registered with the Yoga Alliance actively teaches.

    Personally I would be much more interested in teachers who quit teaching and more interested in their reasons for doing so.

    of course it’s a good idea to spread yoga to the masses as Waylon puts it, but how do you gauge a commitment to yoga?

    Years ago I was a fitness instructor and I can tell you that people have the attention span of flies when it comes to the “next best thing” in the exercise biz. Whatever the next craze is, people always jump on it, but how many stick with it? I can tell you that the exercise idea of “The Slide” lasted about 30 minutes. barely. Anything can be sold to the masses with the right celeb endorsement whether it’s a frying pan or yoga.

  • okay y’all, i gotta step in here and say that i have issues with the celebrity endorsement of yoga. i also have issues with “global yoga ambassadors,” sponsored by major athletic corporations. i just have a hard time believing that this kind of “endorsement” is fueled by a sincere desire to spread the message of yoga. it’s about trends and it’s about marketing, it’s about PR.

    celebrities endorse products: soft drinks, shampoo, cars. and they endorse lifestyles, by projecting an image (of status, money, etc) that people desire. it’s great that jennifer aniston found some relief from her apparently painful life through yoga, and that she’s willing to help her teacher promote her latest dvd. but in all the promotional efforts, we’re hearing about how she’s achieved her hot body through yoga, and not much about how it’s helped her heal from the never-ending public humiliation of getting dumped by brad pitt. (and paris hilton, in the above video, is totally just taking the piss out of yoga, and giving us a reason to look at her hot ass.)

    i guess i’d be more willing to accept that celebrity endorsement is good for yoga if it didn’t seem so self-promotional, if it was less about yoga as a way to achieve a superstar body and more about… depth, integrity, inner transformation, i don’t know, whatever. if somebody is enough of a follower to start doing yoga because jennifer aniston does it, good for them… and if they get right into it and start reading ancient texts and following all the yamas/niyamas, even better. but does this seriously happen? am i too cynical to believe that it does?

    yet, at the same time, celebrity endorsement isn’t necessarily a “bad thing” for yoga. it lends to the increasing commodification of the practice, and kind of turns it into a joke (ie, jon gosselin’s yoga attempts aren’t going to convince anyone to try yoga), but ultimately i’m sure there’ll be no long-term damage done. we all know that yoga is resilient, and it’s effects are subtle. it’s fascinating to watch celebrities do/promote/market yoga, and to comment on it. and it’ll be interesting to watch how things evolve in the next few years.

  • Linda.

    Well the LAST thing I mean by thriving is the commercial success you are using as a criterion!

    Your point about teachers not teaching but just incorporating the training into their everyday lives is exactly what I’m getting at. I don’t care if they are teaching or not, and most certainly not whether they are making any money at it.

    In fact traditionally trained teachers are less likely to both show up in Yoga classes or teach pure fitness classes. “Thriving” to me simply means that the number of people, teachers or not, who are are interested in and going through traditional training programs is increasing, not decreasing.

    The fate of small studios, while certainly runs against my theory, may be irrelevant because so much of the traditional training is happening at the large centers like Kripalu and Anusara centers.

    I would certainly be convinced that traditional Yoga is in decline in the U.S. if all traditional training centers, large and small, are in decline. I would be happy to know the truth, as always, and will “eat my hat”, as they say, if my gut feel proves to be wrong. I hope someone will pop up who has done the research.

    I just thought of another reasonable measure of interest in traditional Yoga–the sales of books about it. That one may be difficult to ascertain, too, but maybe Amazon has the numbers and the trend.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  • P.S.
    “commercial Yoga feeds those who are interested into tradtional Yoga.”

    sorry, but where’s your proof? that blanket statement that is hard to prove.

    if by “commercial yoga” you are talking about “gym yoga” or “health club” yoga, that is rarely the case (again, I have to emphasize, in MY locale) for the simple reason that gym yoga is seen as cheap or is “free.” That is specifically why yoga studios do so poorly in my area, because of the availability of “cheap yoga” — every gym, health club, or park district has yoga classes. If people get their yoga for free at the gym, they won’t pay $15 for a class at a yoga studio and therefore won’t learn what “traditional yoga” is. A “commercial yoga” class does not necessarily make someone want to seek out “traditional” yoga as your statement assumes.

    and not everyone who does “commercial yoga” is interested in learning what “traditional yoga” (using your words here) is. sure, some are, maybe even a decent percentage are, but I also know of cases where people won’t go into a yoga studio for “traditional yoga classes” because there’s a picture of Shiva on the wall.

    in many areas yoga is still seen as something “Hindu” or something really out there. I believe that as mainstream as we in the yoga biz like to think yoga is nowadays, it’s really not.

    A friend of mine told me a story about how she subbed a class where a student asked her what type of yoga is she going to teach. My friend said, uh, well, just yoga. and the student asked her if she was going to tell them to watch their breath and be still. my friend said, well, uh, yeah, kinda sorta, that’s part of it. and the woman said, “well, I’m Christian so I don’t go in for all that going inward stuff.” My friend told her don’t worry, that she won’t try to convert her. The irony is that my friend does not teach “traditional yoga”!

    so as for “commercial Yoga feeds those who are interested into tradtional Yoga”, well, maybe… sometimes…or not.

  • Linda.

    I answered your P.S. answered in my last comment, I believe.

    I never meant to imply that everyone taking Yoga exercise class will be interested in traditional Yoga, but that those who do have a mind fo it will be drawn to it, like I was at my tennis club, whereas without that initial contact with Yoga I’m pretty sure I never would have gotten into traditional Yoga myself.

    I hear this same story repeated frequently. But you’re quite right. Anecdotes are not proof, which I said all along I have none.

    And I repeat–I am a truth seeker here. I will change my mind instantly if I see strong evidence to the contrary.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  • Y’know what? If Paris Hilton *did* by some miracle, decide yoga was “hot” (as I believe she likes to put it), maybe she’d find some personal contentment. And who knows how that would change her perspective on life? Then, all those tweens (and dirty old men perhaps) who follow her would maybe also decide yoga was cool. And if just one of those people found their way out of the hot pink Barbie… I mean Paris Yoga (TM) studio world (that I’m sure she’d create, complete with matching outfits for her dogs), then it would be worth it.

    Celeb endorsements of anything don’t really influence me one way or the other. If they find some form of yoga that works for them, then cool.

  • “Celeb endorsements of anything don’t really influence me one way or the other. ”

    now THAT’S something I agree with hence my huge YAWN in the beginning! believe it or not, I have never watched Oprah in my life (a friend told me about Rodney Yee being on her show.)

    in all the yada yada on everyone’s blogs about bringing yoga to the masses via celebs, etc., NO ONE ever said that’s a bad thing. it’s about trends, marketing, and PR as roseanne said. people jump on the next best thing bandwagon whatever it is (read my comment as my experience as a fitness instructor), but whether most people are still in yoga classes 3 or 6 months down the road is another story.

    and I would really have to disagree with your statement, Bob, ” so much of the traditional training is happening at the large centers like Kripalu and Anusara centers.” I would say that most TT programs are not at large centers but take place locally.

    Not everyone can go to places like Kripalu or Omega or other such places. Not all TT programs are done by the big names in the yoga biz. Many studios in the Chicago area, both in the city and suburbs, have their own TT programs. Why? Because they don’t make any money teaching group classes to the 2 or 3 students who show up — TT programs are the money-makers.

  • Linda.

    The popularity of TT (Teacher Training) programs supports my point that there is some demand for traditional Yoga. I have a local example of what you’re saying. Bernie Rosen is a talented local 500 hr. teacher who studied extensively with Rod Stryker, the Himalayan Institute, and Kriplalu.

    Just as you say, he has trouble filling his regular Yoga classes, but he is in demand by sereral studios in Milwaukee for his teacher training programs, which, of course, are very traditional because that’s his interest and background.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  • I don’t want to debate about that because it is kind of off topic but there are so many motivations for going to a teacher training program and these cannot be used to judge yoga’s popularity.

    The reason your friend is in demand as a teacher trainer is because studios make bucket loads of money off of those programs. How else can they charge a student $2500 for a program? As long as the turn out is good, the studio can pay the rent for a year off of that.

    I challenge a yoga studio to have a $2500 course entitled, “Understanding the Yoga Sutras , the Gita and the Pradapika”, and see how many people would sign up. After all, these three books are the cornerstone of yoga and people sign up for teacher trainings because they want to learn more about yoga, deepen there practice and be able to teach right? These should be packed too right? The reality is that they wouldn’t be. I know of studios that did sutra classes that were practically free that nobody wanted to be a part of even much a $2500 one. Shoot, I took a teacher training course and I am good friends with many current teachers. There are only one or two people I know who took it for the heck of it. Trust me, once you got past the flowery language and stories drummed up by the ego, every one else’s primary reason was to make money and the other sugary sweet reasons given were just by products. And there is nothing wrong with wanting to make your living doing yoga. Who wants to work a 9-5 and then go teach classes? That is rough, but I digress. (By the way, there is a difference between my friends reasons for teaching yoga and there reasons for taking yoga teacher training courses. Those are two different things. Again, you cannot judge the popularity of teacher trainings with the popularity of yoga.)

    As far as traditional and commercial yoga, I would say that 70% of the yoga taught even in yoga studios today, is commercial yoga. Just because the teacher throws a line or two in class about breath and uses some Sanskrit terms while playing Krishna Das does not mean it is a traditional yoga class. Most yoga classes’ primary objective is to get your body in shape. To “work you out. To “make you sweat and detoxify you”. Don’t get me wrong, I love all that stuff but to me, that is the difference between commercial and traditional yoga. Yoga in the Sutras is defined as “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”. That to me is traditional yoga. It is a class set up where transcendence of the ego is the primary function and every thing else is a by product.

    I understand that publicity is good but to make your life choices off of what a celebrity is doing? That is interesting. I write a blog so I follow blogs . When a celebrity is doing yoga, it is all over the internet, twitter, facebook, and major news sites. When someone writes a beautiful though provoking piece on yoga that doesn’t have to do with rock hard abs or other superficial, surface layer stuff, not as many people read it. It doesn’t get retweeted as much and people don’t comment as much.

    Anywho….bottom line is yeah, in the end, the positive publicity is good…..even if it is a celebrity.

  • Shanna, you make excellent points and I agree with you that you can’t use TT programs to make a point about yoga’s popularity. That is what I was trying to say! Your 4th paragraph says it all for me and thanks for calling a spade a spade and acknowledging the reality of the day-to-day yoga biz.

  • YogaSpy makes excellent points in her blog post about advanced studies/teacher trainings….http://yogaspy.wordpress.com/

  • Good points, Shanna and Linda.

    I haven’t played my ace-in-the-hole yet, because I’m not sure I’m ready for the bricks that will be thrown. But Shanna plays it for me on her excellent traditional Yoga website:

    “Wellness From Inside-Living the Wisdom of Yoga in Modern Times”
    http://wellnessfrominside.typepad.com/wellness_from_insidelivin/

    Shanna’s site is filled with Eckhart Tolle videos, which all sound like they are coming directly out of the Upanishads or the Bhagavad Gita. The same is true of much of the work of Deepak Chopra and Eknath Easwaran.

    This is where some of the purest expression of traditional pre-asana Yoga philosophy is being spread, as Shanna correctly recognizes by routinely including Tolle videos in her traditional Yoga blog. See my thoughts about this at:

    “Pure Yoga by Another Name–Chopra, Tolle, and Easwaran”
    http://yogademystified.com/2009/10/12/pure-yoga-by-another-name-chopra-tolle-and-easwaran/

    “Deepak Chopra–Modern Yoga Sage or New Age Hype?”
    http://yogademystified.com/2009/10/12/deepak-chopra-modern-yoga-sage-or-new-age-hype/

    If one includes these in the equation (and based on substance not label they certainly should be) then it’s obvious that traditional Yoga philosophy is alive and thriving in the U.S., even if what’s called Yoga is dominated by exercise routines.

    I’m ready for the bricks!

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  • innerspaceyoga

    Here’s a positive spin on the cebri-yogi trend. The more pix that are posted of our beloved celebs doing “yoga” (they tend to practice in the presence of photogs, I’ve noted), the more we yogadorks can make fun of their attempts, i.e. Sarah Palin and her unfortunate shoe-wearing, knee-injuring vrksasana. It keeps us out of trouble.

  • I agree with many of the comments here. More exposure for yoga cannot be a bad thing. I also think it’s good that celebrities are doing yoga. Most of them really need it. I think that a lot of people do decide to follow certain practices because celebrities are doing them. Frankly, I would much rather see a celebrity endorse yoga than cigarettes, drinking, or smoking. If they want to endorse yoga and, by doing so, turn other people on to this wonderful, beautiful, amazing practice, so be it!

  • I’m sitting with Roseanne on this one. I’m glad celebrities are finding inner peace, but I suspect much of the endorsement comes from getting paid or another opportunity to polish their own “brand” (hot AND serene, why wouldn’t you go to my new movie?).

    It’s almost like yoga is the star whose reflected glory is being basked in.

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