≡ Menu

Uh oh, did we lose yoga? Did it wander off in the supermarket like a wayward child, to be found later in the cereal aisle, digging through a box of Fruit Loops for the promise of a shiny prize? Do we need to grab yoga by its ear and take it back?

Yes! According to several high ranking yoginis. From Thursday’s Boston Globe, a story on commercialism and a mission to reclaim YOGA from the grubby hands of opportunists and obsessive cell phone texters (amongst other modern distractions). Yogini chieftesses Barbara Benagh, Patricia Walden, Natasha Rizopoulos, Justine Wiltshire Cohen, and Peentz Dubble have joined forces to bring it all back to Om.

Each of these women will teach at Justine Wiltshire Cohen’s new studio Down Under Yoga in Newtonville, MA , which is to be the headquarters for this taking back of yoga, and return to spiritual enlightenment. This will also be the site of an all hands on deck summit this Sunday called, “Balancing Acts: Poses, Products, and the Future of Yoga in America.’’ So…what could’ve gone so wrong? Everyone’s gone mad!

…humility, they say, is becoming less and less the point these days. “My worry is that . . . what we do in the yoga room is becoming the same as what we do outside the yoga room,’’ said Rizopoulos, a former ballet dancer who studied yoga in India. “Which is behaving like lunatics.’’

We imagine several matters have spurred this urgency to reign in the crazies, not the least being the incredible profitability of yoga and it’s yogi-related enterprises, products, pricey garb, celebriyog-endorsements. Stefanie Syman’s book The Subtle Body, on the story of Yoga in America and consequent commoditization, seems to be consistently referenced in these discussions of how yoga turned from a modest vehicle to a pimped out Cadillac with velveteen seats and Snooki at the wheel. But instead of worrying about the latest ‘replacing Christianity’ debate, these ladies are worried, essentially, that Western society is taking over yoga.

They’re dead set on changing all that. Via the Down Under Yoga website, their mission:

We believe that yoga studios should act in ways that are consistent with the teachings of yoga. We will never sell plastic water bottles that go into landfill (because ahimsa 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 because humility is the whole point.

Do you agree yoga needs to lassoed back to its roots? What’s missing? Is it spirituality? Dare we ask, is this generational?



22 comments… add one
  • The American way seems to be take a good thing then commercialize and pimp it out the nth degree.

    There are still pockets of resistance to this wave. In the classes I attend, I’m seeing plenty of reverence for yoga traditions to include pranayama and meditation. There’s also a good infusion of Bhakti, Nada, and Karma yoga as well as readings from the Yoga Sutras, and other tests, with the occasional kirtan. My teachers have inspired me to seek out yogic knowledge and to take my yoga off the mat. I’m definitely getting more than a workout.

  • malte

    Great article! I too think that it is getting ridiculous. There are too many yoga schools that turned into some other form of fitness studio. No spirit, just workout and expensive clothes. It is a cash machine and people ended up doing, what they always do…

    The last quote pretty much sums it up for me. We should take it back… or maybe rather start some sort of grass-roots movement so that people that practise yoga because they believe in the spiritual practise rather than expensive, color-matching yoga-gear get the chance to do so in “special” schools.

  • “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.’’

    I found that comment by the YJ editor to be particularly telling — and incredibly sad. And if she realized how sad her statement really was, I wonder if she would still have said it. But of course she is the editor of a yoga magazine with 100 pages of ads of things to attach to with 10 pages of articles about non-attachment.


    Yes, it’s true this is a consumer culture. Yes, it’s true we all have our “look” (actually mine is a holdover from the ’60s albeit updated…;)) And I like nice things and like to look good as much as the next person. But where does attachment end and wisdom begin?

    The point of yoga or any spiritual practice is to eventually distinguish between needs v. wants, to understand how we are ruled daily by either attachment & aversion, and to allow the exterior things that we believe give us our identity to drop away.

    “desire to create self-identity through what we wear or what we purchase.’’

    My yoga mat does not define me or give me my true identity…one of the age old questions is “who am I?” and if my true identity comes from what I wear or what I purchase or my job, then I need to do a hell of a lot more work on my mat.

    and I don’t mean asana.

    and frankly if I was leading that class where the two woman were texting, they would have been asked to leave. immediately.

  • Mary

    Does somebody really sell $150 yoga pants?

  • I’m reading Bikram’s book right now and it’s interesting to me to hear his perspective on yoga in the west. I think there are so many opinions floating around out there right now about the ways yoga has been diluted, dumbed down, basically made easy for the fat American. And it is true, in some cases! Mostly what comes to mind are all the props that a lot of studios use now. What I love about Bikram is we’re keeping it simple– just mat and towel, no blocks or straps. You don’t need a handtowel to wipe sweat either! Let it roll, baby, let it roll.

    Thanks for posting this and for always hitting on the hard issues that arise, YD. You are on the ball, as usual.

    Namaste and happy weekend!

  • Moi

    I really like Natasha, Patricia and Barbara’s Yoga DVDs.

  • I think that there is something of a generational divide – or at least a divide in sensibilities that maps pretty well onto the changes in American yoga, as well as the more high-profile teachers of it, since the 1960s. I wrote about that issue recently in light of how it may contribute to conflict in the yoga blogoshere at http://thinkbodyelectric.blogspot.com/2010/09/writing-yoga-blogosphere-as-collective.html

  • I have no problem with having more choices rather than less. I don’t understand why it is necessary to hit on the other guy so as to have a place in the sun. Yoga is not a zero-sum game, as far as I know. There is enough space for traditionalists as well as non-traditionalists, and that should be credited to our modern free-market liberal environment. I think that this diversity should be celebrated instead of being put down as unworthy of some transcendental superiority that I just don’t get. We’re all gonna die anyway… Look at me, getting all philosophical.

    This being said, I’m not sure if it’s generational. Western romanticism goes back to the early 19th century, and I don’t see it disappearing at all. But hey, that’s just my 2 cents. Like I used to say to my some colleagues, what do I know, I’m just another economist.

  • I think the shift in western yoga is feeling more of a cultural, rather than a generational pull towards corporatization. Let’s face it, we live in a world where there is always someone looking to make cash out of whatever the current culture seems to be gravitating towards. I’m not so certain that yoga is really doomed though…I recently wrote this post regarding the transition that yoga in the west is taking… http://www.dancingchiyoga.com/2010/09/what-is-real-yoga.html

  • Allie F

    I agree with Yvan. Yes yoga has become more commercialized lately, but why is this necessarily a bad thing? I don’t see why some feel the need to get angry because some aspects of yoga are evolving ways that they don’t like. Everyone has the choice to do things their own way, and can choose if they want to buy $150 pants or not, and for whatever reason they like. Isn’t ‘taking back’ yoga just a way to try to claim some ownership on it?

  • Scott

    I think all this concern about yoga getting away from spirituality is myopic. Look at the success of Bhaktifest – they are now adding a Spring edition. Most of the yoga studios and classes I’ve been to have a strong spiritual element too and I’ve been to classes from California to New York and lots of places inbetween – including my home studio just a few miles South of Houston. I was always told to do my own practice and not worry about what the guy/gal on the next mat over was doing. Good advice.

  • abbylou

    The spiritual message and teachings are present in most of the classes I attend, but I do not think most students are listening. I go to a studio that attracts a lot of people who want a vigorous workout. If you really focus on what the teachers are saying during class, the asana is only a small part of it. Much of what the teachers say is about going inward, not being attached, ahimsa, and being truthful. It took me more than 3 very steady years of consistent practice to get past the asana and see what is there. I have many friends who practice yoga who are really book smart but who don’t seem to see that yoga is more than an opportunity to sweat, de-stress, and accessorize. Maybe American students are not seeing what is right there because so many of us are on auto-pilot and so used to distractions and media that we can’t focus on anything more subtle than the physical.

  • Balance is the key.

  • yoga means something different for each person it depends on what they are looking for in their life

  • Shanda

    I was first introduced to yoga in a gym. That’s right: a gym. A veritable hot bed of the self-absorbed. Now I’m near completion of my 200hr RYT, I teach free community classes during the summer months, and I begin teaching real classes in an authentic studio this month. Still, I teach – and will continue to teach – in a gym, where pumped-up guys groan outside my classroom door as they lift ultra-heavy weights in an effort to grow their already ridiculously large muscles to an even more deformed size. Why? Because that’s where I was reached. And that’s where I’ll reach more. What made yoga accessible to you?

  • MelatonineApollo

    No one person can save yoga anymore than one person or idea can save America. It is not about saving Yoga. What is happening is that yoga is now being diluted by American values like greed, self-promotion, superstardom, celebrity, and putting a price on everything. This happens to everything in America eventually: baseball, marriage, religion, and even so called pure things like Yoga. This is what is happening to medicine, alternative medicine like hormone supplements such as melatonine (http://www.leaderpharma.com/melatonine.html) and more.

    The answer is to keep purity in one’s own life and dealings and eventually this will create a strong re-set of values among our friends and society. Melatonine, medicine, or yoga, it is up to us.

  • This debate smacks of the same found-it-first attitude of the old hardcore/punk music scene that I was part of in high school. Yoga was introduced, embraced by a small and devoted group, and has not fractaled out to reach the multitudes. I am profoundly grateful that I discovered yoga, and I am thankful that many others have as well.

    While I am not a fan of overpriced yoga pants, I think there is a need and certainly a desire for well-made, beautiful accessories that complement our practice. (Of course, I am speaking as someone with a very small line of eco-friendly yoga mats!)

  • Bryan

    I agree that yoga has become too commercial, and I personally need to connect with the spiritual component. At the same time, I own a 100 dollar yoga mat. Without commercialism turning yoga into something diluted that the masses consume, I wonder if I would have ever had the inclination or the opportunity to begin and develop a practice.

Leave a Comment