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Naked Judgment: What Are We Really Buying from Nude Yoga Ads?

in Business of Yoga, YD News

In all this nakedness, lest we forget who’s selling what. Do you buy it?

There’s been a lot of commotion over Equinox’s sexy yoga ad featuring the talented Briohny Smyth. Not shy of controversy herself or getting paid for baring her yoga-toned body in an ad, prominent and pretty yogi Kathryn Budig offers another point of view, via HuffPo – that not of the advertiser, but of the subject.

She spoke with Briohny who we learn was an Asian pop star at the age of 13 struggling with an eating disorder, which yoga helped her battle (the eating disorder. pop stardom is like stepping in bubble gum, it’s stuck, baby). Kathryn comes to Briohny’s defense with the beauty and empowerment argument, asking us not to judge her by the lack of clothing or by the sexual connotations:

It’s a gentle reminder that we are quick to judge when we have no idea where someone else is coming from. People often overcome mountains of adversary to be in a place where they can shine.

Speaking of her own turn in bare bottom advertising:

Our intention was to inspire and show the beauty of a body that practices regular yoga to get people back on their mats. I can happily say it was highly successful in that realm. I receive regular thank yous and have even signed pictures of my bare buns at workshops.

But as life goes, there are two sides to the coin and many people were displeased. They were offensive. They objectified women. They were using sex to sell product. This list went on but I remained calm in the center of the storm because I believed in my choice. My intention was to inspire and empower and I knew that desired effect had taken place. I also knew if you stick your head above a crowd, someone’s bound to throw a tomato at it.

As we mentioned earlier, the debate over sexiness is moot. Going through a flow or holding a contorted pose in a photo with little to no clothing is absolutely sexy. T&A aside, the sheer demonstration of strength is sexy. Confidence, fully clothed, can be damn near hot and bothersome. But once again we’re distracted from reality. This is an ad, like to sell things.

We understand the whole expression and celebration of the body thing. We think women are beautiful! (ok, most guys too) We also appreciate the fact that baring your skin after overcoming body image struggles can be an incredibly empowering act. We admire Briohny’s courage, as well as the art of beautiful bodies. We even view them in art quite frequently. We also know taking your clothes off is a cheap, easy way to get attention. Can an ad trying to sell us something, whether a product, a gym membership or a state of being be considered art?

When it comes to judgement many duck under the umbrella of it being “unyogic” when the rain comes a’pouring down. We see that, and raise you Viveka: discernment, discrimination. Viveka is “a deliberate, continuous intellectual effort to distinguish between the real and the unreal, the permanent and the temporary, and the Self and not-Self” and it’s also part of yoga. In a world where we’re bombarded by advertisements and marketing messages from the minute we wake up til the time we snuggle into bed at night, including those moments when we’re “detaching from judgement” in yoga class, it gets harder and harder to discern for ourselves what’s real and what’s not real. (see case lululemon)

Yoga advertising, as oxymoronic as it is, exists in high volume. Without declaring every ad as evil ploys and misconceptions to win over your hard earned money and mind, let’s take a step back and see things for what they are: sure, Briohny and Kathryn are beautiful, sexy, empowered women. They also received monetary compensation for stripping down to sell something, largely in part because they possess what we’ve come to learn as a society is what beautiful looks like.

Having a conversation about that and deciphering what is beauty, art, sex or advertising, or a combination of all of those things for ourselves, is, to us, more “yogic” and truthful than buying into what we’re told, especially by corporations and ad agencies whose sole job it is to win you over, cause a fuss if they’re lucky, in hopes that it will turn profit and therefore continued existence.

It’s similar to using the right and left brain. Our lovey, imaginative right side must be balanced by the analytical, look both ways before crossing the street, left side. In yoga we seek to find the balance. It’s when we’re being swayed to one side or the other without consciousness that we lose ourselves in hot or notness and end up with a brain full of confusion, desire and not-good-enoughs.

We leave you with the thoughtful inquisitions of Roseanne (It’s All Yoga, Baby) on her facebook page:

“Do you really believe this is the intention of nude yoga advertising? Isn’t it… to sell shit?”



28 comments… add one
  • Euni

    It would be a simple thing for many protestors to just NOT join Equinox. -_- I thought the video was beautiful but have no thoughts/intentions of giving up my small yoga studio for Equinox.

    I’m quite surprised by all the backlash.

  • Scott

    Just because you pronounce a debate moot does not make it so. There are many flavors and degrees of sexiness. I think the qualities and context of the sexuality being presented is important in this discussion. To answer one question that isn’t really all that important, yes, one intent of the video is to sell yoga/shit. Is there really any conflict there with yogic principles? Yogis have to eat too.
    Of more import is whether there is a conflict caused by the combination of yoga and sexuality such that it violates the integrity of yoga. Does it harm or interfere with a person’s ability to connect with their genuine, true self (however each of us may define that)? Does it use yoga to promote a form of sexuality that degrades rather than uplifts? Is it presented in a context where Bramacharya is rountinely disrepected (EJ), and thus is part of a bigger pattern of degradation, even though in and of itself, it may not cross that line?

  • Chelsea

    I have no intentions of joining Equinox. The video gives me no information about them nor do I live near one of their locations.

    I took from the video, “wow, if I were more dedicated to my practice, I could do some really cool sh–!”

  • Vision_Quest2

    Well, the ad certainly isn’t reaching some young women in the way intended:


    I have tried in the last few days to #occupy my own yoga mat without pain or getting viscerally sick.

    Not a shot in hell I will ever join Equinox either.

  • john

    “My intention was to inspire and empower”

    What power are people supposed to get from looking at pictures of naked women, and why would yogis want that power?

  • Scott

    John, – perhaps an appreciation for the human body, escape from the samskara of shame about nudity, maybe even an appreciation for the divinity of all things. Presenting the video has also encouraged self-study among the readers of many yoga blogs, perhaps helping some take further steps toward enlightenment. There is nothing wrong with a naked human body (and she isn’t even naked in this video). There certainly can be things wrong with how the human body is used, just as there can be things wrong with how we perceive the world, including the bodies in it.

  • Thanks, YogaDork, for your thoughtful and eloquent response to this week’s yoga controversy. Your commentary is nicely balanced and takes yogic thought into account more than any other commentary I’ve read so far. It is very easy to call someone out on being judgmental when you don’t agree with what they have to say. But you are right: Viveka, the power to distinguish between the appearance of things and the truth of things, is intrinsic to yoga. Doing fancy poses in revealing underwear in order to sell products is not. It is arguable that doing fancy poses for display helps fuel the competitive inclinations that can cause yoga injuries (last week’s yoga controversy).

    I’ve also done my share of modeling for a yoga products catalog. While I was performing poses for a camera, I never mistook these performances for practicing yoga. Like Kathryn and Brionhy, I was performing a service for a company I believe in, and I was being paid for it. In the process, I advocated strongly for demonstrating only poses that the majority of people can do safely, even though my body was capable of performing fancy poses.

    Now, before anyone dismisses me as a hater and a prude, I need to preface my next comment with some background: I spent many a summer at Bloomington, Indiana’s limestone quarries, a popular nude swimming hole back in the ’70s. I loved the freedom and honesty of hanging out with friends without the veil of clothing. That said, I am concerned with the misrepresentation of yoga in both the Equinox video and the ToeSox ads. Using an image of what we in Western culture to be perceived as yoga, coupled with women’s bodies in decidedly sexy clothing (or no clothing) to sell products feels like just another way to exploit the current popularity of yoga and the age-old popularity of women’s bodies. If brahmacharya is about wise use of sexuality, I don’t think these ads make the grade.

  • I would be fine with the video if people simply saw it as simply an impressive athletic performance and/or a nicely done ad. What’s disturbing is that so many seem to embrace it as an “inspiring” depiction of yoga, or even as a means of “appreciating the divinity in all things.” When received this way, it’s effectively turning yoga (or more accurately, an idealized image of the “yoga body’) into a yet another commodity. Trying to base our identities and sense of meaning on commodities is a problem that’s dragging down a lot of Americans – because sooner or later, it will become quite clear that it just doesn’t work.

    It’s sad to see yoga getting sucked into this dynamic when it offers so much that could be counteracting it.

    • I so agree with you, Carol. It is this kind of interpretation of yoga that has allowed it to become an expression of the very cultural neuroses it could free us from. The fact that we are squandering yoga’s potential that disappoints me most about the way we have interpreted yoga in the West.

      • Scott

        Actually, this is not a western interpretation. It is entirely consistent with non-dual tantrik philosophy. Rather than being something that intereferes with our ability to realize truth, the body is seen as a unique expression of the divine and in no way separate from the divine. Our job is then to become conscious of the divinity that is already within us and in all things, including other people, even those who are beautiful and have a kick ass asana practice. I actually find that a breath of fresh air compared to most western ideas about bodies and “sin.”

        • Vision_Quest2

          What I have to say that that is not simply a Southern (U.S.) saying, if you put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig”

          Maybe the ad is trying to tell us something about our Western selves that we already know. http://www.itsallyogababy.com/nude-yoga-advertising-breaking-the-cycle/#comment-5154

          Boycott clicking on the site or discussing it further.

          • Not Scott

            Actually read what Scott wrote and stop trying to intrepret it through your own worldview. You’re imposing your Western liberalism with a dash of Western feminism on this issue, but you can’t see that you are bringing those to the video. If you wear rose colored glasses, the world looks pinkish all the time. Unfortunately, after wearing them for a while, you will forget that what you’re seeing is colored by the glasses. Instead, you will think that what you are seeing is really the world as it is.

  • EC

    As a yogi and as an advertiser, I definetely don’t want to do anything like this. Pornification/glamourization of yoga? Not my thing.

  • Confused Yogi

    I’ve got my liberal talking points confused. Girls parading around in their underwear claiming to be sluts at Slutwalk (or at Feministing, etc.) is empowering, but a gifted, athletic woman being paid to be in a commercial doing yoga in her underwear is not? What?

    Seriously, we’re humans. We have sex. Boys and girls are sexually attracted to one another (and sometimes to objects, sometimes to animals, etc.). And we’re not confined to any particular mating season like other animals, so we are capable of mating at practically any time. Everything we do is potentially sexual in its expression or capable of being interpreted sexually by others because sexuality is an innate part of being human. It is no great feat to take a video of a cute, athletic woman moving around slowly and claim to find something sexual about it. You can take almost anything people do and find something sexual or sexy about it because it’s an intrinsic part of who we are. Freud made an entire career out of explaining how everything devolved into a penis or a vagina. You guys are all just sitting around getting the vapors about your own human nature.

    FWIW, I didn’t see it as sexual when I saw it. Of course, I can understand how someone would see it as sexy, in much the same way that all physicaly movement is potentially sexy. But I find the humorous (humor-less?) analysis that some of you go through to intellectualize your negative reaction as something inherent to the video itself. Sometimes your reaction is exactly that: YOUR reaction. Often, it says more about you than it does what you are reacting to, particularly if it’s a strong reaction.

    • Vision_Quest2

      Yup, this is commercialized yoga’s answer to “Olympic Pole Dancing” videos.

      Athletic and not sexual. Not accessible to the average practitioner.

      At least the pole dancing videos don’t try to make it all seem yuppie and upscale.

      I will Get a Life.
      And it Will not Include this kinda thing …

      • Confused Yogi

        That’s even more strange. So you object that the video makes yoga seem yuppie and upscale? So it would have been acceptable if she was wearing rags and in a street setting or an OWS setting? Or should she be in a small hut, covered in dung, like tradition would mandate. The upscale-and-yuppie objection seems vapid.

        The objection that it is not accessible to the average practitioner makes you sound more envious than anything. It’s not an instructional.

        Further, how do you know it’s not accessible to the “average practitioner”? Who is that? Maybe some of them are upscale and yuppie? And, why, if they applied themselves over an appropriate amount of time to the poses, are you saying that this would be outside their abilities?

        I may not want to devote the time for me to be able to do these kinds of things, but I’m sure they within my envelope of potential. And I’m not so sure they are outside the average practitioner’s (whatever that is) envelope of potential. People can do amazing things, if they decide to commit to them. A handstand is not that unusual of a pose.

        If it’s not your thing, great. But don’t assume that everyone else is like you, and don’t assume your limitation, assuming they are not self-imposed, are limitations for everyone else.

    • Richard K

      Thanks for your post. It saved me from articulating similar ideas (but perhaps not as eloquently as you did).

      Let me add my two cents: for several years I’ve limited my practice to level 1/2 classes, where my fellow students and I can’t do any of the advanced sequences, arm balances and inversions shown in the video. However, for a few weeks I’ve “graduated” myself to a one or two weekly level 2/3 classes (by Kathryn Budig, no less). There are many students in her class — mostly female — who have poise, grace and skills similar to those shown on the video. Although there is almost an absolute certainty that my practice will never ever reach what Kathryn, the video-lady and my classmates can do, I find them all equally inspiring to learn and enjoy. And I think that what they do is beautiful. I don’t know about the complainers, but I can consume all the beauty I can find.

      Lastly, the “commercialization” of yoga complaint is nonsense. If it weren’t for said “commercialization” yoga wouldn’t be available to the 20+M Americans who practice it to some extent or another. Commercialization continues to give us myriad choices of yoga studios, yoga teachers, yoga styles, yoga mats, yoga props, yoga conferences, yoga videos, yoga books, yoga retreats, yoga apparel, yoga websites (like this one), yoga etc. — all at prices and inconvenience that would be prohibitively higher if it weren’t for the ample widespread supply of said services and products.

      Perhaps those already “in the know” don’t feel that they need any of this, but I, for one, am grateful for the commercialization that opened a yoga studio a few blocks from my house, trained incredible yoga teachers who are willing to work for pennies so I can learn, opened yoga studios in every city I’ve visited across the world since I started practicing seven years ago, created videos and websites that stream those videos when I’m out of town in a hotel and can’t make it to a local class, etc., etc.

      • Confused Yogi

        Good point about the benefits of the decried “commercialization,” which is something often left unsaid in these conversations. Many people complaining about the commercialization of yoga would not have their current practice (and probably would not have any practice) absent the “commercialization” they are complaining about. It also makes me smile when I see stern words about this “problem” on a website and look to the side to see the advertisers.

        I have about 15 different potential yoga teachers within driving distance. I can go to home studios or public studios, large classes or private instruction, a yin class or an Ashtanga class, etc. This diversity and choice would not be possible absent people making money on yoga services and products. Like you, I’m thankful for that.

        One last issue regarding commercialization. Ancient yogis used to beg for their food from the public and, at various times, were considered a scourge because they performed parlour tricks for tourists, etc. Why do we feel the need to act like commercialization is something the West imputed into yoga recently? Hasn’t it, in one form or another, been there all along?

        • Vision_Quest2

          There is a “how” to commercialization, that has changed in some of the decades since I was 16, when I had first been introduced to yoga in 1971:


          • Confused Yogi

            Is this a response to something or just a non-sequitur masquerading as a response? The post you were responding to was about the benefits of the commercialization that you seem to have problems with. You don’t address that at all, despite the irony of you commenting on a free website with yoga advertising on the side. (Let that sink in, yogadork provides you the information you get here for free and allows you to participate in discussions for free.) Instead, you merely say the “how” has changed, without indicatng what means.

            The Yoga Journal article just amounts to complaining that Yoga Journal, for whatever reason, does not have the same author and article base as it used to. And? That happens to almost all publications. There are any number of reasons why this might be so. You and people like you getting your information for the internet is probably one of the factors involved. Change is inevitable and relentless.

            You seem to struggle that other people’s yoga isn’t your yoga. You judge that your yoga is pure and clean and rings of ancientness. Looking at other people’s, you judge that it is vulgar and dirty and smells modern. But this misses the point. Yoga is based on radical, individual transformation that occurs as you put in your effort on your mat or mediation cushion. No one else can do the work for you, and you cannot do the work for anyone else. You go to the mat or cushion, and have at it. When you do the work, sometimes reality shows up. Sometimes its ugly, sometimes its beautiful. Sometimes it looks like progress, sometimes it seem you are in retrograde. But it is whatever it is, and reality is usually not what you thought it was.

            You guys lamenting the commercialization of the pure-grade, authentic, based-on-the-classics (even though it’s not) yoga are the crotchity old men of the yoga-verse, yelling at those whipper snappers to get off your pristine yogic lawn. Yoga has always been used by its practitioners to obtain various benefits, including materialistic ones. The good old days were not as holy and pure as you imagine them to be. (This goes for ancient times as well as the now-pedestaled 196os and 1970.) This should not be surprising as we are and always have been materialistic beings, even if we strive to not to be.

            Your yoga is your practice. That’s all you have, and that’s all your are entitled to. Kevetching about other people’s practices is both taking your eye off the ball and a form of a narcissitic attempt to declare ownership over something that is not yours (namely, yoga and its alleged authenticity).

            This ain’t new; and it ain’t a big deal.

  • Toddy

    Interesting discussion. Great contribution Confused Yogi.
    I do asana practice in my undies all the time and would encourage everyone to try it. I didn’t find the ad arousing.
    Brahmacharya in this context is about keeping your own underpants on and staying on your own mat – not telling people what they should be wearing.
    It’s an ad – treat it as such.

  • I also prefer practicing handstands in my undies, although I have to get used to the idea of wearing (heavy) clothes (and shoes) if I want to practice handstands in public or anywhere. Compression garments are similar in exposing the form.

  • Jazz

    I personally watched the ad over and over again after seeing it for the first time. I found it beautiful and inspiring and was kind of surprised that people found it offensive. I do yoga at home in my underwear all the time and maybe that’s why I find it relatable to me. I honestly find it offensive that the women who are against this ad feel that they are being “objectified” and looking so far into it. It’s as if these women believe that their own gender isn’t capable of thinking for themselves.

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