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Yoga Journal’s Alcohol Ad Fuels Outrage, Frustration Over Paid Sponsorships

in Business of Yoga, YD News
ty-ku-sake-yoga

image via Ty Ku Instagram

What pairs well with updog? How about a nice crisp pinot grigio. Headstand? An old fashioned. And sun salutations? Tequila sunrise, of course.

These are interesting times, friends. The yoga boom is strong. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that yoga now has official drinks, and by drinks, we mean adult beverages. Or that yoga teachers are getting paid for mentioning brands on social media and shilling for a fatter paycheck and a potentially cushier lifestyle than yoga teaching alone could ever afford them.

Back to that drink thing. We make jokes, but there’s been a not-so-funny response to an ad Yoga Journal recently posted to their Facebook page featuring a not-to-subtle promotion for unwinding with sake as a “ritual” after hot yoga class. The two and a half minute video features yoga teacher and studio owner Paige Held talking about mindfulness and her thirst(?) for living a mindful lifestyle. That’s why she reaches for the sake bottle every evening after a long day of teaching hot yoga classes, because this particular sake’s slogan is that they are the official drink of aprés yoga (meaning: after yoga) and they are paying her to say that. Because this particular company is betting hard on the yoga community with the heavy yoga messaging and imagery in their cutesy marketing campaign (“It’s happy hour for your chakras”… “#MondayMantra Mindful, Glass full. Thankful”)

So lighthearted! Spirits lifted, right?

The response has not been so sweet, and people are not happy with the yogabooze peddling. “What an awful ad campaign. YJ, you are offending a lot of people in the promoting a healthy lifestyle with yoga AND booze,” one Facebook commenter said. “New YJ low … This makes me sick and I will never support your organization again. if I still cared at all, this would drive a final nail into the coffin,” said another. (None of the comments are positive, by the way, even though we hear YJ moderators were trying to squash the frustration by going through and deleting.)

The ad has also inspired an open letter from Michael Romero of Home Yoga Practice blog who had first been put off by an ad from the same company, also posted on YJ’s Facebook page, this one featuring NYC teacher and studio owner Bethany Lyons. Lyons is portrayed as “living the fabricated “yoga dream” by doing her practice, having a vogue-style photo shoot, and then boozing it up with friends,” as Romero put it. The ad was removed from the YJ Facebook page for whatever reasons and replaced with the new one featuring Paige Held, but it was just uploaded to YouTube so here you go:

Description: “Yogi Bethany Lyons shares how she takes the magic of yoga off the mat by keeping things fun and simple.”

Hm. Making good decisions “off the mat” is certainly an extension of the practice, but what does yoga have to do with drinking? And why does it seem in these ads like drinking is part of yoga?

So while most of the disapproval is being levied at Yoga Journal who, no doubt, have made some questionable choices in recent years, we have to wonder if this uproar isn’t all caused by a consortium of culprits.

First, you have an alcohol company using yoga unabashedly to sell their product, straight up (more on that in a minute), you have a magazine needing to make ends meet to publish the next issue so they’ll do just about anything (including sell their yoga souls), and you have yoga teachers — “up-and-comers”? — who’ve built a social media following and enough clout to snag some endorsements to make a quick buck…and what’s so bad about “yoga-related” product placement, anyway? Quite a profitable scheme! If you can get it. And get it right.

They, in fact, did not get it right. (Side note: remember that time Lululemon made beer?)

Everyone involved made a conscious decision to be a part of it. YJ has already been lost, so whatever, and the sake company, well, they’re just trying to capitalize on the popularity of yoga (forgivable? your call). In the marketing world, that’s genius. Low and shady and going way too far off the deep end, but a genius move. No alcohol company we know of has soaked their feet this far into the yoga pool.

images via Ty Ku instagram

images via Ty Ku instagram

A little while back they even teamed up with another yoga site and ran a campaign offering a free online class and the chance to be “the new face” of the brand by sending in yoga & sake pics (yes, that does look like a sake branded yoga mat and water bottle.) They’ve also been spotted at Wanderlust (naturally).

But the yoga teachers. Generally speaking, we have to wonder what goes through their minds when asked to essentially be a spokesperson, the “star” of a commercial, and in this case, a sake commercial. For other disciplines and occupations, this could be one of the highlights of a career, a cornerstone of success. Hey, you made it! You’re the star of an ad and getting paid because you’re doing what you love. AND you get to drink? Bonus.

Yoga stardom is not easy. You have to work hard at your social media and online presence constantly. Shilling for companies is icing on the proverbial 8-limbed cake. In truth, for many, making a living is difficult when all you do is teach yoga, despite what CNN says. But there are different levels of selling out. From flashing your “favorite” yoga pants to hawking essential oils to the grandmother of it all: being a Lululemon ambassador (which Paige Held is as well). A necessary evil, you might say. Or…the mark of success.

Tara Stiles scoring deals with W hotels and major car commercials. Sarah Ivanhoe doing a McDonald’s commercial. Some of us may be appalled by this, while it draws a wave of congrats from their fans/students. Example via Instagram: “valindayoga: Congrats Sara! Finally a way to make $ promoting/doing what we Love”

We, YD, tend to land in the appalled boat. Advertising is a powerful machine. Whether we all like it or not, it sends a message. Sometimes it’s positive, sometimes it’s negative, sometimes it’s reflective, holding up a mirror to what is actually happening in culture, and in this case, yoga culture. What we’ve seen lately is kind of embarrassing.

In a recent article yoga teacher and blogger Derek Beres asks “will we see and end to brand ambassadors?” We’ll go ahead and say no, Derek, we will not. “The more paid it feels, however, the more icky the result. Subversion is key,” he says (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) in his post addressing ambassadorship in general. We disagree. Secretly shilling is just as icky if not ickier than outright in your face I’m getting paid for this shilling, because it’s trickery and too Wizard-behind-the-curtain. If you’re going to sell out just be truthful and come right out about it.

The sake ads are a weird mix. It’s like a wink and a nod and too contrived to feel authentic, but we’re led to believe we’re just peeking in on their real lives of yoga by day, sake by night. To be mindful. To unwind. After yoga.

Yes, there are worse things in this world to be upset over, and no one’s saying you can’t have your your yoga and drink your sake, too. But they don’t need to go hand in hand. Intertwining them so seamlessly is reckless and irresponsible. It’s about integrity, and getting yoga tipsy on sponsorship dollars makes us a little too queasy to buy what they’re selling. Then again, the proof is in the profits.

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26 comments… add one
  • This is such a complex issue.
    I think that it is important to realize that being a yogi today has to be different than being a yogi 500 years ago. The practice is not even the same, although I know this is not what a lot of people think. Advertisement has inserted itself into all of our lives every minute of the day. I think at times I am numb to it, yet I know subconsciously, it is there in my mind.
    In my practice, I struggle with non-judgment. It is hard to not think there are clear lines between “right and wrong”. The best I can do with this is self monitor incoming information and monetarily support the ideas and ways of being that aline with my views.

    • Aqua

      Not complex at all, its exploitation.

    • Aqua

      Not complex at all, its vulgar tacky exploitation.

    • Jeanie

      Respectfully though, this is not in comparison to traditional 500-years ago yoga and modern yoga. This is about Western yoga (and sometimes more appropriately yoga-like trends in fitness) versus authentic Eastern yoga (which is still practiced by millions). On a side note, the whole idea of “traditional” yoga somehow not allowing for balance in modern happy-go-lucky-life whilst the “cool” drinking culture yoga offers balance is misinformation and wrong. Yoga done right is the epitome of establishing and maintain balance in ones life; that is the whole point.

  • Frank

    Hardly a genius or original move on Yoga Journal and Ty Ku Sake’s part. Bud Light used Nick Lachey to sling its wares about a year ago and I can recall Budweiser ads 10 years ago with a woman in upward facing dog. I see Yoga Journal and Ty Ku having the mentality more like that of a madame or pimp who sights vulnerability in their next potential “worker.” If there is any intelligence in this marketing strategy, it comes from that dark place.

  • roslyn

    official drink of apres yoga!! thanks laughable. hope they trademarked it!!

  • Tara

    I get it- but I don’t think it’s worth shaming individuals or YJ. What happened to non-judgment? Letting people practice freedom in their lifestyle. The product placement was perhaps a little heavy, and I truly hope these are “products” they support- and not just for a check or shot at fame.

    I struggled A LOT as a young new yoga teacher thinking I had to change everything I loved about life- to “withdrawal” from my sense and be “pure”. So much in fact that it hindered my quality of life for several years and became an obsession.

    We need to let go of caring. Yoga IS a lifestyle and if a yogi teaches, then boozes after, it’s no ones place to judge. That’s their path they’ve chosen.

    I’ve taught yoga at a local brewery in Alaska, and as long as one isn’t being reckless and unsafe- practicing or teaching while drinking- let them enjoy! If it connects to people that otherwise wouldn’t connect to yoga- then it’s a blessing. We all could benefit from being less of a critic, and more of a participant.

    Shanti

    • Frank

      I’m not a big fan of the “attracting people who wouldn’t otherwise come to yoga” argument. For one, it shouldn’t take booze or drugs to have to attract anyone to anything. The yoga/brewery and yoga/wine crowds fail to realize that there is a whole group of people who are in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse. It is a viciously seductive way to get people to relapse or lure people into drinking under the guise of healthy activity. Secondly, the only shame is the people who signed up to use yoga to promote booze. They have shamed themselves. People are just pointing out the obvious non-sequitur of using something sacred to promote something that causes a lot of mental and physical problems for people. Thirdly, where in the yoga sutras and Bhagavad Gita does it say not to judge people? If anything, those texts talk heavily on viveka, or discernment from this kind of shit and how it is miles away from the true self who doesn’t need booze. Sorry if this cuts into your business plans.

    • discerning debbie downer

      I don’t see this as shaming. I see it as constructive critique of yoga culture gone mad. You ask, “What ever happened to non-judgment?”… I ask, “What ever happened to discernment?”. I am not sure which bugs me most – the exploitation of yoga’s recent popularity to sell products or using alcohol to sell yoga? Don’t get me wrong…I love a good beer – in fact I am drinking a lovely IPA as I type. But I don’t shit where I eat.

      I have a background working with populations who suffer from mental illness, trauma, abuse – physical, psychological, and sexual, and substance abuse… and you may as well tie them all up neatly into a little bow because one leads to another and vice-versa. In my professional opinion, the message is confusing; to sell yoga with alcohol and alcohol with yoga when at its core, yoga is a tool for building self-awareness, healing, and is so often used as a mindfulness practice for recovery. Alcohol can be enjoyable to some, death to others, and certainly has no place in the same domain or category as yoga.

    • Aqua

      Oh Please thats such a cop out answer. And perfectly illustrative of unreflecting New Age ‘thinking’.
      Good judgement is a form of discernment.
      Those that dont practise it are gullible, open to exploitation and exploiting, whether intentionally or not.

      America has stolen the Indian tradition of 1000s of years and essentially turned it into one huge marketing exercise, spirit lite, merchandise heavy.
      More about toned abs than genuine self insight.

      America has been doing this to religion for generations, Snake Oil salesmen of all kinds are popular for a reason.

      Yoga journal used to have integrity in its first incarnation, but not for many decades now.

  • My discernment is to not support, with my dollar, that which I believe is not part of my path. The Sutras and the Gita may not directly say not to judge. Non-judgement are parts of some paths, just as recovery is part of the path of still others.

  • Big deal. There are far worse things to worry about.

  • k4k

    Drinking or selling sake is not evil/bad. Teaching yoga is certainly not bad. As long as they don’t bring the sake selling into the yoga studio and they are good yoga teachers, what is the harm? Sure, it’s a bit silly, but I don’t think it damages yoga since the ad is for sake. That’s my opinion anyway since I don’t believe drinking responsibly and in moderation is a bad thing.

  • Dwayne

    I don’t read YJ magazine, but regularly visit the website (there are occasional good articles), and the sake thing has been around for months. I (non-drinker) find it cringe-inducing, but it’s clearly a pitch and thus easy to ignore. Slightly more bothersome are the disguised pitches, e.g. an article by one of the heavy rotation featured instructors (initials RJ) about “keeping a vegan diet” which upon inspection proved to be hype for a supplement brand.
    I’m very far from Republican, but my attitude is that “the market will take care of it”. If Ty-Ku makes $ selling sake this way, it’ll continue; otherwise probably not. It’s pretty easy to ignore obvious hype. And let’s face it, practically everything we see via “mainstream” outlets like YJ is hype – hundreds (if not thousands) of ambitious yoga instructors would give their eye teeth for YJ exposure in order to sell their retreats, books, videos, online courses, clothing, etc. etc.

  • JS

    People can vote with feet and wallets. I vowed never to return to a certain class after the teacher gave us a run down of how amazing her lulu lemon clothes were during the class. As for this – What cringe-inducing ad and a glass of 30-50% sake after a hot yoga class does not sound like a good idea!

  • I am completely horrified by this ad. Though sadly not surprised that Yoga Journal ran it. As another poster mentioned, many students come to yoga for sobriety support. My studio partners with an alcohol and substance abuse treatment center to provide weekly yoga to the patients. If the center’s director were to see an ad like that, I’m sure that would change the perception of yoga as a support for healing. I have no personal problem with alcohol usage in moderation… I personally enjoy a glass of wine every now and again. But I DON’T talk about it or make reference to drinking in my classes. And I’m so tired of the silly argument that we shouldn’t judge… yoga is all about learning discernment. And śauca isn’t only about taking showers…

  • Kelsey

    Did anyone catch the Tito’s ad in the most recent YJ magazine? Focusing on self improvement through a T chart…Definitely ruffled my feathers. Not everything that is Gluten Free is significant of healthy living.

  • Exciting information. You can fix the second video. I can’t watch. But you write more. So I understand your idea. Thank for share!

  • I trust you. you are a person who have heart dedicated to Yoga. I know the social development can make changes in official yoga in some aspects. I really appreciated your worriness.

  • Thank for your post. Yoga does more than burn calories and tone muscles. It’s a total mind-body workout that combines strengthening and stretching poses with deep breathing and meditation or relaxation. i love yoga

  • Amy

    Thanks for bringing this to light! With native advertising on the rise, it is becoming more important to examine the motivation of companies. We see over and over that the lines between advertising and real life are blurred with the rise of influencers, brand ambassadors and affiliates. We just have to be diligent in listening to ourselves- is what this person is selling aligning with what I actually want / need?

  • I don’t know much about Yoga to say anything now. But I can understand how you feel. You really love Yoga and want to keep it pure. Support you. Thanks for sharing your thought.

  • techicool

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  • Aqua

    Yoga Journal has completely sold out!
    20 years ago or so it had some integrity, but now its just cynical and exploitative and dangerous.
    Some of the routines are ridiculous without any contradictions.
    They should be aufait with all the yoga injuries hitting the news.
    It now just caters to the American obsession with ‘lifestyle’ marketing and greed.

    Not Yoga, in reality or spirit.

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