I want to preface this writing by saying I am not trying to shame, blame, and accuse or guilt trip you, anyone or myself. If you are not interested in a commentary on modern yoga culture stop reading because you won’t like this and you will find me completely arrogant and annoying. Dismantling tangled webs of oppression is hard work. Its nasty, jaw dropping, deal-with-it kind of work. All of us are responsible as far as I am concerned. No one exists outside of the circle. We are all creating and are created by this system. And the yoga industry is a system. When one piece moves, the whole moves.
I want us all to sincerely look more closely at how and why we market and sell yoga the way we do. Yoga as I learned it has always been about innovation and revolution, often marked by breaking the mold and the status quo by learning so deeply the origin of the thing you question. What I fear deeply based on what I have seen as of late in our yoga industry is a playing by the same old rues of misogyny and patriarchy to get the job of selling done.
There is a reason they say sex sells. They say it because it is true. What this culture--our culture, which we are all creating and being created by--has decided as sexy, can selling anything. It can sell athletes foot cream. It can sell a pen. If you have the right model, looking the right way, with the right airbrushing and the right glimmer then she can sell a pen. Hey the same is true for men. Take his shirt off, oil him down and put a look on his lips and well, you have the best selling pen business ever.
From what I can tell, yoga as a modern movement does not exists outside any of the perils of modern culture. I am sure I am not the first person to remind us all that just as we get social media crazed and over stimulated, yoga as a practice follows the trend. You can post pictures and videos of your yoga practice all day long. You can show off your asana any day and any time, in any outfit. You can flavor your yoga how you like. If you want to get high you can go to any number of yoga festivals. If you want to chaching your credit card, there are ample companies from which to do so. If you want to sing along you can chant all day to accessible mantra recordings any moment of any day. And if you want to find a homegrown studio you can. If you want a grounded teacher who has been doing this a long time you can find them. Its all there in the sea of yoga.
There is always pop culture and fringe culture. And it’s no secret I sort of prefer that latter. I think the best outfit is jeans and a white tee. And I like unsexy yoga. But my hope was to make this piece a little less about preferences and more about a social commentary. But I suppose this commentator has an opinion.
Everyone wants to fit in. There is an ever growing belief that yoga is welcoming to anyone, anything, at any time. Because it as all about union right? No matter how stiff or downtrodden you are you can do yoga. No matter your color or your size. But more and more I find this belief completely untrue. There is a massive phenomenon happening within yoga where less and less of us can actually fit in. I fear so much of the way we offer our offerings ousts any newer, quieter, larger or darker practitioners.
Somewhere along the way yoga has become for skinny white women. No wonder. Skinny white women have the power to sell a pen. The yoga world is also for people who have the disposable income to learn it. Or have access to the Internet. Or who are willing to be social and do partner poses every class. The yoga world is just as catty and cliquey as the Mean Girls world from which I bet most of us actually seek refuge. I find many people calling for equal representations of colors and sizes in the yoga industry but very little follow through. I find it rare that yoga teachers seek to understand the growing socially acceptable pronoun usage. It is 2014. We do not just use the pronouns he and she any more. It’s 2014 and we know that most models used to advertize don’t even exist. You can airbrush anything. And yet, we still insist on representing ourselves to one another and prospective industry buyers on complete binary scales and as if we are all skinny white women who can be bent, twisted, contorted, bought and sold with a smile on our face.
So I am begging us to stop the sexualization and commoditization of yoga. It is not helpful, (unless you want to get rich by playing by the internalized rules of misogyny and patriarchy). I fear we have equated the ever so elegant reclamation of the art of seduction with yoga pornography.
Sensual and sexual are different from one another. Evocative and creative expression of the body is different than the sexualized sell of it. Look at The Birth of Venus. She is completely sensual. But she isn’t selling sex. To be sexual and to sexually commodify are different. There are many aspects of yoga that are sensual, pleasurable and even erotic. But when you look at the sexualized selling of yoga, it is not the selling of the erotic or sensual, it’s the capitalization and commoditization of the sensual. To sell the eroticism and sensuality of embodiment is different that using sex to sell yoga. Pleasure is imperative to our embodiment and seduction is not dirty. Seduction is the gift of the goddess.
What is unhealthy is the belief that to get what we want (i.e. our product to be purchased) we have to sell our selves according to an industry standard driven by mans lust to have, devour, fuck, own, infatuate, infantilize and glorify. The sickest part is that we have internalized this at such a level we buy in to the whole scheme.
Internalized oppression occurs when the oppressed group becomes so accustomed to it that they can no longer distinguish the oppressor from themselves. Thereby only continuing to perpetuate the oppressor’s modus operandi. This is an inconvenient truth. Part of the way to dismantle the power is to stop giving it away. At the same time investigate every nook and cranny of where these lies live inside us. How might you do such a thing one might ask? I hear there is a great practice called yoga, which may be beneficial in such endeavors.
What I find ironic is that yoga has been used as a "cure" for so many ailments. We see everywhere yoga for depression, yoga for anxiety, yoga for body image and yoga for self esteem just to name a few. In fact most yoga business folks would tell you to niche yourself. Perhaps we have become too concerned with proliferating yoga. We keep adding more and more people to the sea of yoga doers that we have stopped being concerned with what is happening to the system internally. I do not so much think that our job is to wake people up anymore so much as it is to keep each other awake. It seems we also keep growing yoga through standards that rather than establish a new possibility of the status quo or offer and alternative to the consumerist objectified madness of commoditization that we just keep using the tactics that have helped other business get traction and money. And those include not a lot of clothing and lot of sex.
Sadly, we have shit where we eat. We have burned the very thing that could help by indulging again and again standards that were drummed up for packaging. It seems we have pillaged the practice for the sake of a price tag and the paparazzi.
Studies show that the ways we use, abuse and treat women even through advertising actually makes all afore mentioned "disorders" worse. So then we are in the proverbial Catch-22. We claim yoga heals. But we sell it in it a way that metastasizes the very thing we want to cure.
I used to think yoga was a cure all. That was before I was willing to look myself honestly in the mirror and understand I was doing yoga but still an addict. That was a tough pill to swallow--a shameful closet to open and stare into. Perhaps I could go through the motions of being a “good” yoga teacher. But I was a sick one. So once I realized you could practice and teach a “healing art” and still be bulimic, I figured out pretty starkly that yoga does not radically cure.
But it can radically shift our perspective. It can radically shake us up by waking us up to the truth of who we are, what we are and how we treat ourselves.