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28 June 2010

yoga whores* for the corporate dollar

Oh my.

"Yoga" and "whore" in the same sentence. That's a jolt to the manomayi kosha.

Sometimes strong language is needed to get people to sit up and take notice. What can I say? When I was a young hippie chick I looked up to strong-talking women like Angela Davis and Germaine Greer.

No, I'm not dissing any working girls. In fact, I have a lot more respect for a woman who has to make her living on the street than I do for some of the *corporate* yoga antics out there right now. I'm using this definition of "whore": A *person* considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.

To clarify, be advised (and that language comes from my working for lawyers for 20 years) that I am writing about CORPORATIONS, NOT about any specific yoga person who is a spokesperson/model for a yoga mat company, yoga clothes, etc. I would not mind being in an ad for the eco-mat that I use because I love the brand (and no, it is not Manduka.) For your ** reference, see the U.S. Supreme Court's "corporate personhood" debate.

My phrasing is comparable to the way one of my city representatives used it when she said that my town was whoring itself for the local sales tax revenue if the powers that be allowed Walmart (one of the 10 worst companies on the planet according to betterworldshopper.org) to build next to a marsh/bird sanctuary. Long story short: they didn't. A citizens' group that I started stopped them from doing that.

A grass roots group. I made my own flyers and walked door to door. No corporate sponsors. Power to the people.

Roseanne is on fire with her post on the rained out "yoga gathering" in New York City. She says:

"I wonder, do we have to do this dance? We all know it’s a dance. You really can’t convince me that, other then sponsoring an event with a guaranteed captive audience of 10,000, do these companies embody yogic values? JetBlue would like to co-opt the openness and transparency associated with yoga by guaranteeing “no blackout dates, no seat restrictions” on its frequent-flier program. It’s nice of adidas to sponsor a high-profile yoga teacher, offer free yoga classes around the world and develop a line of sustainable yoga wear ~ but its other business practices include endorsing the slaughter of kangaroos (an endangered species) in Australia and sweatshops in Asia. Can we separate these actions from its endorsement of yoga?"

Max Strom posted this response on his Facebook page about it:

"...exciting that 9000 people gathered in Central Park to practice yoga and I have been waiting for an event like this for some time. But it my opinion the event was sadly squandered. All the media was there, CNN, the NY Times, everybody – the cameras were pointing. For the first time in history the world put the ...microphone at the mouth of the larger yoga community in America. But what was the message given? We are celebrating the Solstice. We want more people to practice yoga. That’s it? We have nothing more to say to the world but that in 2010? With the oil gusher reminding us all that solar power is desperately needed, 9000 people doing salutations to the sun could have brought the world an unforgettable visual and call to invest in a nonpolluting technology. And with hurricane season kicking up in the Gulf, we could have bought attention back to the people of Haiti. Let us come together again in mass. Soon. But next time let’s show what we stand for. And yes we can do it without corporate sponsors. Martin Luther King did."

Instead, everyone walked away with swag bags.

I loved Max's last two sentences, especially since I watched Martin Luther King march through my Chicago neighborhood in the late '60s. I also saw a crazy throw a brick at Dr. King's head and saw him stumble and then march on. I became politicized, radically, at an early age.

YogaDork asks whether we want to smell like Eat Pray Love....

"“Pray” journeys to India’s sultry incense and spice history with jasmine, pink pepper, patchouli, amber, juniper berry, cardamom, and musk for a woodsy scent laced in exoticism."

...and alerting the advertisers' new dream, the yoga moms, that they should get ready to take out their wallets for the Home Shopping Network:

"Well, thank goodness for the candle set. What if you want smell like exotic praying patchouli, but want the room to emit love and mangoes??"

Funny.

I kinda remember India smelling a bit differently....


Yeah, something stinks. And it's not the new Eat Pray Love perfume.

Of course corporate sponsorship is the way of the modern world. Sports teams started it a long time ago. People even get corporate names tattooed on their foreheads (hey, I like tats but you couldn't pay me enough) and name their kid after their favorite soda or car.

Just because it's the way it is nowadays, does that make it "good"? Really?

Have we really become that numb that no one asks the question anymore, "when is enough, enough?"

14 comments:

Louise said...

Hi Linda,
To be honest I'm getting fed up with all this criticism. Yes, businesses are jumping on the yoga bandwagon to make a buck, and not necessarily because they adhere to yogic philosophy. Yes, some people practice yoga only because they want a toned and slim body. Well, so what? Why do we have to judge them and distinguish "true" yoga from "fake" yoga?
I think it's great if anyone takes any interest in yoga, for whatever reason. Yoga is magic, and I fully trust that it will transform us, people and businesses alike, regardless of what our initial intentions are. Furthermore, people are not stupid. We are all, more or less consciously, able to perceive the energy that businesses and people give off. We know who is only interested in making money and who is truly committed to yogic principles. I repeat: people are not stupid!
Purnamadah... Purnimadam... Purnat Purnamudachyate...

Linda-Sama said...

first, "some people practice yoga only because they want a toned and slim body. Well, so what? Why do we have to judge them and distinguish "true" yoga from "fake" yoga?" -- that topic is not being discussed in my post or the posts that I reference.

but judging from the comments on the blog and the FB page that I referenced, more than a few commenters agree with the posters.

IMHO, yoga peeps are getting weary of the corporatization of yoga in America. I think it started a long time ago with the way Yoga Journal changed from a yoga mag to a fitness mag. personally I think there is a backlash brewing.

I think there will be more and more voices speaking out about it because for too long the people who spoke out were put down as "haters", "afraid of change", "old school", whatever.

the times they are a-changin'

and thanks for reading LYJ

roseanne said...

thanks for the link loving, my friend!

i think critical thinking is healthy for the yoga community. it's important to step back and question things. in the past week, i've read a lot of media about the yoga at the great lawn event, and none of it was the least bit critical. it's my pleasure to add a questioning, rather than self-congratulatory, edge.

i'm happy to be your ally in this!

crisi-tunity said...

I agree with Louise. I couldn't care less about Lululemon's exploitation of the yoga market; they make terrific pants. I have no problem with Yoga Journal's glossiness; I still learn something when I read it, even if I can't quite believe the prices in their monthly shopping feature. And I don't think that Elizabeth Gilbert's intent in writing her book was to embody yoga values; I think she wanted to write a book about her experiences. If she gets a movie deal and a fragrance, good on her; it's no skin off our noses, and it doesn't make any difference to our practices. Anyone with any sense who is lured into yoga by corporate dazzle will stick around for the good stuff, and learn about the philosophy in due course.

We're in America in 2010. It is what it is. Live and let live.

Of course, you could always accuse me of being one of the sheep who lie down and let the slaughter of capitalism happen, instead of standing up and shouting about it when something true is sacrificed to something cheap. That may be a fair accusation. But it just doesn't matter enough to me to worry about who's in the yoga industry for dollars and who's not. I teach, I practice, and I let it go; I don't stand for anything when it comes to yoga, except enjoying myself and helping others to enjoy themselves.

Carol Horton said...

I totally agree with Roseanne that critical thinking is healthy for the yoga community - and believe that we need a good deal more of it. So overall I'm THRILLED to see posts like this one - and Max Strom's and Yoga Dork's - critiquing the ever-greater commercialization and corporate co-option of yoga.
BUT. It also concerns me that the yogis involved in the Great Lawn event would read the title and the opening paragraphs of this post and feel hurt, angry, and insulted. I don't believe that the teachers who led this event felt they were selling out - I think that they were making a good faith effort to bring yoga to a larger audience.
Which is a goal that pretty much everyone in the yoga community shares. And in this country, that's inevitably going to involve the market and all of the crassness and compromises that come with it. The difficulty is that in most cases (particularly those involving accomplished practitioners) it's just not possible to draw a bright line between what's legitimate popularization and what's simply caving in to the dominant culture.
The way that I square the circle is this: events like the Great Lawn create more space to criticize yoga as it currently exists in this country and work to create new alternatives. With so much hype and (corporate) money, there's no danger that more critical, less culturally comfortable approaches will turn newbies off of yoga completely. Events like the Great Lawn give them a very comfortable way to connect with the practice.
Those of us who feel called to create a different approach can work on that. We can explain why a yoga that uncritically buys into mainstream America is falling short of what we believe it's about.
I just think that we need to do that in a way that acknowledges the good faith of other yogis who believe that their work is in popularizing the practice, and that the end justifies the means. It's not a position that attracts me, but I can certainly appreciate the practicality of it.

Brenda P. said...

Does anyone really believe that sponsoring a yoga event will change the way a business does, well, business? For better or worse, it's just a marketing scheme...

Rand(Om) Bites said...

I don't think we've seen too much of corporatisation of yoga in Australia yet and the studio I go to is more about the community at a grass roots level, word of mouth. I still really appreciate reading all the arguments for and against corporatisation though because no doubt it will happen here on a much larger scale. For example Lululemon, they have already started to make a more pronounced presence here but then I have to admit that I wear and really like their clothing and not just because they are Lululemon.

I personally think that at the end of the day, there will always be people that jump on the corporate bandwagon but then there will also be a lot of us that won't. We will continue to run studios and be part of yoga communities which stay at a grassroots level making it about the yoga and not profit margins.

Thanks again, as always, for your thought provoking posts.

Linda-Sama said...

@crisitunity: "and learn about the philosophy in due course."

actually I don't believe this is true. not everyone is interested in that. and I've heard all the stuff about "so what if someone gets into yoga to lose weight" or whatever, and that's fine. I've taught college women who want to look like Jennifer Aniston and who took my class because they thought it would be an easy A (not.) but more times than not, and as a former fitness instructor, I know that many people move on to the next best thing. and that's fine. believe it or not.

"you could always accuse me of being one of the sheep who lie down and let the slaughter of capitalism happen"

again, believe it or not, the answer is no, I would not accuse you of that because frankly, I don't care what you do because it's your life. I am just raising a bigger question. so go ahead and wear your lulus!

@Carol:
"I think that they were making a good faith effort to bring yoga to a larger audience."

and I agree with you. BUT I think there is a bigger question in the corporatization of yoga as Roseanne rightly points out the disconnect with addidas and their corporate policy on using kangaroo leather. I also read a story recently about the public image of American Apparel and how they treat their employees.

I think what Roseanne and I are writing about is a disconnect, for lack of a better word, in this whole corporate yoga thing.

@Brenda -- no.

Linda-Sama said...

for Carol re "selling out":

when any corporate spokesperson decides to represent the company, do they have a responsibility to find out more about the company's ethics (addidas + kangaroo leather) before they set themselves up as a representative of that company? ESPECIALLY in a holistic type business like yoga?

just askin'

Carol Horton said...

Linda: I agree. I think that it's right to draw the line at kangaroo slaughter, abusive labor practices, etc. too. Thanks to you & Rosanne for pointing out these hard issues and refusing to stay in gauzy feel-good-but-don't-think land.

YogaforCynics said...

Yoga whores?! Really?! Man, I'm obviously going to the wrong classes...

Ahem

Seriously, the Max Strom quote reminds me of a mass yoga event I went to--which, actually, raised a lot of money for breast cancer survivors and was generally a very positive experience. The one thing that really turned me off, though, was the "schwag." Everybody who raised a certain amount of money got a t-shirt, so, since I can always use t-shirts, I went up to get mine, only to find out that there was also a schwag bag--full of all kinds of free crap from the event's corporate sponsors (almost all of it targeted to the young-middle-class-female Yoga Journal demographic, meaning I suddenly found myself, for the first time in my life, the owner of various perfumes, a bit of lingerie, some really tacky--even to my eyes--jewelry, and god knows what else, since I gave it back before doing a full inventory). While I don't think corporate sponsorship is necessarily always completely a bad thing (art museums and orchestras would shut down without it...and somehow I don't see a political climate that's gonna allow massive increases in spending for the arts on the horizon any time soon), surely we don't need to produce truckloads of junk in the name of yoga and breast cancer awareness...

Linda-Sama said...

@Dr. Jay....agree with you absolutely that not all corporate sponsorship is bad...of course museums, etc. need it nowadays...but that schwag bag you describe? blech. do we really need more crap? can we change the paradigm?

like I my last question in my post...when is enough, enough?

I don't see wearing lululemon pants as the "problem"....the problem ain't pants...it's bigger.

svasti said...

Critical thinking, and not just accepting everything as it is, is important if we are to see through our own egos and our own illusions.

And it seems to me that if people are taking offence at your post or Roseanne's, they're missing the point.

I don't believe you are criticising anyone personally in your post, more it's that you're saying "Wake up, see things as they are". Companies want to buy into something as wonderful as yoga because it IS wonderful, and they would like some of that wonderful-ness to rub off on their brand.

That's basic brand marketing/sponsorship in a nutshell. By associating themselves with yoga, they are saying "See, we don't just care about money and we are spiritual, believe in work-life balance and care about the bigger picture".

But if that doesn't ring true in the way the company conducts themselves in all aspects of their business, then it is fair enough to feel cynicism and be critical of the entire transaction.

This is even moreso the case with yoga, which is meant to be about being authentic with *ourselves* first and foremost, and then others by extension. Yoga is meant to come from the heart and teach us to see reality as it really is.

If the reality of Adidas includes their slaughter of kangaroos, then it's up to the individual to decide if that works for them. However, if that fact is obscured while their sponsorship of yoga says other things about them, then it is a lie.

For yoga in America (Miss Om is right - we don't have the same level of marketing around yoga in Australia), it's an ethical question - do we take the $$ on offer to further the cause of yoga, no matter where it comes from?

I kinda think it does...

Linda-Sama said...

thank you, my friend.

you get it. ;)