11 May 2007

reader warning: yoga rant!

My birthday yesterday got me thinking about aging in particular, but in general the use of youthful yoga images in the Western media to sell a product...yes, let's admit it, yoga in the West is mass-marketed and a brand name in some cases.

Feminists say that the older woman, that is, a woman over 40, is invisible in modern society. I've read more than a few articles about how older Hollywood actresses believe that there are few good roles for the aging actress in a culture obsessed with youth and Botox.

I will throw the question out there: is Western yoga culture guilty of the same offense? Think about the covers of your favorite yoga magazines and the pictures that accompany the stories inside. Think about the ads for yoga products. How many wrinkles can you count? Indeed, how many rounder bodies do you see, the more zaftig, Rubenesque forms?

Vanity Fair has a slide show on famous yogis and yoginis (thanks, Marilyn!) and while the photos are fabulous and I was glad to see master teachers like Desikachar, Jois, and Iyengar, I noticed that there weren't many older women. Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa was featured, and I'm assuming that Trudie Styler is over 40 since Sting is in his mid-50s, but where are all the older women? Surely Vanity Fair could have found more than two...or am I just being overly-sensitive? And if I am being hyper-sensitive about it, so what?

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm getting tired of seeing the young, skinny, cellulite-free bodies in Yoga Journal and other yoga magazines. I want to see people in my age group and older featured in the articles, and not just in articles about "senior yoga" in chairs or yoga in nursing homes! And I certainly don't want to see a 20-something yogini demonstrating the asanas in an article about yoga for menopause! I want to see older yogis and yoginis as cover models, wrinkles, saggy breasts, and softer bellies included. But I guess we're not the right demographic age group -- after all, it's all about who buys what.

I plan on practicing and teaching yoga the rest of my life and the current collection of popular yoga magazines just don't appeal to me anymore. I used to read Yoga Journal cover to cover and save each and every issue -- now I barely skim it and it gets recycled very quickly. At least the YJ interview in the latest issue (ahem...on the last page) features Patricia Walden, an "old" yogini. My favorite yoga magazine is ascent, founded by Swami Sivananda Radha -- you can count lots of wrinkles in that magazine!

You may have seen the movie Calendar Girls where "old" Helen Mirren and her "old" friends take off their clothes for a fund-raising calendar. If someone somewhere would do a calendar like that featuring us older yoga bodies, honey, sign me up! Sing the Body Electric!

I Sing the Body Electric -- Walt Whitman, 1900

"...This is the female form;
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot;
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction!
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor—all falls aside but myself and it...

Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands, all diffused—mine too diffused;
Ebb stung by the flow, and flow stung by the ebb—love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching;
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice...

Be not ashamed, women—your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest;
You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul..."


Marilyn P. Sushi said...

First of all, you're welcome!

Second, in my blog I just rave over and over about my favorite teacher, Lip, and she is in her 50's but she is beyond awesome and such an inspiration to me and my fellow classmates. She's got a lot of spunk and her approach is so different from my other, younger instructors who seem to stick to the same format.

I would love to see more diversity in yoga magazines too, not just with age but with shapes and ethnicities too.

Linda-Sama said...

"ethnicities"....thank you!

yes, that's another one of my yoga rants...why are yoga conferences so overwhelmingly WHITE? there...I said it...that's another question I want to see discussed....

I grew up in Chicago with LOTS of diversity, and I do karma yoga at a domestic violence shelter to the Hispanic women's support group, all ages, all shapes and sizes....

hmmm...."yoga for the people"?

talk amongst yourselves....:)

Sirensongs said...

Shubha Jayanthi and Happy Birthday, lady!

Auvery Eva said...

Yoga magazines are indeed full of youthful non flabby bodies - and all that yoga merchandising: expensive clothes, mats, shoes???? Thanks for bringing the subject up, lets face it though our culture worships a certain beauty, older woman are only included if they remain slim and unwrinkled.

My yoga teacher (iyenga) brought a video to class once. There in front of my eyes was an older, Indian woman with flesh, a belly even, and she was the teacher! Fantastic. I am over 40 and not small and wear comfortable clothes to my yoga class

Linda-Sama said...

Auvery, honey, you're preaching to the choir!

that is what I LOVE about dance videos in India! The women actually have bellies! Fuller thighs! Some of them even have "back fat"!

Real women have curves!

Why are we not questioning our cultural myths?!?

Linda-Sama said...


I would love to hear what some of the younger yoginis -- and by "younger" I mean under 40 -- have to say...because you all will be "women of a certain age" one day, like me!

Nadine Fawell said...

So I am 31, and I don't feel represented by the yoga media - I pretty much don't even read the mags any more, because I am tired of feeling pressured to look a certain way. How did we end up here? I wear a South African size 32 (UK 8) most of the time, sometimes a size up on the hips, and you know, I still have cellulite, and not-very-toned arms. Why should I feel ugly? Why should I fell that I need to artificially change me? Yes, this is a fave rant of mine too!

Regina said...

I am coming to this late, but I feel the same way! I will be 47 this year and when I see those beautiful pictures of "older" yoginis, it just makes me smile from ear to ear! When I see the typical pictures in my magazines, it just makes me feel, well, old...
It seems to me though that there have been cries out for more diversity in yoga land, but those cries seem to go unheeded for the most part!
Maybe we should start our own magazine!

Anonymous said...

You have to realize that yoga magazines cater to the same demographic as a genral women's interest magazine. You believe you feel ignored because you you age? What about then yogi men who are almost completely ignored by the publications? Have you ever seen a man on the cover of a major yoga publication?

I think that you should let go of this negative energy and posting about these yoga rants. Take a path of indifference and move on.

Chewing gum in yoga class would annoy me too, and I used to harbor resentment to the yoga publications, but it is not something you should waste your energy on. If it is really driving you crazy then the best thing you could do is apply to begin workin on their editorial staff.

Jessie Luttman, RYT,500 Yoga Alliance

Linda-Sama said...

as I said, "And if I am being hyper-sensitive about it, so what?"

if "letting go of negative energy" means not questioning the status quo, no thanks. I'd rather be dead than be indifferent about things.

and if you read all the comments, this even bugs a 31 YEAR OLD WOMAN, so it's not just this old broad, dear.

at my age, I and my sisters of a certain age have earned the right to rant. believe me, you'll get there, too.....

tuti said...

thank you Linda!

Chi said...

Younger audience says:
You could mobilize people to write to YogaJournal with an inquiry to include a wider spectrum of colours and ages (starting with yourself as an example, of course) and/or create your own publication that is more inclusive (it should be successful if more people think like you)
But really, isn't yoga about the inner, not the outer? Who cares about some magazine?