Capitalism & The Cult of Conformity: The Making of a Yoga Journal Conference or My Yoga Journal Sucks Rant in 17 Slides

This was presented in April of 2014 at the Race & Yoga Conference, UCBerkeley.

SLIDE 1

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.001

This photo was taken at the Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco in 2013, but the truth of the situation was that the Hyatt had been in dispute with its workers for a decade already.

That the image of the Conference was able to remain uncontested for so long is really indicative of the compliance of it’s members. Judith Laster attests to this in a video regarding the “History of Yoga” as seen through the eyes of Yoga Journal, when she says,  “There may have been a few of us in the beginning who pushed the rock, but the mountain created the avalanche, so in a way it’s Everyone here, Everyone who has contributed in the Yoga Community to the life of Yoga Journal…”

Judith Lasater and Sean Corn were asked by Union reps to refrain from crossing the picket line at the Hyatt as far back as 2004…they both declined at that time. When blogger Roseanne Harvey broke the story through social media in January of 2013 and public pressure mounted, Sean Corn and Off the Mat quickly constructed a public relations campaign to spin the narrative and come out looking like shiny good Yogis…

But what was really illuminating for me, not having any delusion about Yoga Journal or it’s trademark teachers, were the conversations that took place among mostly local Yogis on a Facebook page created to help organize a demonstration in solidarity with the Hyatt workers. All I can say from that exchange, which really should have been archived, is Beware of Yoga Activists! They may or may not be, who you would like or need them to be.

SLIDE 2

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.002

Liberalism is about proximity; it’s a certain position that in my experience has become increasingly indirect.

This photograph illustrates how removed the Yoga activists were from actually confronting the conscience of Yogis attending the Conference. In this image I am standing in front of the main entrance to the Hotel. In the far right of the image you can see the “yoga activists” at a distance that insured they would not cause a disturbance.

The American spiritual persona is entirely subservient to the status quo. It’s conformity is defined in speech, behavior, dress, and ideology and anyone who doesn’t comply, will be deemed judgmental, negative, divisive, angry, etc.

The shocking naiveté of the Yoga community has it’s locus in white, liberal privilege. When that identity is coupled with paperback philosophy and spiritual narcissism, we get a bizarre and dangerous mix of political apathy. So we have Yoga as performative spectacle and that spectacle as the passive subject of the Yoga masses.

SLIDE 3

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.003

Meet the Yoga Journal Conference Presenters. Out of 88, 83 are white, 4 are South Asian and one is Southeast Asian. I wasn’t able to determine if any teachers are Latina/Chicana along matriarchal lines and there are no black presenters. When I spoke to Elana Maggal, who is the event director at Yoga Journal and specifically asked her about black teachers, she assured me that their focus was on presenting the BEST teachers.

She didn’t say it, but the implication is that the best teachers are white because the Yoga celebrities are white. The face and content of Yoga, as presented by Yoga Journal, is white and this is what we see. Whether this is their stated policy or unspoken code, we all know how racism works. One must be complicit to the structure and market of white supremacy.

Every Yoga celebrity is one who has totally embraced the market economy. The presumption of some kind of mythical postracial atmosphere where the best teachers just so happen to be white, fails to grip the severity of our continual segregation and it’s historical link to capitalism.

I would love to see a grass-roots campaign insist upon the diversification of presenters at Yoga Journal Conferences. I’d also like to see more Yoga presented in its own cultural image. Yoga has its own identity and I would ask “Yogis” to consider the identity politics of Yoga and what happens when Yoga is marginalized through the orientalist perspective of those mainly, but not limited to white male “Yogis,” who would re-package their own interpretation under the heading of History of Yoga, or Yoga Sutra, or the Bhagavad Gita.

The problem with Modern Yoga and it’s decades of Cultural Appropriation is that we’re left with people like Seane Corn, running around with her fist in the air, shouting at everyone about unity. If you haven’t see Seane Corn at Occupy Wall Street, it’s weird.

SLIDE 4

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.004

There’s a great cover gallery on the YJ website and it’s interesting to scan through, especially when you compare cover trends with the on-going corporate take-over/make-over of the magazine. In the gallery you’ll notice a shift happening in the 90’s that coincides with Yoga’s rising popularity, but also with the change in ownership.

In 1998, shortly after John Abbott, a former Investment Banker at Citi Corp. took over, there was a dramatic shift in the cover content and in it we see the rise of the predominantly female Yoga model. With this gendered commercialization came an increase in readership from 90,000 to 350,000.

Active Interest Media, who currently owns YJ, has grown that readership to over one million and hopes to continue to increase sales by installing the previous editor of Self magazine, Carine Gorell, further diluting a Yoga magazine into the “Best Health and Fitness Magazine….”

Yoga Journal has nine International editions; Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain and Thialand. Next year someone will have to do a presentation on The Globalization of American Yoga: Yoga Journal as a Transnational Corporation.

SLIDE 5Yoga Journal Sucks 2.005

This is a perfect example of how Capitalism sells you a sense of individuality through lifestyle, resulting in gross consumer compliancy. We’re being sold an image, a projection of personhood.

You needn’t have a depth practice for cultivating personhood, you can merely buy an identity, which has prompted me to ponder the Ontology of Capitalism vs the Ontology of Self. At what point can an object stand for the subject and still be regarded with any real subjectivity?

Let me explain this marketing confusion.

This is posited by none other than dharma narcissist Waylon Lewis of Elephant Journal. He says, “The (Jade) add is about Yoga, not a Yoga product.”

But if you take the Yoga mat out of the image, what does the Subject in the image have to do with Yoga? Waylon, are you saying then that the Yoga mat, the actual Yoga product here, is standing in as a representation of Yoga, therefor the Object, the Yoga mat becomes the Subject, and the Subject, say Shiva Rhea becomes an accessory to the Yoga mat?

Funny, when we look at Modern Yoga, I have to agree with Waylon’s conflating the Person with the Product, and the inability to discern between who or what is being Bought and Sold.

SLIDE 6

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.006Of course no studio or conference would be complete without the Yoga Boutique. How do we celebrate capitalism in America? We place commerce at the center of all our cultural activities. The Sangha, the meeting space, is located within the marketplace because, Yoga Journal builds community around the commodification of what is otherwise understood as, a spiritual practice.

SLIDE 7

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.007

“5 Poses Fit for A Super Model: Daily Yoga keeps Victoria Secret’s Miranda Kerr Tone and Transcendent…”

When Huffington Post was purchased by AOL in 2011 its new CEO sent out a memo about the direction of Huffington Journalism, which was to promote, “traffic potential, revenue potential, edit quality and turnaround time.” All stories, it stressed, were to be evaluated according to their “profitability consideration.” We see glaring similarities with respect to the journalism being purported by Yoga Journal.

SLIDE 8

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.008Here is a list of search results on Yoga Journal’s website:

Classism:1

Racism: 5

Sexism: 5

Transgender: 6

Diversity: 80

Upanishads: 110

Liberation: 189

Lululemon: 261

Gita: 304

Guru: 564

Rodney Yee: 584

Yoga Sutras: 736

Seane Corn 832

God: 852

Bliss: 1,320

Juice: 1, 550

Beauty: 2,180

Love: 5,540

Core: 5, 570

Health: 9,320

Lifestyle: 11,700

There are more references available for juice than there are for the Upanisads, the Gita and the Yoga Sutra combined!!! Once we accept Yoga as lifestyle, than it is entirely in the hands of capitalism and capitalism is banking on your self-ignorance because then it can sell you anything, anything at all, including your sense of well being.

SLIDE 9

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.009The Stories We Share…

SLIDE 10

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.010In 2012 the Huffington Post and Off The Mat collaborated on Oasis, a space for relaxation and renewal at the RNC and DNC featuring Yoga, massage, candles and kale, but, don’t worry, It’s not about politics.

Off The Mat’s executive director, Kerrie Kelly had this to say about the mission of Oasis.

“Everything about Oasis is what Off The Mat stands for. Our leaders are craving opportunity to step up and to be challenged and to bring Yoga out into different communities, unexpected communities, like the political community, like the activist community, like the corporate world, umm and really use Yoga as a tool, so that people can show up more sustainably and to your point (signaling to Ariana), be more effective in all of the work that they do in the world.”

The corporate world uses Yoga to increase obedience and productivity to its profit margin, it’s about sustaining financial gains. It’s not a model for Autonomous Self-Care…

SLIDE 11

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.011

Off The Mat…Where Charity poses for Solidarity. I say this because Solidarity would imply that you have an analysis of Systematic Oppression. I have never seen either in video or print, Sean Corn reveal that she has a structural understanding of subjugation…I do know that her favorite words are Unity, Peace, and Justice and that Liberals & Conservatives alike, adore her.

SLIDE 12

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.012Kerri Kelly is the executive director of OFF The Mat. She is also a Wanderlust teacher who will be giving a teacher training at Yoga Tree this summer. Yoga Tree offers us some additional advice on complying with Yoga Alliance for reasons no one has been able to fully justify since the creation of YA in 1999, which by the way, Yoga Alliance was born out of discussions organized at none other than a Yoga Journal conference in May 1997.

SLIDE 13

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.013By stark contrast, I recently had to contact Yoga Alliance UK on behalf of one of my students and I opened my email by saying.. “I need to preface this by admitting that I do not recognize Yoga Alliance as any kind of legitimate organization. I am not, nor have I ever looked to YA for any kind of accreditation. I also do not use YA guidelines for my trainings, but I can assure you that her 200 hour Yoga Teacher training course was far more sophisticated, on every level, than 95% of the Teacher Training programs currently “certified” by Yoga Alliance Internationally.” In spite of my disclaimer, the founder of Yoga Alliance UK emailed me directly to say that my student was accepted into the Yoga Alliance UK registry, Ching Ching!

SLIDE 14

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.014In a little over a decade, Tara & Tim Dale have amassed a Yoga Empire in the Bay Area with nine Yoga studios. Given the rental market prices of San Francisco/Marin and the East Bay, that should raise some serious eyebrows and provoke conversation around the relationship between the Yoga studio, Gentrification and the “Lifestyle Yogi” as a kind of Neo-Colonial Settler…this is true not only in Brooklyn and Oakland, but also in Costa Rica, Bali and Thailand.

Yoga Tree also supports Off The Mat, and are proud sponsors of the SF Yoga Journal Conference. Tara’s favorite workout brand is none other than, Lululemon…

SLIDE 15

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.015

In the last year and a half we have seen an exciting decentralization of power in the Yoga world. With the rise of accessibility politics featured on websites like Decolonizing Yoga, and teachers like Andi Macdonald, who deconstruct White Privilege among other normative breakdowns, to the brilliant responses from Women of Color regarding, ‘It Happened To Me There Are No Black People In My Yoga Class,” the Yoga Industry is finally receiving its long, over-due peer critique.

Most important among these critical voices was the formation of SAAPYA, South Asian American Perspectives On Yoga in America by Roopa Singh and my recent personal favorite, Chiraag Bhakta’s #whitepeopledoingyoga, all of which highlight Whiteness, Racism, Classism, Ablism, Transphobia, the Exotification of South Asian Identities and Dieties, et al, and yet in all of this amazing energy the Yoga Journal Conference 2014 in NYC decided to consolidate its capitalist conglomerate and hold a panel discussion to introduce the new CEO of Lululemon under the guise of some kind of discussion around the Practice of Leadership, but only in an Oligarchy would I be looking towards a corporate entity for leadership…so I guess the cats out of the bag…thanks to a new study by Princeton and Northwestern Universities.

Resistance is often met with a Reflexive-Repression. It’s a reactionary response, always conservative in nature because it seeks to maintain control of the Status Quo. This panel of so called leadership, hosted by Yoga Journal, Off The Mat and Lululemon is your Yoga Oligarchy at work.

SLIDE 16

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.016

My RSVP: No Corporate Apologists! Say No To Child Labour. Yoga Journal Sucks. In Solidarity With Garment Workers in China & Other Countries!

In conclusion, I don’t want to be coerced into capitalism by my spiritual practice. I just don’t and I will resist this and all the ways in which I am expected to behave in order to protect the hegemony of the Yoga Industry.

SLIDE 17

Yoga Journal Sucks 2.017

After months of preparing for this presentation and exposing myself to Yoga Journal, Yoga Festivals, Yoga Teachers, Yoga Studios, Teacher Training Programs, Yoga Products, Yoga Sponsors, Yoga Ambassadors, Yoga Bloggers and Yoga Instagrammers, I have returned to the sentiment that resulted from the 2013 Yoga Journal Conference and my interactions with the Yoga world at that time.

On the last day of the conference I stood for four hours in a lone, one woman protest against the Commodification of Yoga. Yogis laughed, Yogis cried. A female participant assured me I was being Un-Yogic and another woman said she had opinions about the corporatization of Yoga, but no real conflict. People kept wanting me to make it okay for them. Can’t you just say you hate Yoga Journal? Can’t you say you like Yoga but… Why do you have to use the word hate? Hate is such a strong word. You don’t really hate Yoga do you?

No,

I just hate your version of it…

 

 

Advertisements

17 thoughts on “Capitalism & The Cult of Conformity: The Making of a Yoga Journal Conference or My Yoga Journal Sucks Rant in 17 Slides

  1. i LOVE this. thanks, sri: your voice (humorous, incisive and rightly angry) is so needed.

    i hate “yoga”, too. i have given up teaching and can’t reconcile my practice experience, which is to me sacred, with the commodification necessary to market it as a product. i don’t even know what yoga is, i have only the beginnings of understanding what it could be, a woeful lack of understanding of its history. but i have thousands of hours of training! where are the elders, where is the maturity? thank you for helping me to see that my self-imposed exile from the yoga world is, for me at least, a healthy response to a nasty state of affairs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sri,

    I truly admire your clarity and the courage to stand up alone against all these big names in Yoga. Hopefully more people can see the truth of the yoga they practice which is not Yoga at all.

    Like

    1. This comment is a summary of the problem, right here. Strunk & White couldn’t have pointed it out better!

      “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

      Like

  3. Thank you for sharing and giving voice to issues that have bothered me and some of my yoga friends for years. Over the years I have watched sadly as Yoga Journal slid from containing serious and sincere content financial supported by a few adds, to essentially becoming only a vehicle for adds.

    As an older, larger woman I must arm my psyche against images of the young and the thin, and as a teacher in Washington Heights and the Bronx, where I do have brown and black students, I feel for my students who must wonder why all yoga features white-skinned beauties. I am a certified Iyengar teacher so no YA for me; we have our own most rigorous certification system. Once when I was really poor I applied to Lululemon for a job, but during the interview I raised a few questions: one about why they don’t stock sizes above size 12 and one about some large women body comments the owner had recently been quoted for with lots of internet coverage. I mean, you’d have to have had your head buried in the sand not to have heard about this. But apparently, because I mentioned it I was blacklisted from the company and could never get hired. Not that I regret that now, because from what former employees say, working for Lulu is like belonging to a cult.

    Hearing that Hyatt is in labor disputes with employees, though, that is a big one for me. The Iyengar National Association (IYNAUS) will hold this year’s convention, attended by Gita Iyengar, at the Hyatt in Boca Raton, and I had intended to attend. I no longer think I can do that, from an ethical standpoint.

    So, thank you for the wake up call and call to action! I don’t know why you haven’t signed your name to your manifesto.

    Like

  4. I agree, and I’ve studied with a few of the now commodified YJ presenters (all of them excellent teachers). I got out of the aerobics and fitness industry largely due to the increasing inability to come up with interesting class formats without partnering with some “toy” company requiring health clubs to pay big bucks for things (and find the space to store them), and now the canned format classes requiring instructors (group exercise “leaders)) to learn these formats (usually for a hefty fee) and lead pre-choreographed routines to provided music. I see the “yoga business” heading down a similar path, with corporate yoga exercise chains buying out the independents.

    I consider myself a more traditional teacher – I learn with teachers of good character and training with real lineages and knowledge, practice every day on my own (without music) and teach from my personal experience (even when using the Ashtanga template I originally learned and practice). While I teach mainly in corporate gyms and a couple of health clubs, I avoid teaching the mashups (unless subbing, and then that “yoga with weights” class gets the traditional treatment rather than the health club treatment) and try to promote mindfulness and self awareness instead of just the cool gymnastic stuff. I got a degree in Yoga Therapy and am transitioning to working privately to those who want to learn for themselves. I will still teach with integrity as my teachers have taught me. I probably will never be rich or famous, but on the positive side, I will never feel like a sell-out.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Too bad I missed out on all the fun of the cultural revolution in China, but I see now there is hope to experience something like that right here in yogamerika. You’ll need to put the rant in a little red book, though.

    Like

  6. I get your points about how YJ is creating #segregation #capitolism under the holy name of “#yoga”. Real authentic yoga is very different from this extreme promotion. ***I started practicing yoga when I was 3 years old in front of the TV #RichardHittleman Yoga 1973. That foundation and interest of yoga resulted in my practice of Dance because ballet was accessible. I studied Yoga and Pilates with a few of the YJ teachers #PatricaWalden #RodneyYee #SuzanneDeason. I studied with traditional #Ashtanga teachers #BreeGreenberg #SandraNicht #TimMiller #PattabiJoisJi. I learned Art of #Meditation with #RaymondHolmes #SantRajinderSinghJi. I learned many formats and “canned approaches” and many styles. I am a survivor of life drama and trauma. I’ve been the popular skinny Yogi teaching celebrities and professional athletes. I’ve been the obese frustrated Yogi fighting my conditions and medications. ***My yoga practice integrates all of my spiritual gifts of consciousness in the body that I live in right now. I teach authentic yoga and meditation channeled from Source to the people that show up and as I truly see them… as Extensions of Source as One . I teach to everyone #beginners #intermediate #advanced #survivors #victims #allraces #allreligions #cancer #blind #specialpopulations #artists #dancers. Each private is unique. Each class and event is different. *Buying yoga products and resources that support your yoga practice is not the problem and I will continue to endorse practical products that help. Making material things the focus over a true authentic yoga practice is the problem. ***From my journey I teach how to #transform “#Breathe #Move and #Relax” in this body, yeah the body you are in right now with yoga meditation and #eatingclean.
    -#GillianeHillstrom #YogaButterfly
    #BaltimoreMaryland
    #NottinghamMaryland
    http://yogabutterfly.massageplanet.com/index.php

    Like

  7. Lekin you should know naa, that it is like this wonly. Toh baat aisaa jai jee, it’s like this jee, ki I wanted to be the espritual waala aadmi person, so I kanseled my Playboy wala subskripshun & started ‘reading’ the hot chokris on Yoga Journal, at grocery shop magzine racks … and what racks, I the tell you jee! It rocks jee!

    After that, I never looked back, Bhoga Journal is my favrit action … sorry, what ? Not Bhoga? then Whatt is it ? Haan? I kant here you ….

    Like

  8. Thanks for this thoughtful article! Some of the intelligence is really undercut by all the typos, though: “it’s”=”it is”; “its”=”belongs to it.” A good edit and shortened a fair bit would make the argument so much more powerful.

    Like

  9. Commodification may not be the biggest problem? ” Ancient doctrine and methods are of course, entirely agnostic on the more intricate problems of the contemporary yoga teacher – simply because no one in ancient India – or any one anywhere up until perhaps we get to the early nineteenth century in Europe – could have foreseen the peculiar challenges with say, pricing a curriculum, or a weekend retreat or getting the best rate on a trade stand at this years yoga expo.

    So, this isn’t really a problem for yoga or even about yoga, it’s about our own modern hang-up’s and preoccupations with money, the economy and so on and so anticipating a workable solution that would be resilient enough to push back on the now ubiquitous free market paradigm looks like quite a forlorn hope.

    But the problem may not as intractable as it first seems, if we are prepared to accept that the qualities of yoga are not like other products it is often compared with.” –What Price Yoga? (Commodification Shrugged) . “Repeated financial crisis in the leading economies has revealed to everyone that the tenets of ‘consumer choice’ and ‘free market’ do not equate with the notion of ‘personal freedom'” –Fragile Ontologies

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s