It’s only Yoga!December 20, 2015 | 1112 min read
‘I sought serenity and all I got was this lousy tote bag’ is the working title for a new artwork that comments on the extent to which yoga is all about selling people stuff.
The piece by artist and Yogi Aurel Schmidt, features a strange mutation of Santa Claus and Lakshmi (Hindi goddess of wealth and prosperity). Santa, cap jauntily cocked to the side and winking is morphed onto the body of Lakshmi, arms held in mudra and seated in half-lotus, on the back of giant pink flamingo, a serpent entwined around its standing leg.
The figure, inspired by the artist’s experience of a yoga studio – where classes ended with a closing ‘OM’ chant, and a sales pitch for their ‘spiritual tote bags’ – should represent an alarm bell for all yogaprenuers.
This month, I have been offered everything from strip mall yoga groupons to $10 off on Yoga Christmas calendars – yikes – was that a promos for the infamous #yogiselfie. The offer for the Christmas yoga mats, while tempting, really made me feel compromised.
The extent to which yoga has become commercialised and westernised is also the subject of an internet television series called ‘Namaste Bitches’. The show parodies the many contradictions of the yoga business. For example, in one episode, the studio owner applauds a yoga teacher who tears up the promo-leaflet for a studio of a rival studio. Of course, what else can a yogi do but laugh at the absurd and tragic nature of a job that values abhyasa (nonattachment to outcome) in the same breath as entrepreneurism.
Let’s be real. Yoga is a $5.7 billion business. What’s more, yoga paraphernalia makes up more 70% of the income gained by most yoga studio or businesses. Let’s face it, this is the means by which many yoga teachers and studios survive. Still, there must be a better way to market essential oils and yoga pants, than the creepy ‘yoga inspired retail’, ‘eco chic’ ‘extend the yoga experience’ style of adverts that make their way into my inbox, via the green tab.
Yoga’s new consumer identity crisis is the subject a new book by Andrea Jain, The Selling of Yoga: From Counter Culture to Pop Culture. In it, Jain considers the diffusion of yoga from a ‘spiritual tradition’ to a ‘commodity’ in the pop culture marketplace. As the love child of a mid-western American and a Hindi (of the Jain Yogi tradition), Jain is well placed to take on the debate, but she stops just short of taking a side.
Strip mall yoga for all its faults, is where Jain and some twenty million other Americans practice and teach yoga. That the type of yoga practiced is postural rather than spiritual or lifestyle rather than religious is a non-starter. For those who practice yoga, issues of authenticity versus commodity do not exist.