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Last week’s corporate-sponsored Yoga at the Great Lawn event in NYC has been attracting quite a bit of press. Yesterday’s NYT blog article took a look at the corporate angle of the event.  “This would have never happened without corporate support,” said Sascha Lewis, a co-founder of FlavorPill, the NYC cultural guide which organized the event.

It was advertised as a free class, and as such needed corporate sponsorship. The distributed mats (which every registered person was supposed to receive) were branded with the JetBlue logo, a small gesture which in fact positions yoga mats as desirable retail space. adidas, which didn’t appear on the official literature but had a presence, since the event’s primary teacher, Elena Brower, is an adidas yoga ambassador (and is apparently making efforts to help adidas deliver their sustainability yoga wear line ~ I thought their previous ambassador accomplished that task…)

On the one hand, it’s great that this event happened and so many people, especially first-timers, were able to experience yoga in a grand setting. However, given the scope and ambition of the event, I have to question the intention behind these corporate interests in yoga. They claim they want to bring yoga to as many people as possible, but I’m not entirely convinced that’s their main interest.

The event accomplished the feat of being the largest yoga class ever recorded, even though there wasn’t much of a class. The practice was cancelled shortly after it started, due to the rain, and the disappointed practitioners lugged “their soggy JetBlue yoga mats and their SmartWater bottles and their ChicoBags filled with a few goodies” (according to the NYT blog post) out of the park.

“The yoga community is now merrily two-stepping the American way, with corporate logos,” observed the NYT blog. It then went on to ask if this was even a bad thing. Given the culture that yoga has landed in, it certainly seems inevitable. But there are ways to cross the line. At the Yoga at the Great Lawn event, Well+GoodNYC noted, “A single row of Who’s Who yoga teachers like Sadie Nardini, Sarita Lou, and Duncan Wong sat like Adidas-branded Buddhas, all in matching white tanks.” The shiny yoga elite, dressed alike in their branded uniforms… it’s kind of a creepy picture.

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?

Elena Brower indicates that “the notion that capitalism and yoga are in conflict is old-think. ‘The companies are making it possible for all these thousands of people to have this experience. This is what we need,'” she said. I’m going to step forward and say that I’m pretty old-school in being skeptical of corporate motivations for sponsoring large scale yoga events, and I’d prefer to create community from a grassroots level, and introduce people to yoga without having to woo them with free branded mats and bottled water.