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Three flavours of yoga teachers – which would you choose?

The New York Times has once again fixed its gaze on yoga culture, this time with a short profile of Forrest Yoga, the method created by Ana Forrest. While I was reading the article, I couldn’t help but think back to a couple of other recent yoga teacher/style articles in the NYT: last summer’s seminal John Friend feature and the Tara Stiles profile from earlier this year.

The articles vary in depth, focus and length, but after a close reading of all three, I noticed some common themes. Here’s a handy dandy compare and contrast guide to the NYT’s approach to three very different, yet similar, teachers. All text is directly quoted from the NYT articles and everything in italics is my commentary.

Type of yoga teacher
Ana Forrest (AF): itinerant, fierce
John Friend (JF): rock star yogi
Tara Stiles (TS): former model with skyscraper limbs and a goofball sensibility

Name and origin of style
AF: Forrest Yoga – her last name, apparently
JF: Anusara – Sanskrit for “flowing with grace”
TS: Strala – a word she said she and her husband made up, but it turns out to be Swedish for “radiates light”

Description of style
AF: intense
JF: touchy-feely
TS: nondenominational Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to part two of my conversation with Frank Jude Boccio – the dharma teacher who is so punk rock, he doesn’t even need to call himself punk rock! In the second half of our chat, Frank Jude graciously answered my pesky questions about some of my pet interests, including personal branding and making a living. This is stuff I’m trying to figure out for myself, so I find it fascinating and refreshing that Frank Jude is able to get his work out to the world without feeling the need to trademark his ideas or even have a functional website.

What does it mean to be independent and yet connected? How does personal branding contradict the “radical identity politics” of buddhadharma? How does trademarking and branding foster a “cult of personality” among some yoga and dharma teachers? Do business models and corporate structures takes away the intimacy of practice? And what about the environmental impact of the travel schedules of high profile teachers?

All this and more, in the second half of this feature conversation! And if you haven’t already, be sure to read part one of the conversation with Frank Jude Boccio.

The great commercialization conversation is moving out of the yoga blogosphere and into… the yoga studio. This weekend marks the grand opening celebration of Down Under Yoga in Newtonville, Massachusetts and the festivities include sample classes, nibbles and a summit entitled “Balancing Acts: Poses, Products, and the Future of Yoga in America.’’

Studio founder Justine Wiltshire Cohen has invited leading Boston-area teachers, including Natash Rizopoulos and Patricia Walden, to the summit, which will be focused on the commercialization of yoga. “Everyone is afraid to talk about the white elephant in the yoga room,” Justine said in an article in The Boston Globe (she obviously doesn’t hang out in the yoga blogosphere, where nobody is afraid of any white, pink or blue elephant).

The article notes that the Down Under “website makes it clear where [Justine] stands on the question. ‘We believe that yoga studios should act in ways that are consistent with the teachings of yoga,’ it says. ‘We will never sell plastic water bottles that go into landfills [because ahimsa means ‘do no harm’]. We will never sell $150 yoga pants [because aparigraha means ‘identifying greed’]. We will never accept offers from companies to promote their gear in exchange for free publicity or products (because satya means “truthfulness’’). We will never brand, trademark, or pretend we’ve made up a new style of yoga.'”

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this conversation. I wish I could be there, to hear these respected and knowledgable teachers discuss this in an open forum. It’s a rare opportunity to hear these issues discussed by experienced teachers, without being filtered by the media (or bloggers).

And speaking of the media, The Boston Globe article contains some interesting tidbits, including a quote from Yoga Journal editor-in-chief in regards to Judith Hanson Lasater’s infamous letter: “We also need to run a commercial venture… We are Americans and one thing Americans do is shop and like nice things. And one of the ways we identify ourselves is having a certain look. The yoga industry does support our desire to create self-identity through what we wear or what we purchase.’’

As well, the journalist takes a low blow at Anusara Yoga, singling it out as a “particularly irksome” brand of yoga and referencing the recent NYT profile of John Friend. It’s unclear if this was a paraphrasing of a comment by the Down Under Yoga founder, or if it was the only example of branded yoga that the journalist could find.

What direction will the future of yoga take? And are we willing to follow the trajectory, or take the next exit?

A yoga class in a Washington DC lulu store (via washingtontimes.com)

According to a Wall Street Journal article, yoga-inspired clothing manufacturer lululemon is employing unconventional and inexpensive marketing strategies. While other fitness-wear lines (especially multinational sports shoe brands) pay crazy money for big name celebrities to push their lines, lululemon appoints community ambassadors and doesn’t pay for them, instead giving them $1000 worth of product and inviting them to teach for free in their stores. This is, apparently, a very radical thing to do in the fitness apparel industry.

Analysts say they are particularly impressed that Lululemon eschews the traditional marketing strategy of hiring high-priced sports celebrities to model its outfits. Lululemon spends almost nothing on advertising beyond occasional print ads in yoga and running magazines.

Instead, it recruits the type of athlete who tends to influence active women: fitness instructors who lead yoga, spinning, Pilates and running classes. The cost of this stealth strategy—Lululemon declines to call it marketing campaign—is minimal.

Lululemon provides apparel stipends of varying amounts to local fitness stars who model the apparel not only in their regular classes but also in sessions held inside Lululemon stores. [via wsj.com]

It seems to be working and lululemon is cashing in on the $15 billion market for women’s fitness clothing. The article gave us some stats, which I don’t understand, as proof: “Lululemon posted second-quarter earnings of 30 cents per share, far above the 24-cents-a-share mean estimate of analysts and more than double the 13 cents a share posted in last year’s quarter. The earnings gain came on a 56% rise in revenue, and a 31% boost in sales at stores open more than a year.”

News to me: lululemon only runs “occasional” print ads in a handful of yoga and running magazines. Basically, they have eschewed traditional advertising strategies in favour of getting into the local community and marketing through word of mouth and local influencers.

What I find interesting about this is that while lululemon is basically operating on a grassroots model, the rest of the yoga industry is operating on the big sports brands model (think: Seane Corn for Lucy, a number of teachers for Manduka/Jade yoga mats, everything that YAMA promises, the list goes on…). I don’t know how much a high-priced yoga celebrity would cost, but I assume it’s much more than the $1000 stipend that lululemon gives its community ambassadors.

At the Village Anusara at Wanderlust (image via Twitpic)

This week, the yoga universe was ablaze with talk about last week’s NY Times article about John Friend. Unless you were living in a cave, meditating on a mountain top or camping in the bush, you’ve most likely heard and read about it. But the barrage of information can be a bit overwhelming, and you may be confused by all the responses and responses to responses and reactions.

So I’ve gathered up the cream of the crop, the most reliable information out there, and present them here in chronological order. Enjoy!

My Immediate Reaction to the NYT Article on Anusara and John Friend: Amy Ippoloti ~ as reported in my post on the article, there was “subsequent bloggage” from John Friend’s students. This immediate reaction was particularly impassioned and honest.

John Friend Responds to ‘Yoga Mogul’ Status: YogaDork ~ everyone’s favourite yoga gossip girl (also profiled by the NYT this week) broke the news that John Friend tweeted that he will respond to the article. So much drama that the post required *two* updates, and garnered a long comment from senior Anusara teacher, Elena Brower.

John Friend Responds to the New York Times article: John Friend’s blog ~ which he hasn’t updated since August 2009. John Friend sent a very gracious and clear letter from Europe, addressing “significant falsehoods in the article.” More bloggage ensued, I couldn’t even keep up with it.

Exclusive Interview With John Friend: elephant journal ~ Waylon Lewis shares an email exchange between him and John Friend just days after “what is probably the most popular, prominent article re: yoga in recent history.” It is honest and full of integrity.

And finally A response to John Friend’s response to the NYT magazine feature article: elephant journal ~ Jimmy Gleacher writes a brilliant retort to the whole fiasco, pitting the John Friend article up against another “entrepreneurial guru” the paper was following this week: Snooki, from “Jersey Shore.” He compares their recent Tweets and discovers their similarities. Very accurate and laugh out loud funny.

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