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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 »

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.

I know the whole nudity in advertising conversation is so last month, but this came across my radar and I can’t resist. The teachers at the Jivamukti Yoga School in NYC are the latest bods-in-the-buff posing for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The long running “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign  has featured many celebrities including Khloe Kardashian, Pamela Anderson, Alec Baldwin, Drew Barrymore and model/yogi Christy Turlington, and has garnered criticism from feminist animal rights activists.

The ad is a postcard (with a free Jivamukti class pass on the back) and I’m not sure if there are plans to use it in print or on billboards. As Well+Good NYC notes, “It helps that Jivamukti’s participation stems from real conviction and personal philosophy—and not the opportunism to bare all for a good cause. ‘The fork can be a powerful weapon of mass destruction or a tool to create peace on earth,’ reads a quote from Jivamukti’s founder, Sharon Gannon, a long-time vegan, on the back of the card.” (Although I really have no idea what that means – a fork?)

I have to admit that, for me, this ad works. Yoga advertisers, take note!

Promote a cause, not a product – PETA’s anti-fur campaign has received a fair amount of criticism, but it’s also achieved its intended result: getting attention and increasing awareness of cruelty to animals. This is an awareness building campaign, not a commercial endeavor.

No asana – at first glance, you wouldn’t even know this is a group of yoga teachers. They’re standing together, rather than showing off their fancy yoga moves.

Have fun! – they’re smiling, connected and playful. The ad doesn’t take itself too seriously and it isn’t pretending to be art. It displays diversity – men, women, mixed races, different body types.

Despite these positive aspects, there still is a  slight breach of professionalism in this ad – these are working yoga teachers, who will encounter students and potential students in class and in their communities. I think it illustrates the precarious and awkward place that yoga teachers hold in our culture, somewhere between entertainer and health professional. I really can’t imagine the teachers at any other kind of school posing nude for anything. I also can’t imagine a group of massage therapists, healers, hairdressers, or educators attempting this – or advertisers even being interested in featuring them.

At face value, this ad is light-hearted and subversive, but when you look a little deeper, it’s sending a confused message that is about more than animal rights.

[via Well+Good NYC]

YogaDawg: he's just an ordinary guy, really.

Imagine my surprise when journalist Mimi Onthebeach contacted me a couple months ago and asked if she could talk to me about semi-retired yoga satirist, YogaDawg. The results of her labour have finally come to fruition, as her in-depth profile of YogaDawg, “The Yoga Mongrel” was published today.

In typical journalistic fashion, she managed to misconstrue my feelings about YogaDawg, quoting me as saying: “YogaDawg can usually stop a serious blog discussion in its track by one of his ridiculous comments or inane views on yoga. It’s gotten worse now that he has abandoned his own yoga blog. If you see him, tell him all the yoga bloggers want him to get a life or do Pilates or something.”

Really, I meant *insane* views on yoga, not inane. I also suggested that YogaDawg take up Zumba, not Pilates. Ms. Onthebeach and I talked for an hour and a half about YogaDawg’s illustrious pranks, the yoga community’s tendency to take itself too seriously, 2009: the year of the yoga blogger, and cats versus dogs (I am definitely more of a cat person, although there are several dogs out there that I can tolerate; YogaDawg is indeed one of them). I offered many gems of insight. And she went ahead and misquoted me.

The article is so in-depth and revealing that any minute now, we can expect cries of falsehoods from YogaDawg’s disciples (yes, disciples ~ his own phrasing for his followers). I predict the line “men and women press doggie treats into his hands at workshops” will garner the most defensive responses.

This might just be the piece of yoga journalism to end all yoga journalism. What more could possibly be said about yoga, now that the world’s most mysterious and controversial pseudo guru has spoken?

Read the full scandalous interview here.

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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