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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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Oooh, I love it when Gawker turns it’s sharp sarcastic lens on yoga culture. Yesterday, Gawker posed the question (and then answered it), “Is yoga out of control?” They offered plenty of examples of this out-of-controlness:

Laughter yoga. Nazi yoga. Donation yoga with Dave Matthews playing in the background Hippie yoga. Celebrity yoga. Charity yoga. Yoga books. Yoga while eating. Yoga on the road. Yoga in the park. Yoga as a nontraditional workout for athletes in traditional sports

Perhaps yoga’s fatal flaw was that everyone thought it was something new. Yoga was supposed to be the anti-workout; the anti-gym; the spiritual, holistic, ancient, anti-body-obsessive version of exercise. After years of media scrutiny, it turns out yoga is the anti-interesting.

“Anti-interesting?” Yeouch! But I have to admit that there is some truth in this. Do we need to hear about another yoga hybrid? Another celebrity who achieved her post-baby hot bod with a regular yoga workout? Another eco yoga product? While Gawker finds the mainstream media coverage (and yoga people in general) boring and excessive, my issues are that it trivializes and misrepresents yoga. However, I admit, I also find it fascinating and can’t stop myself from commenting on it.

In response to this Gawker piece, Social Workout asked “Has yoga jumped the shark?” (meaning, is yoga’s popularity about to start declining). My feeling is that this decline started a year or two ago when the world brought us Playboy Yoga. The positive aspects of this decline is that yoga will come back to basics, and the true practitioners will continue unscathed. The sincere and committed teachers, those who see yoga as a practice and not another skill to add to their fitness toolbox, will persevere. And yoga itself – even fuck yoga founder, Barnaby Harris, acknowledges that “yoga has survived for thousands of years and will survive for thousands more.”

Olympian yoga in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery (image: Lululemon blog)

So y’all might have noticed that I’ve been avoiding any mention of the Olympics. First of all, I just can’t keep up with all the athletes who do yoga as part of their training routines (and YogaDork is doing a great job of covering that angle). Second, I don’t really care about major sporting events (with the exception of the FIFA World Cup, which I love) or big displays of nationalism and corporate sponsorship. And third, as a BC girl who has watched the province transform in the years leading up to the event, I have some ethical problems with the Olympics (look to The Tyee and The Dominion for excellent alternative coverage).

Nevertheless, I think it’s great that Lululemon has jumped on the Olympics cheer bandwagon and has been offering free yoga classes all over Vancouver since the beginning of the games (working their way around copyright/trademark restrictions by using “cool global sporting event” instead). Apparently, over 11,000 people have taken advantage of these classes. As a Lululemon store manager notes, “Yoga is a big part of the city’s culture. Yoga has made Vancouver mellow.” (Interesting ~ I thought it was the strong BC sweetleaf.)

She also reveals some little known facts about the yoga culture in Vancouver, which has an estimated 20,000 regular practitioners, most of them female. Apparently: “There are yoga mats that indicate if the person is single and available. But in Vancouver, people also signal if they’re available by using a certain kind of shopping cart at Whole Foods. It’s that kind of city.”

Wha, seriously? Are there any Vancouver-ites who can attest to the accuracy of this claim? And does anybody out there know the yoga mat code for single and available?

[via USA Today]

Poster for The Yoganator, one of the offending "yoga centered" short films.

Somehow I’ve ended up on Rajan Zed‘s mailing list (the Hindu statesman is infamous for criticizing American cultural representations of Eastern spirituality, including The Love Guru and Ogden: the Inappropriate Yoga Guy). Most of his press releases are benign attacks on Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP newsletter, and are fairly entertaining. However, the most recent one, dated Feb 21, is inconclusive and getting syndicated all over the Internet.

Titled “Yoga centered films made in USA & Canada,” the release targets two not-so-recently released short films about yoga. The first, Homeless Yoga, is a Canadian-produced response to the economic downturn with the tagline, “What do you do when you lose everything? YOGA!” The other film, The Yoganator, features a martial arts-ish/self help monologue by an intense yoga teacher, illustrated through dramatic flashbacks.

Something about the two films prompted Zed to release the following statement:

Seeing the increasing popularity in the West, India should launch extensive research into yoga and help promote its authentic version worldwide. According to Patanjali, author of the basic text, the Yoga Sutra, who codified yoga after being founded by Yajanavalkya, yoga was a methodical effort to attain perfection, through the control of the different elements of human nature, physical and psychical, Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, added.

Whoa, run-sentence ~ another hallmark of Zed’s press releases!

Watch the trailer and short below, and judge for yourself. Inauthentic representations of yoga? And is it India’s responsibility to research yoga and promote an authentic version to the world?

Homeless Yoga, trailer (note: graphic language)

The Yoganator, short film (note: gratuitous violence)

This has nothing to do with yoga, but I love this graph for most searched celebrity scandals in 2009.

According to Google Zeitgeist, it just might be. On the list of “most googled” exercises in 2009, yoga ranked #9 (just above pole dancing). As the National Post noted:

Is yoga now on a downward trend? Or has the uber-trendy exercise suffered some sort of backlash due to expensive studio classes or, as Antonia Richmond says in a 2006 article in the San Francisco Chronicle,* a growing sense of insecurity from the non-yoga inclined masses:

“These are the yoga people. And they’re better than you…They don’t have the haggard appearance or sensitivity to bright sunlight that I do as I stumble down the street in search of coffee. They appear to … glow.”

Yoga-hater and creator of New York clothing company “It’s a Sickness”, Barnaby Harris went so far as to create an entire f— yoga clothing line.

Harris elegantly summed up the history of the ubiquitous trend, saying:

“Yoga has survived for thousands of years and will survive for thousands more. It’s just that it has gone unopposed for too damn long.”

Inferiority complexes aside, sales suggest that the yoga industry is doing quite well, recession or no recession. [National Post]

I couldn’t find any information on where yoga placed last year. A brief jaunt through the 2008 Year-End Google Zeistgeist revealed no similar category. However, sources reveal that in 2007 yoga was #2, just after pilates, in the fitness category.

Is there any validity to the Google Zeitgeist report? When do you think yoga will peak? And is there anyone else out there waiting for the boom to bust, so we can just carry on with our practice without the commercial craziness?

(*Be sure to click through to the SF Chronicle article ~ it’s a very good read!)

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