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Phew! Okay, so I have been closely following the maelstrom of discussion around last week’s post about Judith Hanson Lasater’s letter to Yoga Journal. Accompanying the letter, both here on it’s all yoga, baby, and on elephant journal, is the now iconic image of Kathryn Budig posing for Toesox ~ which has ended up being the centrepiece of the discussion and, in some ways, overridden the essence of Judith’s letter.

I’ve been on a roller coaster of emotions as I’ve watched the conversation play out. First, I was exhilarated by the sheer number of comments, the impassioned discussion. Then I watched as the focus shifted from the letter to the Toesox ad itself, and the abundance of comments on Kathyrn’s beauty, the integrity of the ad, and the “prudishness” of those who don’t see that. I started to feel dismayed, then irritated, then angered, then sad… and now, I’m just kind of exhausted and frustrated.

I also have to say that I feel somehow responsible for the whirlpool of commentary, for the misguided debate. There’s a part of me that wants to apologize to Kathryn, to Toesox, for using the image in the first place ~ but then I have to step back and question this. What do I need to say here: sorry Toesox, your sensationalist ad is finally garnering the attention and “controversy” that you hoped it would in the first place?

Perhaps I need apologize to Judith Hanson Lasater for launching her letter into the blogosphere with a picture that, as the old cliché goes, speaks a thousand words. My intention was to only stimulate conversation and give this issue the airtime that it deserves. I didn’t expect this kind of reaction, and I’m disappointed by it. But I guess this is the impact of effective advertising ~ it’s supposed to stimulate an emotional response. It preys on our most base desires, our primal urges, our insecurities, our humanness.

Several people have suggested that I take down the image, since it is detracting from the real issue at hand (the representation of yoga and the advertising policy of North America’s largest yoga magazine). The bigger questions are being obscured by the details. But I’ve chosen to leave the image up, and here I’ll explain my reason for including this image. It’s pretty random, actually. Basically, I Googled “sexy yoga ads” and it was the first image to come up. I thought that it exemplified the type of ad that Judith was referencing ~ a naked woman, a yoga product.

In short, the Toesox ad is a symbol. It’s a visual representation. It’s unfortunate that Kathryn has been attacked (and glorified) and it’s exasperating that Toesox has felt the need to justify, er, explain their intention for the ad. If anyone needs to explain anything here, it’s Yoga Journal, re: their advertising policy.

Mostly, though I’m sad about the huge divisions and aggression in this discussion. It’s degenerated beyond healthy debate into defenses and accusations. And I’m seeing these divisions in my own mind, as I read the comments. I judge who “gets it” and who doesn’t, who is intelligent and articulate and who isn’t, who knows their yoga and who doesn’t. Somewhere along the line, this has become about “us” against “them,” but I’m not even sure who is who and who is on which side.

To all of you who’ve taken the time to read the original post and respond from your heart: thank you. And to those of you who’ve just looked at the picture… well, you probably haven’t even read this far. In this murky water, in a conversation which has grown wild and unwieldy, there are a few voices out there who are bringing the topic back to basics, and I want to acknowledge them here, to open up the conversation further, rather than shutting it down.

Think Body Electric: Naked Yoga Beauties Selling Stuff! Or, the Personal, the Political, and the Commodification of the Body ~ for reinforcing the importance of cultural criticism within the yoga community. “For me, the problem with the Toesox ad and all that it represents is that it makes yoga part of the larger cultural movement to turn our bodies – and by extension, our selves – into commodities. That is, objects whose worth is determined by their market value, whether monetary (who gets paid the big bucks) or cultural (who’s commonly perceived as sexy, admirable, desirable, and so on).”

Yogic Muse: How We React to Nudity is Personal ~ for a personal response to advertising and sex that is grounded and reflective. “In our sexually-charged world how do we insure a safe space for practicing yoga? After all, pursuit of sex can be a form of predation. This is why sexuality around yoga must be consciously reckoned with. Otherwise our yoga classes just become another meat market.”

Linda’s Yoga Journey: In Review, the Personal is Political ~ for placing the whole conversation within a feminist context and reminding us that yes, the personal is political. “Lasater’s letter started a powerful discussion on the commodification and values implicit in yoga ads. What is interesting to me is how so many of the commenters on elephant journal and Facebook got caught up in the nudity issue and thereby missed the essential point: that Lasater’s letter was a question on “where the magazine is now and where it is headed.” If she attacked anything, it was the status quo.”

Grounding Thru The Sitbones: What Are You Lookin’ At? ~ for being just as frustrated by this whole conversation as I am. “I guess that’s why I got my feelings hurt this weekend by so many of the comments (and that’s exactly what it was, feelings getting hurt, I should not be taking so much of this personally). Judith was so calm, so reasoned in her letter, I thought it would inspire a really good conversation about the contemporary yoga industry and where it seems to be headed. Maybe some one would have insight into why naked yoga ads are a good thing and make me question my assumptions. Instead it was internet-commentary-as-usual: emotional and defensive and far from the original ideas in the letter.”

Zen Naturalism: Is the Body Beautiful ~ for questioning the whole notion of beauty and our culture’s obsession with hatha yoga. “I’d like to take a tangent and address this notion of ‘the body beautiful’… Is the body beautiful? Really? Is it only beautiful? What yogis like the Buddha point out is that such concepts themselves are conditioned and empty of any inherent nature or essence. For all those who think they are being progressive and perhaps even transgressive in arguing that these ads are beautiful because they portray the ‘beauty of the human body,’ I ask, “Really? Then why not portray a 64 year-old man with a bit of a belly-roll?” How about a nice nude shot of the character George Constanza from Seinfeld? Would you then argue for the ‘beauty of the human body? As much as I would like to think one would, why is it that I doubt it? Because our ideals of “beauty” are culturally and biologically conditioned. Folks somewhat facilely use abstract concepts and fail to see that they are caught in them.”


Judith Hanson Lasater in action at a YJ conference.

Judith Hanson Lasater’s letter to the editor in the September 2010 issue of Yoga Journal, expressing her concern about the use of “naked and half-naked women” in ads for yoga products, has struck a deep nerve in yoga practitioners. She took the time (while teaching at a yoga retreat, no less!) to answer a few questions and go deeper into her reasons for letting YJ know how she feels.

Q: How do you feel about the reaction to your letter? It seems like there’s been an outpouring of agreement with your stance.

JHL: The response has been interesting, to say the least. Probably running about 98% in agreement with what I attempted to share. The passion of the responses is also a surprise.

Q: How long have you been feeling concerned about the direction of YJ’s advertising policy? Was there any ad in particular that prompted you to write the letter, or was it a general growing sentiment?

JHL: I like to pay attention to the US yoga scene in all its fascinating permutations. There was something about a particular ad that I saw in YJ that really touched me and so I decided to write a letter. Part of writing the letter was to articulate for myself first what was going on inside of me when I saw the ad. I guess I believe in the old adage that clear writing reflects clear thinking, and I wanted to get clear. (Isn’t  that we we are doing on the mat and on the meditation cushion and all day long  to practice yoga?) So I wrote the letter. I am a little surprised they published it.

Q: I understand that you must be disappointed to see YJ become another “voice of the status quo” and I’m sure that wasn’t your intention for the magazine when you helped start it 35 years ago. What kind of voice did you hope it would become?

JHL: I would love to be able to say that we had such a clear intention all those years ago, but it is not true. I do remember clearly that we all loved yoga (not just asana) and wanted to share it with the world. We were crazily naive about everything that went into publishing a magazine. We learned over and over again that you can’t publish if you can’t pay your staff, your distributors and your mailing costs. Business is the way of the world and nothing wrong with that. But I had and still have dreams about how the magazine and the world can be, part of my character I guess as an optimist.

Q: There have been many conversations and discussions about the commercialization/sexualization of yoga, and the response from many people is, “Yes, well we live in a capitalist society; everything is commercialized. Why not yoga?” But I see that you feel differently. What do you see as the problem with using sexual imagery to sell yoga? What is compromised?

JHL: I just want to help create a safe space for yoga to be taught. With all this sexualization of yoga clothes, props, etc., it must spill over into the environment of yoga classes in ways that do not honor the boundary between teacher and student. In the US, we pay people the most money who can distract us the best: actors, personalities and sports figures. Entertainment is all about distraction. As I understand it, the deepest practice of yoga is about the opposite: refusing at first, then later embracing, the act and art of not distracting myself anymore from myself and the moment. So it seems to me that the use of naked bodies to sell yoga products is about using distraction to sell introspection. For me it is not about the nakedness; rather, it is about using bodies to distract us instead of using ads that inspire us to practice yoga, to live in the present and to be open to compassion and grace in each moment. I am sad when I see yoga in general, and many yoga classes in particular, becoming about distraction and entertainment.

Kathryn Budig (photographed by Jasper Johal) gets almost naked to sell "Toesox."

In the September issue of Yoga Journal, Judith Hanson Lasater, one of the magazine’s founders (and a long-time contributor), stated in a letter her concern about the magazine and its advertising policy.

She writes: “I’m concerned about ads that have stimulated both confusion and sadness in me about where the magazine is now and where it is headed. I am confused because I do not understand how photos of naked or half-naked women are connected with the sale of practice products for asana, an important part of yoga. These pictures do not teach the viewer about yoga practice or themselves. They aren’t even about the celebration of the beauty of the human body or the beauty of the poses, which I support. These ads are just about selling a product. This approach is something I thought belonged (unfortunately) to the larger culture, but not in Yoga Journal.”

From a glance at Judith’s Facebook Fanpage, she’s not the only person feeling this way. Her page is full of supportive comments from people who have similar issues with Yoga Journal’s advertising policy, and the representation of yoga.

Judith concludes her letter with a call to action. “I feel sad because it seems that Yoga Journal has become just another voice for the status quo and not for elevating us to the higher values of yoga: spiritual integration, compassion and selfless service. My request is that Yoga Journal doesn’t run ads with photos that exploit the sexuality of young women in order to sell products or more magazines.”

Will they listen? Hats off to Judith for having the courage to speak out against sexualized yoga advertising! As she says on her Facebook page: “‘Yes’ to nudity and the gorgeous human body; ‘no’ to using it to sell yoga!” Oh yeah!

Stay tuned for an exclusive interview with Judith Hanson Lasater here on it’s all yoga, baby, as we continue the conversation.

The great yoga vs meat conversation is rearing up again – this time, in a New York Times dining section article called “When Chocolate and Chakras Collide.” It’s a look at the “yoga and foodies” trend currently sweeping through NY City studios, pushing boundaries (and buttons) by serving up meals with meat and wine after yoga class.  . It’s not a question of whether or not food belongs in the yoga studio, but whether bacon and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon belong there, and it brings up lots of sensitive issues around yogic eating habits and ethics.

Calling his mission “yoga for the Everyman,” [yoga teacher] David Romanelli, 36, plays Grateful Dead songs during class, wears sweat pants rather than spandex, and has already experimented with offering chocolate truffles after chaturanga instruction. “It’s a way of getting people in the door,” he said in an interview. “The world is a better place if people do yoga. And if they come because chocolate or wine is involved, I’m fine with it.”

The past decade has produced thousands of new foodies and new yogis, all interested in healthier bodies, clearer consciences and a greener planet. Inevitably, the overlap between the people who love to eat and the people who love to do eagle pose has grown. In 2007, a combination yoga studio and fine dining restaurant, Ubuntu, opened in Napa, Calif.

Yoga retreat centers now offer gourmet cooking classes and wine tastings; New York yogis trade tips about which nearby ashrams (Anand) and studios (Jivamukti) serve the best muffins.

But not everyone agrees that the lusty enjoyment of food and wine is compatible with yogic enlightenment. Yoga purists say that many foods — like wine and meat — are still off limits. Others, like Mr. Romanelli, say that anything goes, as long as it tastes good. The debate is exposing rich ores of resentment in the yoga world. [NY Times]

Dayna Macy, a managing editor at Yoga Journal, claims that the ethics and politics of food “is the hottest of all hot-button issues in yoga” (and we all know there are a lot of hot-button issues in yoga!). And it’s been coming up in public conversations quite a bit lately (as food, in general, has ~ and yoga, for that matter). Sadie Nardini wrote a provocative piece in the HuffPo last summer which brought forth a very irreverent and questioning stance. Even a new blog, Meat and Yoga, explores the relationship between two apparently contrary acts.

I have to admit that I fall into the ‘bacon and wine camp’ of yoga. I was vegetarian for 15 years – I stopped eating meat way before I started practicing yoga – and only recently reintroduced meat back into my diet on recommendation from my naturopath (and I never did stop drinking wine).  My meat consumption is moderate, only 3 or 4 times a week, usually chicken or fish (or bacon, but that’s only on weekends ~ and ohman, am I ever happy to have bacon back in my life!) and I don’t eat red meat or processed meat.

It’s no wonder that I align myself with the “left-handed” path of Tantra, of all the different yoga traditions. What I find fascinating about this debate is that it’s such a collision between tradition and modernity. Where do you align yourself? Is enjoying a little meat and wine with compatible with yogic enlightenment? Have you ever felt judged for your eating habits? Let’s hear what you have to say!

It’s a little alarming at first glance: Adidas Yoga. Luckily, it’s not (quite) a new brand of yoga ~ it’s just part of the title of a Rainbeau Mars workshop at this weekend’s Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park, Colorado. “Adidas Yoga: ra + yoKa = The Integration of the Sun.” Seriously, wha?

The “Adidas Yoga” part of that equation makes sense – Mars is the global ambassador for Adidas’ line of “sustainable” yoga clothing (and shoes, of course, because you know we totally need the right athletic shoes for our yoga practice). And the rest of the calculation is a play on Mars’ own method of yoga, ra’yoKa (and which includes a colour-coded system of levels, of course).

There’s nothing new about Western teachers creating their own yoga systems or merging asanas with colours of the rainbow or being sponsored by multinational corporations. But there is something about seeing a global brand paired so closely to the word “yoga” which makes my skin crawl. What do the rest of you yoga watchdogs out there think?

[via elephant journal – who didn’t seem to think there was a problem with this ridiculous workshop and actually believed the validity of Adidas’ commitment to sustainable practices]

More Adidas Yoga:

the adidas+yoga equation

choice & responsibility: how do you live your yoga?

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