upon further reflection on the yoga noise

This is me after my head exploded over the latest furor about the way yoga is advertised in America.

OK, not really, but after the requisite three days all things pass and we move on, right? Wrong.

Once again an advertisement for a yoga book created a firestorm in the yoga blogosphere. Maybe the fire was not as widespread as was created by the Judith Lasater letter to Yoga Journal or the naked ToeSox ad, but it did generate many comments here and at Svasti’s place. So let’s just move on. Wrong.

Just for the heck of it I looked at Tara Stiles’ twitter feed to see if there were any more comments about her book other than for yours truly, Svasti, and Blisschick. Over 90% of the tweets are consistently hugely complimentary. Obviously detractors are in the minority. But then I found this one lonely tweet amongst the cacophony of Stiles’ cheerleaders:

“I feel you sold out Yoga to Honda. If you want to model for products, fine. Just keep yoga out of it. Just my 2 cents.”

You see, I thought maybe my last post about her appearance on the morning show in New York was over the top, that I was picking on her too much. But you have to admit that the Dunkin Donuts commercial before her fry the fat yoga show was a priceless piece of irony. There could not have been a better juxtaposition of two images to make a point and that’s the essence of satire.

Then I read what a well-known yoga teacher said about comments on yoga blogs being divisive and not in the spirit of being a yogi (I don’t know if the comment was about the TS discussion, but it made me wonder.) Also, some commenters feel that whatever brings people to yoga is fine and that ultimately they will learn that yoga is so much more than a way to burn blubber and fry fat on the mat.

So am I just a big ol’ meanie?

Last night this foggy menopausal brain thought about all this in the context of being “yogic.”

In the first place, this has nothing to do with Tara Stiles as a person. I haven’t called her any names and I am sure she is a good person in her daily relationships. She must be a good yoga teacher (whatever “good” means to some people) because if she wasn’t she would not have reached the level she has, she would just be another unknown yoga teacher. Or maybe she just got some lucky breaks. Her karma.

But what is true (and it’s not only my opinion but that of others, read the 20+ comments here) is that she sold out yoga for her own purposes just to make a buck. Because what other reason would there be to so blatantly cater to women’s insecurities about their bodies in her atrocious marketing campaign? To use advertising language that is no better than what a cheap diet aid uses for marketing. To further perpetuate the notion that screams at us from every cover of every woman’s magazine at the supermarket checkout line that there is something wrong with us, that we need fixing, that we are always lacking. As it said in the above tweet, keep yoga out of it. If you put yourself out there in the way you advertise your product, then you’d better be willing to take the heat.

Go ahead and call me unyogic, but that’s not yoga. Which leads me to my second point.

I am so tired, saddened actually, that in this Americanized yoga business anything can be called “yoga” and that makes it yoga. No, your morning stretches using yoga poses are not yoga and just because you call them yoga doesn’t make it so. Calling a dog a cat doesn’t make it a cat. I consider myself fortunate to have been exposed to yoga and meditation back in the prehistoric times of my college days when yoga and those who did it were considered weird — there was a reason they called us Freaks.

I started reading books about the Eastern wisdom traditions when I was in high school. I am passionate about all the teachings (if you are also reading the Avadhuta Gita raise your hand) and do my best when I teach to honor the Krishnamacharya lineage. Yoga is very precious to me — I am grateful and blessed that I have opportunity and freedom to travel to India to study in the heart of yoga. So pardon me for feeling protective and angry when people bastardize yoga for their own purposes.

Being “yogic” doesn’t mean being peace-love-dove all the time. The ancient yogis, the sramanas, were rebels, they were spiritual warriors against the status quo. Buddha was a radical — he went against the stream and said to look at reality as it is, not as what you want it to be.

Accusing someone of not being a “yogi” or of not being “yogic” is a cop-out. I will always remember what Jack Kornfield said in our first retreat for my training at Spirit Rock — that anyone who thinks that someone on the spiritual path should not still get angry has a kindergarten view of spirituality.

Chogyam Trungpa taught the way of the spiritual warrior. He said, “Warrior-ship here does not refer to making war on others. Aggression is the source of our problems, not the solution. Here the word “warrior” is taken from the Tibetan “pawo,” which literally means, “one who is brave.” … “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.‎”

That cave in India is looking pretty good right now.

12 thoughts on “upon further reflection on the yoga noise

  1. You know how I feel about the Tara Stiles crap. It's crap. Period.

    The problem is this: It is never for US to decide what someone else's yoga is or is not.

    When we make generalized statements founded upon assumptions, we are no better than her.

    So I get confused…how to get HELPFUL yoga out there (as opposed to “right” or “good” because that is not for me to say) and how to differentiate between that and what is NOT HELPFUL.

    With the Stiles thing, the line was easily identifiable, but in other cases…not so much.


  2. I think you describe my thoughts perfectly, especially by adding in the “Little Prince” quote at the end. Thank you. I am working hard to create a yoga workshop for lawyers, not a yoga class that will get them in shape, but a workshop designed to give them yoga / meditation tools to make their lives more successful (in the well-being ways more than the financial ones). The most common feedback I get starts from the paradigm that yoga is exercise. I have to completely shift my perspective to even meet people there. I hope and pray that person-by-person, I will help change that vision.

    Even at a yoga studio the other day, I taught a class, and one of the comments was, “her music was like elevator music.” It was Deva Premal and Krishna Das instead of Pop 40. Person-by-person . . .


  3. Jesus was a sailor
    When he walked upon the water
    And he spent a long time watching
    From his lonely wooden tower
    And when he knew for certain
    Only drowning men could see him
    He said “All men will be sailors then
    Until the sea shall free them”
    — Suzanne by Leonard Cohen

    Only the drowing can see you, Linda. That's just the way it is.



  4. lovely reflection, linda!

    i definitely relate to your feelings of protection around yoga. although i haven't studied as long as you, yoga has had a profound effect on my life, and i find it discouraging to see it misrepresented in mass culture. it undermines the power of yoga.

    i've been following the kerfuffle around tara stiles' book and the way it's advertised, although i've been too busy with my day job to jump in the conversation. i still believe that these kinds of conversations – while perhaps a little “divisive,” as the yoga teacher suggests – are essential, and powerful, and maybe, just maybe, the advertisers and high-profile teachers will pay a little attention and reconsider how they market yoga.

    keep fighting the good fight, sister!


  5. After just having had my post about all of this described as “venemous” by none other than Yoga Dork (another woman BTW), I completely agree with what you're saying here.

    Yoga is about being real and about seeing reality as it actually is. How can we possibly do that when everyone is falling over themselves to agree with each other and not be angry or divisive?

    That kind of BS is the way we get catdogs, the new hybrid creature for those who can't decide what the difference is between a cat and a dog.

    I truly believe that sometimes what we need is divisiveness. We need to take a stand against catdogs being described as cats or dogs. They are neither – but some hybrid thing that doesn't do justice to either.

    Also, divisiveness does not = un-yogic!!

    BTW, 'un-yogic' is a term I detest for its judginess. “This is yogic, and THAT is un-yogic”. According to whom? Sounds very Christian/burn-in-hell-for-your-sins to me…

    I feel like people are being nice to Tara regardless of this betrayal of yoga because she's thin, pretty and successful. And no one wants to be on her bad side because y'know, of the whole fame thing. So they just nod their heads and accept whatever she's doing because hey, if it brings people to yoga, then it must be okay, right?


    Great that people come to yoga. NOT great that she uses existing samskaras that are bred bone-deep into women to manipulate them into buying a book. One that tells them they have 'wider than desired hips' and the rest! It's so very sad to imagine that one woman could do endorse such statements.

    When someone's arm is broken, do we just leave it broken? Or do we fix it? Fixing it requires some degree of violence to re-set it. The bones must be re-aligned and then held still for a while to make sure the arm works properly again. Leaving it broken or poorly healed means it can never do what it's meant to do.

    Seems to me this thing called “American yoga” is broken and in desperate need of a re-set. But most people are running around saying, “no, it's just fine the way it is”. If you like. But it isn't yoga.

    See, in Australia we don't have people selling yoga like Tara. We still do just plain old yoga. And like I said on someone else's post, I don't pretend that what I'm studying is exactly the same as what's been taught in India for millenia. BUT the teachings I've received are, if nothing else, true to the essence of yoga.

    The way I've been trained is in the way of the “freaks” you've mentioned Linda. And if people are offended when I suggest that what Tara (and others) are peddling is not real yoga, I could care less.

    Because I don't want people to feel even worse about themselves in order to come to yoga. I want them to come in their own time and on their own terms.


  6. The Buddha said:
    “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth”
    Thank you for writing, I just love your blog and the way you write from the heart. You really have a gift.

    Also, I second Svasti :
    “See, in Australia we don't have people selling yoga like Tara. We still do just plain old yoga…”
    Things are a bit more down to earth (generally speaking), yes we get the media and books, and we sort of raise our eyebrows a bit and then head off to our yoga class where it's really just about YOGA.
    I myself go to yoga classes at a gym (shock horror) and I love it, I just love yoga. I began because I needed to reduce stress and it took a while to grow on me, took me a while to understand, and now I'm training to teach.
    I hope those who begin yoga through any means, included those who are drawn to loose weight, find what they are REALLY looking for (even if they don't know what that is when they begin).
    Everyone is on their own path,


  7. what i felt was a bit missed in this discussion was the cultural/social macro trend of how women are portrayed and used in marketing and the media in general.

    I agree with you 100% Linda (and svasti, and Blisschick, and Roseanne) on how it's especially disgusting to use Yoga this way.

    At the same time, I'd really hope that it doesn't become a “as long as it stays out of yoga it's none of my concern” type deal.

    Cuz how 50% of the human population is used and portrayed in the media is of our concern. whether or not yoga is involved.

    I don't think it's unyogic to be upset or motivated to speak out against something that has been documented to be harmful to the emotional and ultimately physical health of women.

    And of course, I know you think that already. 🙂


  8. ps- svasti, I never actually much agreed with how Yoga Dork (who I do think is a lovely writer) blogged about women, the media and yoga.

    but then, that's just my sensitive, “unyogic” perspective (hah).


  9. I agree with you about the messages Stiles's marketing of “yoga” sends. It's a fundamentally judgmental way of regarding women's bodies, and there doesn't need to be more of that in this world.

    However, I thought you should know this:

    “No, your morning stretches using yoga poses are not yoga and just because you call them yoga doesn't make it so.”

    could be a bit alienating to newcomers or dabblers; people who might go farther in the future, but don't yet know much or have a very deep practice.

    Personally, neither my health nor my finances will ever allow me to ever take regular yoga classes. It's rare enough that I can mange to follow a 20 minute gentle yoga tape.

    Guess I'm just stretching, then. And that's all I'll ever do.


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