enough’s enough

I’m sure by now many have read about the latest incident at elephant journal: the posting of a video entitled “Yoga for Black People” and what occurred when a black woman spoke her truth about it.  I won’t rehash the incident but you can read about what happened and the aftermath here and here.

Chelsea has written an eloquent open letter to Waylon Lewis.

While I don’t want to send more traffic to a site that I consider toxic, I feel I have to put in my two rupees because the way Chelsea was treated was certainly not the first incident of that kind for EJ.  I also had an incident with EJ and its yoga editor last year over the Tara Stiles controversy.  I also experienced a Waylon “apology.”  You can briefly read about it here.  I wrote:

“I felt blindsided and betrayed.  He did not feel it necessary to ask my permission or even to ask my opinion before he wrote about me.  While he apologized to me months later for writing the story, it did not matter at that point. Intention is everything and you can’t unring a bell.  To me his story brought to light what this modern yoga scene has become: us v. them.  The rightous v. the unrightous.  The purists v. the modernists.  Old v. young.  Thick v. skinny. The Lulus v. The WalMarts.”

Once again, the issue is not as simple as it appears on the surface.  Just like Judith Lasater’s letter to Yoga Journal was not about the Toesox ads with Kathryn Budig, and just like the whole Tara Stiles thing raised deeper issues to be questioned, the issues that Chelsea raised were not just about the posting of a one stupid video.

Once again, as with the Toesox and Tara Stiles’ incidents, someone who speaks out against the status quo is chastised, told to get over it, to lighten up, and OH MY GOD, the worst insult of all, “you don’t have a sense of humor.”

That’s what every guilty party yells when someone calls them out on their nonsense — “What?  Who me?  What did I do?”

Calling something a joke as Waylon did doesn’t make it any less important.  EJ is truly a dysfunctional household when an attempt is made to shame and embarrass the ones who are calling out the perpetrator.

What irked me more than that video was that Chelsea was told to shut up — by Waylon and EJ’s readers — after standing up for what she believed in.  She was told, basically, to get to the back of the bus.  This reaction from so-called hip readers of a supposedly cutting edge online “yoga and spirituality” site?  Please.  You can read in this post the typical responses when someone questions EJ’s status quo.

There must be something “wrong” with our outlook, there is something “wrong” with us. We are patted on the head with the comment “lighten up, honey, it’s no big deal.”  Yes, it IS a big deal in the larger context.  I was labeled a “radical feminist” by the yoga editor of EJ during the Tara Stiles thing — AS IF that’s the worst thing you can call an outspoken woman (besides calling her a bitch, that is.)

Dare I ask, what ever happened to just saying “I’m sorry” and leaving it at that instead of trying to justify bad behavior, instead of making excuses?  It’s called empathy.  Waylon — having been raised Buddhist as he loves to tell everyone — should know that empathy is one of the things that is cultivated in a Buddhist practice.  It’s the basis of compassion.  With all the posts about mindfulness on EJ, one would think that Waylon would have read a few and would spend a few mindful moments contemplating the repercussions of his actions before clicking “publish.”  Karma, Waylon.  Don’t blame people for “kicking the shit” out of you (in comments) when your own actions brought it on.

Waylon’s response to Chelsea was that it was “just a comedy video.”  Using that logic, one might justify the use of the N word by saying “it’s just a word.”  Yeah, it IS just a word but a loaded one that offends people.  Does that mean because one doesn’t find the N word offensive they can use it?  And then tell others who are offended by it to lighten up?  That really helped Michael Richards’ comedy career.

How about posting a video of “Yoga for Muslims” or “Yoga for Mexicans” or any other “Yoga for [fill in the blank]”?  Racial and ethnic humor is a sensitive subject and it takes finesse.  Some can pull it off and it’s funny, others can’t and it’s seen as racist.  Don’t shout down the ones who find some “jokes” offensive.

The “Yoga for Black People” incident is just the latest in a long line of incidents that show how Waylon needs to clean up EJ’s act.

Take your own advice, Waylon: walk your talk.

in review, the personal is still political

original upload by BAM’s Blog

Unless you’ve been in yoga nidra for a week, then you know that Judith Lasater’s letter to Yoga Journal about how she felt about nudity in yoga advertising set the yoga blogosphere on fire. In case you missed her letter, here it is:

“Yoga Journal was born in my living room in Berkeley in 1975, where I was one of five yoga practitioner-teachers who gathered to create the magazine. I have loved the magazine ever since. But 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 though belonged (unfortunately) to the larger culture, but not in Yoga Journal.

Finally, 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. Thank you for your attention and willingness to hear another point of view.

Judith Hanson Lasater
San Francisco, CA”

The comments both pro and con about Lasater’s letter flew fast and furious in Roseanne’s blog (cited above) and in elephant journal. There was overwhelming support for Lasater on her Facebook page where she said that it was not her intention to harm Yoga Journal: “It is my intention to open the dialogue and be clear about what my values are.”

Indeed she did.

Both Brooks Hall and Carol Horton wrote eloquently about the maelstrom. But Nikki Chau said on her Facebook page that Lasater’s letter to Yoga Journal “was *not* about the Toesox ads with Kathryn Budig.”

Whew. And now it’s my turn.

Brooks said that how we react to seeing nudity is personal. Of course it is, and to that I say, the personal is political. I am not a feminist scholar but I am a feminist, a word that many women nowadays shy away from.

“The personal is political” was a mantra of the ’70s feminist movement. The saying comes directly from an essay written by radical feminist Carol Hanisch in 1969, and was a way to convey to women who were suffering in silence that their individual experiences were, in fact, instances of cultural sexism.

The sentence indicates that many of our personal problems, and specifically women’s personal problems throughout history, have been political — sometimes created by, definitely supported by, and ultimately addressed by politics. In this case, the politics of advertising.

“Sex, Lies, and Advertising,” was an article written by Gloria Steinem for Ms. Magazine in 1990. She discussed the aspects of feminism and how advertising venues such as magazines use women to sell products. Advertisers have been using women to sell products since the late 1800’s, but according to Steinem, using women became the natural way to advertise and sell products, but is it right to do so?

Advertisers use women to sell anything and everything. Madison Avenue knows that beautiful women are the tools that draw in consumers to buy the products that they supposedly need and ultimately want to buy. That’s Advertising 101. Using a naked woman in yoga product advertising is no different from a using a naked woman to sell a car. Just because it’s yoga, that makes the ad more “artistic”? A naked body is a naked body whether it’s used to sell a yoga mat or tires. Why are some in denial that in the advertising game a naked body = sex or at least sexiness? Advertising is about selling fantasy. At least the ads for porn are honest, they know what they are selling.

So whether or not Lasater was writing about the ToeSox ad in particular doesn’t matter. What would the reaction be if a naked male yogi was only wearing socks? The fact is that a naked man would never be used to sell those socks. Ever.

That’s the whole point.

I have no idea who Kathryn Budig is and I am sure no one forced her to take off her clothes. She probably was paid good money to pose naked and ToeSox probably sold a lot of socks. She has the right to take off her clothes for commercial purposes and ToeSox has the right to make a profit.

But I can tell you that every time I saw her ad in Yoga Journal I rolled my eyes and said “again?” The ad does not make me want to run out to buy something I don’t need and it does not make me aspire to be her as some commenters at elephant journal have suggested.

So when I read Lasater’s letter I yelled “right on” just like I did when I marched for women’s rights back in the day. Then I started reading the comments directed toward Lasater’s supporters and that’s when the personal once again became political for me.

Not to get into my life story, but I’m no prude. I’m not an anti-pornography feminist like Andrea Dworkin was and I’ve sat naked in the communal hot tubs of Esalen. But what was more offensive to me than seeing a naked woman used to sell a yoga product YET AGAIN, were the comments that if we disagree with ads using nudity, then we must:

1. hate nudity;
2. hate the female form;
3. hate sex
4. have a problem with our own sexuality;
5. be repressed;
6. be close minded
7. etc., etc. etc.

From elephant journal, posting its Facebook comments:

“In my opinion “it takes one to know one” and if anyone sees anything perverse about a girl with no clothes on, then the perversion is in their head in the first place….I would hazard a guess that the Ladies…probably wish deep down that they could be in that pic as well!”

[this guy doesn’t even know how sexist that statement is — so much for sensitive yoga guys.]

“Those offended may need to seriously consider gaining a deeper relationship with that oNe in the mirror there.”

we all need to get a little more comfortable with sex and the nude body (our own or otherwise)”

“It’s sad when our culture looks at beautiful photos like these and automatically switches into auto pilot and think – SEX. Are we really that much out of tune with our bodies and self.”

One female commenter told me that my “tone is full of rage not compassion. Relax. It’s an ad. 30 seconds from now another will take its place and it will be forgotten.”

Yes, and that’s the problem.

As for the armchair diagnosis of “rage”….what?  Say again? I’m getting a flashback of being told that we were a bunch of angry bitches.  I’m waiting for the “and you all need to get laid” comment.

My oh my….the more things change, the more they stay the same. Still. Even after almost 40 years.

To those comments I say: BULLSHIT.

I’m not as eloquent a writer as Judith Lasater, but I cut to the chase.

Those are the same types of comments I heard as a young feminist back in the early ’70s…that just because one is offended by a naked woman selling cars, perfume, clothes, or yoga crap that we don’t need, there must be something “wrong” with our outlook, there is something “wrong” with us. We were patted on the head with the comment “lighten up, honey, it’s no big deal.”

Yes, it IS a big deal in the larger context.

The larger context is not that nudity is used to sell a yoga product (and a half-naked woman is used in the latest issue to sell a Yoga Journal conference) — the problem is that naked women are STILL used to sell everything. As Cyndi Lee said at Roseanne’s blog: “It is NEVER okay to use women’s bodies to sell ANYTHING EVER. Not in Yoga Journal or any other medium. If you don’t get this, then learn about the awful things that are being done to women all over the world right now because people view them as objects.”

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. To those people who can’t see that, I say take off your blinders.

We’ve become blind to the use of women’s bodies in advertising, whether it is “artistic” or not, and our blindness is avidya, i.e., “not seeing.” Yoga is supposed to be the means by which our blinders are removed so that we can awaken from our avidya.

As Gloria Steinem asked in 1990, can’t we do better than this?

Anne Cushman asked the same question in 2003 with her article in the Shambhala Sun, “Yoga Chic and the First Noble Truth.” Anne says that yoga and meditation are ultimately about turning our eyes away from the airbrushed images of the outside world and looking deep within our own hearts.

“It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these yoga pin ups, in and of themselves…The problem comes when we start to compare ourselves with these glossy images and imagine how utterly happy and fulfilled we would be if we looked like that….


So lately, I’m looking for a different kind of image to inspire my practice. The book I’m shopping for would show pictures of all sorts of people doing yoga and meditating. There would be old people, fat people, scarred people, profusely hairy people, people with bad skin and big noses, people with thighs riddled with cellulite, people with droopy breasts and flabby thighs and faces etched with lines from hard living. There would be people with cerebral palsy, people gone bald from chemotherapy, people paralyzed by drive-by shootings, people who’d lost limbs in wars. Some people would do the poses perfectly. Others would do them clumsily, propped up on sandbags and bolsters, unable even to touch their fingertips to the floor.


All of us would be reflected in this book’s pages.”

Why are we satisfied with the status quo?

For me, yoga is a vehicle for transformation and that value is lost when we settle for the old, stale paradigms repackaged as “progressive” or “enlightened.”

In an effort to market their cigarettes to women in the late 1960s Virginia Slims used the ad slogan “you’ve come a long way, baby.”

Have we?

show up and shut up

The yoga/Hindu wars started in the articles by Deepak Chopra and Aseem Shuklah that YogaDork posted here and here. I think the comments are longer than the articles themselves.

Now the fracas has spilled over to here and here over at elephantjournal even getting into the Aryan Invasion of India theory which is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Yawn.

I’m here to bring it back.

I’m here to keep it real.

Like Brenda told me on my birthday, “keep kickin’ it and staying real…” So this one’s for you, Brenda.

This is the only yoga I care about: paz yoga. And I’ve been keeping it real for these women for a long time.

I can assure you that these women don’t care about the Gita, the Vedas, the Upanishads, whether a yogi is a Hindu or vice versa.

They could not care less about how Lululemon pants help your camel toe (some show up to my class wearing jeans) and they’ve never heard of any of your favorite show biz yoga rock stars. Ana who? John who? Shiva who?

And they certainly don’t care about any celeb-yogis. But they love it when I tell them to move their hips like Shakira.

Show up on your mat, shut up, and do your practice.

You do your yoga and I’ll do mine.

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