Is Yoga Advertising and Branding An Inherently Skewed Power Dynamic?

story 3 inside

Lets, for shits and gigglies, apply to yesterday’s post this delicious quote from late French postmodern theorist, Jean Baudrillard. (You know, the guy who wrote The Gulf War Did Not Take Place):

“[The media] are what finally forbids response, what renders impossible any process of exchange…. [P]ower belongs to him who gives and to whom no return can be made. To give, and to do it in such a way that no return can be made, is to brake exchange to one’s own profit and to institute a monopoly.”
—From Jean Baudrillard, “The Masses: The Implosion of the Social in Media”

Here, Baudrillard states that when humans interact with media, power ultimately resides on the side of the giver (media), which creates a passive (ineffective) receptacle out of the viewer. This media-human relationship stands in contrast to the human-human relationship that allows for (at least the possibility of) a more co-creative environment where both parties are involved in active participation.

The concept of immediacy is significant here, as one could easily argue that responding to media happens all the time in the form of critique, reviews, etc. However, what media does best is to defer a person’s response to a later time since talking at a television does little more than leave you talking at a television. There is no engagement with the critique or review on the media’s part. As Baudrillard states, there is no “exchange” when it comes to relating to media.

On a personal level, people experience this skewed power dynamic any time a person is done well by another person and yet is not allowed to repay the favor. Perhaps you have experienced this yourself. Someone gives you a lavish gift and refuses to allow you to buy him or her dinner as a reciprocal gesture. It’s weird. Its awkward. Something about it feels wrong and slightly aggressive. Baudrillard’s critique of the media suggests that this is actually the dynamic set up by mediated images, representations of human interaction, manufactured communities, and, I might argue, celebriyogi culture.

Some spiritual traditions, notably the Sufi tradition(s), discuss this reciprocal courtesy, though in markedly different ways. In Islam, giving of oneself to another person, serving a guest, is considered a very high form of adab, or decorum, decency, and good manners, rewarded with any number of positive vibes by Allah. In fact, in Islam it is widely considered bad manners to refuse to allow another person to do a good deed for you, as that would in part prevent this person from receiving the blessing from doing so.

As the Qur’an states:

“When a greeting is offered to you, meet it with a greeting still more courteous, or of equal courtesy. Allah takes careful account of all things.” Qur’an, sura 4

Or, the oft not cited:

“Those who spend freely, whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon people; Allah loves those who do good.” — Qur’an, sura 3

And yet, while many yoga people are so hyper sensitive about anything that even suggests they should do anything specific about anything lest it be considered a form of dogma, I can’t help but once in a blue moon wish the yoga “world” would adopt a handful of specific codes of conduct that might in turn lend themselves to being used as solid critiques of mediation and rampant commercialism. Yes, there’s the yamas and niyamas, but seriously, who really even knows what they are by heart anyway?

I tell ya. Give me some of that ol time relijun any day. Gets me ol’ spirits a quickenin’!

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17 comments

  1. Garuda

    I depend on my TV box for important, sustaining news. Like Honey Boo Boo, and Brazilian Butt Lift , and traffic reports.

    • Ha! Honey Boo Boo. I only learned of this phenomenon, like, a week ago. So funny! So strange.

      • Yoga Whelp

        I think one of the questions raised in the post-Baudrillard, Internet world is whether social media might alter this dynamic of media domination and passivity. Social media might just be the same media on a different platform and merely expand the range of domination, temporally and psychically. But what if anything is different if the media exchange is FULLY INTERACTIVE, and indeed, if it’s also LIVE? Clearly, proponents of the web have hailed its revolutionary potential for just this reason.

        One question that might arise is whether this newly interactive social media can facilitate authentic SPIRITUAL exchanges, as well as other kinds of enhanced communication. Sure we can chat about politics, or even date, but can we pray and received Divinity in this way. Some people teach yoga and meditation online and live; it’s not a disembodied DVD or another commercial product. Is this authentic? Potentially? Under what conditions? Especially If you’ve already met in person first and “done spiritual work together,” could this experience be transferable, at least, in part to a cyber temple or ashram?

        I, personally, always prefer face-to-face interaction because of the way I pick up vibrational energies and visual cues. The body talks as much as the mouth does, and it talks differently in person. But plenty of people date online, and consider a genuine experience, why, in theory, wouldn’t praying or worshiping or practicing yoga be? Doesn’t it come down to where you go internally? Even online experiences carry vibrational energy, and while it’s highly mediated and possibly flattened tonally, if it triggers you to feel and access something, why would it lack immediacy or authenticity? Must we regress to the pre-technological age? I know how much Baba LONGS for those caves.

        • Garuda

          I was reminded of my experience at a satsang by Gangaji in Encinitas some years ago. In had been intrigued by her from her pieces on community television so I paid my 65 dollars to attend like the hundreds of others who were there. Encinitas is a very spiritual place. And by spiritual I mean to say anything goes.
          As the program began, we were instructed to meditate for 45 min until Gangaji would enter the room. Upon her arrival we were instructed to meditate for another half hour. When she finally addressed us we were regaled with her anecdote about the trauma she incurred by crossing the busy city street that morning (another 25 minutes). Then came the audience participation.
          As near as I could tell, the questions ranged from “Why are you so awesome?” to ” Why are we here?” A question I was beginning to ask myself. In typical Gangaji speak, she began to question the question itself as though everything can be summed into a giant amorphous riddle. I was looking at the door when I saw the table full of Gangaji cds and such, when it occurred to me that I could have gotten this kind of ‘direct experience’ for 10 bucks plus shipping and saved my evening. Big mystery my ass. Its a three card monty in flowing robes.

        • Enough with the revisionists and apologists for, Marshall McLuhan.
          The medium is the message. It will always be such.

          What changed was the cool medium of TV, to the ice-cold (despite being interactive from real-time to as-received) medium of cyberspace …

          “Ice cold” means that the recipient determines how, when and in what quantity to receive the transmitted message, if at all.

          Why give away your own power?

          [If you meet the buddha on the road, kill him]

        • Yoga Whelp

          Amphibi –

          It’s also the close physical presence invites the kind of psychic, sexual, and spiritual abuse — and unhealthy “transference” and trespass that occurs in so many yoga studios, actually. Not being immediately present can be a great way to detach from that experience, or it’s prospect. In general, the downside of being in a “place” – say, a studio – with a “person” is that you associate your experience too closely with that physicality – and the students around you. Their unwanted body cues, their colds, their far too close physical proximity, and the low vibrational energies they often bring to the room that all affect the quality of the environment.

          The medium is the message, you say? Well, in many aspects of life, distance makes the heart grow fonder.

    • Yoga Whelp

      A “Honey Boo Boo” sounds like a mistake made during MTF transgender surgery. I’ve always wondered about “Didi,” actually. Without all the cosmetics, would we see a lot more facial hair?

  2. When I read The Scarlet Letter, for example, I form my own conclusions about what Chillingworth is all about. I don’t expect there to be a living room “process of exchange” between me and Hawthorne, or me and Ticknor and Fields,, or me and the mobile media device I am reading the book on. The exchange between me and the book, or any book, or movie, or NY Times story about the Gulf War, is not the same as an exchange I would have with Hawthorne or a movie director or a reporter in Baghdad, so I am not sure what Baudrillard is trying to get at.
    I like the French postmodernists as much as the next man, they make for great reading, but here Baudrillard seems to be re-stating the uncomplicated and obvious.

    • I agree, Edward. I’d add to this that while it’s fairly obvious to us, it tends not to be so for many people. Many people I have met have simply never even considered that mediated experiences such as video, etc. have any effect on us other than that which we choose to allow it. That, and I think Baudrillard’s critique comes in the context of highlighting what he might define as “primitive” or I might define as “pre-civilized.” If his quote is taken as a defiance *against* civilization, than ALL of mediated experience would fall under his definition of “media.” Books, tv, etc.

      This, of course, takes us down a twisty rabbit hole, but kind of interesting to note. And, *might* be a curious lens to read yoga media culture through, especially when the idea of “presence” is held to be such a high priority.

      Maybe interesting. Maybe not!

  3. Just this morning I was thinking about codes of conduct in relationship to a squabble over yogis being filmed in their shala without consent. The yogi responsible was shocked to hear that not everyone was thrilled. I don’t know much about her and have no opinion of her, generally, but it did strike me as strange that she would film people in a private, spiritual space, and it did not even occur to her that someone might object. As a photographer, I cannot imagine shooting people in a private, vulnerable space without wondering if they are okay with it. Then add issues with legality and model releases, and it’s impossible not to consider. So I wondered, “Whatever happened to the practice of putting others’ first?” before realizing I was conflating buddhist tonglen teachings with yoga teachings. So I started thinking about where this is in yoga teachings. Some yoga etiquette is always nice. Personally, whether I support someone’s project or not, I don’t want my daily practice on film. It just doesn’t feel right to me–unless I’m really in the mood, or feel very connected with the producer and have a personal relationship with her.

    The yamas and niyamas. Man. They just feel so preachy to me. You know, part of aparigraha is actually refusing gifts, unless you are able to accept without feeling something is owed in return (and it reads to me like this is above all but the enlightened). But as you say, that’s just not nice. It does not feel nice to have one’s gift refused, or to refuse a gift. It’s also depressing to think everyone is keeping such close tabs. I like to think that most of us aren’t that petty.

    • Yoga Whelp

      I am so sick of these Westernized Shakti “goddesses’ branding themselves with faux-Hindu monikers and swearing their allegiance to yogic principles, when they have a perfectly good Jewish or Christian tradition to draw upon, and they still don’t know what the 10 commandments are – starting with Thou Shall Not Steal other’s peace of mind. That’s why, in the final analysis, I prefer the crass American commercialism of a Tara Stiles. It’s straight no chaser. If you’re going to blast my psyche anyway, I’ll skip the blindfold and the cigarette, thank you. I want to look my killer in the eyes.

      • Garuda

        I didnt experience the Psyche Blast myself. I guess I shoulda sprung for the De-Luxe package. I thought I was going to need an enightened master to give me my Hinduee sounding moniker, but it came to me as I was sitting there with jelly stains on my shirt watching Sesame Street. I was to be known as ” Sri Maha Garuda”

      • Yoga_Dude

        “Be excellent to each other.”

        -Bill S. Preston, Esq.


        It is so simple and lost on so many.

      • amphibi1yogini

        Me, too, except her Slim, Calm, Sexy schtick will not stand the test of time. She actually knows it. That’s why she hides behind the not-so-slim Deepak Chopra and is diversifying her product line to include the Jane Fonda franchise that could appeal to older generations than hers.

    • Yoga Whelp, apologies, but it’s unclear. Is that directed at me or at Aghori Baba? Supposing the former, let’s take a moment to unpack. That’s some very deep insight on self-branding. Is that your critique? Or, oh, I see, you read it on a blog last week and decided some wanton appropriation was in order. Nice. Actually, I was trolling the internet in search of Baudrillard and Talmudic Law but stumbled on this post by the Baba which referenced the yogic commandments. It’s fine for the Baba to speak of the yamas and niyamas, but I am not welcome to join the conversation? In that, at least, you and your little clique are very clear.

      The Babarazzi remains anonymous in part to force a dialogue about what is being said, instead of attacking the (imagined) person who said it. It’s unfortunate these standards aren’t held here. Who swore allegiance to yogic principles? Psyche blast? If I were going for “shakti goddess” when “branding” myself in a choice of a moniker for commenting here, surely I’d go for someone a bit more buxom than a than a tired old Vedic philosopher.

      Being “so sick” of something, Yoga Whelp, is a very important moment. With just a little courage and a small capacity for self-reflection, you can step back and look at the tired, repetitive bullshit you have brewing not far beneath the surface, and maybe consider it a second before you project it all over someone you know nothing about.

      • Yoga Whelp

        Egads, Gargoyle, you really do exemplify this pathology. Thank you so much for the reminder – not that I really needed one. I’ll keep on keeping on, thank you very much. . Best wishes!

  4. Islamic cultures place a H*U*G*E emphasis on hospitality, not only because of the Brownie points involved, but the practice of giving with no expectation of any sort of reciprocal return is a form of practice on the art of giving and service. It lightens your load. The point being, you never really know who you’re giving to and what their story is.

    Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
    -Hebrews 13:2

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