Is There Any Irony in Yoga Lifestyle Culture?



The other day I peeped this NYT online exclusive titled “How to Live Without Irony” by Christy Wamploe. The piece begins with a slightly rehashed rant about hipsters that, from the perspective of any humble can of PBR, reads a little bit tired. Much is made about how awful the hipster is (they are) and how if you were born in the seventies, participated in making grunge music, watched the crumbling of the Berlin Wall on TV, and didn’t laugh nervously when 9-11 happened, than you’ve got bigger social cajones (we do) than someone born in the mid-to-late eighties.

The piece does eventually pick up steam, throwing some heavy duty barbs at irony for being a veritable social pathology:

“While we have gained some skill sets (multitasking, technological savvy), other skills have suffered: the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present. Our conduct is no longer governed by subtlety, finesse, grace and attention, all qualities more esteemed in earlier decades. Inwardness and narcissism now hold sway.”

And, is most un-subtle in its warnings against the dangers of such a universal condition:

“People may choose to continue hiding behind the ironic mantle, but this choice equals a surrender to commercial and political entities more than happy to act as parents for a self-infantilizing citizenry.”


Irony at its best employs healthy doses of self-critique, meta-self-critique, humor, awareness of one’s place in the world, and plenty of on-top-of-my-game-ness. All decent enough qualities. At its worst it’s an excuse for people to shrug responsibility for their behavior and choices. When everything becomes commentary—as an aging out-of-the-loop mystery human once said—there is no owning of one’s place in the world.



This got me thinking about the always-very-serious-’cause-this-is-important-and-spiritual yoga lifestyle culture, and how rarely I’ve come across any real irony being employed by its superstar mavens. I started to think back to two weeks ago and our article on David Newman’s latest save the earth jam (that is admittedly still kinda stuck in my head) and how terribly un-ironic it is. I mean, sure, I find a room full of twirling nouveau-hippies wanting to save the world from an apocalypse that could very easily be brought on by the very music they are twirling to as a display of irony.

A room full of apocalyptic storms....

A room full of apocalyptic storms….

But, I don’t think they do. Why? Because commercially-minded yoga lifestylist people are very serious about being yoga people. Nothing they do is ironic, because, not only do they own their behavior—in contrast to the hipster who disowns his behavior—but, the yoga lifestylist hoards his identity and behavior like a spiritual miser.





Now, usually I’d be eternally pleased to find a subculture devoid of that uninspiring Frankenfauxhemianism known as irony. But, when it comes to commercial yoga culture, I’m not so sure. With all the potential appropriation faux pas’ going on, you might think a little self-reference might do a yoga-body good.

I mean, this should be at least partially ironic, right?



Anyway, just thinking aloud.


NOTE: The front page image of a reverse question mark is known as a percontation point and has been proposed as a form of punctuation to denote either a rhetorical question or irony (depending on which linguist you’re speaking to).


  1. At the very least, some existential irony is in order: “I’m here on this earth, and I’m beginning to get over it”

    Maybe that’s reserved for mature people, though ….

  2. Yoga Whelp

    Maybe we need a new adjective: “ironeous” Situations or people filled with a depressing sense of unacknowledged irony.

  3. Linda-Sama

    that photo of Shiva Rea…..really? I mean, REALLY?!?

  4. True irony need not be a contradiction. True irony can be very serious. Not seriousness as a veil for well meaning intent, but seriousness born from the content itself. To suggest that irony excludes subtlety (as in the above NYT quotes) is to understand neither irony nor subtlety. Irony unto itself implodes. True irony is always in reference to a deeper, wider context and therefore provides a necessarily subversive method of destabilizing a context that has closed upon itself. It does this via gnawing on the bone of predominant assumptions, assumptions that provide false buffers for hunger. True irony exposes cultural malnutrition.

    • I agree with this. I think we taped the subtlety aspect in our “irony at its best… ” part. Maybe not enough. But, yes! Irony can be extremely subtle.

    • Yoga Whelp

      There are plenty of ironies that seem small and unintended as wider social commentary? I think your own definition of irony – which is more “intentional” – may actually blend into something else — satire. Another somewhat lost art form.

      One definition is as follows:

      “Satire is the exposure of the vices or follies of an individual, a group, an institution, an idea, a society, etc., usually with a view to correcting it. Satirists frequently use irony.”

      • Sorry can’t seem to post up top.
        I agree Yoga Whelp, I think I was rolling into satire territory- as the commentary also seemed to be talking about the ‘use of irony’ contrasted with the unintentional kind. Though at times I find it hard to differentiate as even unintentional smaller ironies can have an innate destabilizing purpose, even if unbeknownst to the person/situation the irony is working with/upon. Perhaps there is some working on me right now… From a certain perspective I am sure I am basking in absurdity! The dictionary definition of absurdity of course will be different to irony too, though I am a little wary of dictionary definitions when it comes to morphing fields/systems, as they can imply an exclusivity that life may not permit. I’m thinking of irony here as debris from the clash of contexts… In this sense I wonder if it would be possible to view the Shiva Rea photo as full of irony of the unintentional but purposeful kind? The purpose of course being unknown to her, the creators of the image and ultimately to us (its viewers), but a purpose working through the culture nonetheless. One possibility that might tie in with my own take on the situation could be the culture itself has a process of decay/rot at work and perhaps this decay is clearing the deck for something else to emerge. The fact that we are all ‘here’ noticing the absurdity of the image might suggest that there is both an audience for that process and participants willing to give it some momentum, in one way or another… Just an idea.

  5. The apocalypse is most certainly upon us when we take a half naked woman with willy wonka sized mala beads and tigers to be anything but ironic.

    • Agreed. What’s curious is that *we* see it as ironic, but *they* may not. (I’m using those terms lightly). Which is one of the differences between so-called hipster culture and yoga culture. The so-called hipster self-employs irony, whereas in yoga culture it must be read back into it.

      • Yoga Whelp

        There are a number of people who have riffed satirically – and bitingly – on yoga culture, from within the culture, but whether the culture itself has a sense of irony, well, it seems not. It’s far too self-important. I would add, though, that this hardly seems unique to yoga culture, or even to “spiritual” culture generally. We might find this “ironic”in the case of yoga because of the culture’s avowed emphasis on self-examination and personal authenticity. It should be “aware” of its own ironies?

        As for Shiva’s photo, one might say it makes a statement. In this vast expanse of land, the world’s largest continent, with majestic beasts, the kings of the jungle. spiritual power is large, too! The beads dominate the frame, even overshadowing her figure. A less cynical or ironic reading might be that the magazine, like so many magazines, wanted to do something out of the ordinary, and slightly eye grabbing. It’s not necessarily so different from the magazine that decided to have that pop star smoking a blown up pink condom as if it were a cigar?

        In other words, there may be no real cause for indicting yoga culture here – though there are plenty of other reasons to do so. Kudos to the magazine for expanding the aesthetic range and possible meaning of the image I say.

    • Chai Fan

      Or perhaps it is a normal sized mala, on a tiny-sized woman. Surrounded by tiny tigers.

  6. The P

    “Shiva Rae is the Madonna of the yoga world”

    That’s one kooky yoga montage! Poor tigers took a wrong turn out of the forest and ended up in the salt flats.

  7. Are those really mala beads or are they those flotation devices they use to cordon-off unsafe beaches when the water has a high fecal count?

  8. Greenpoint

    those are the most bored Tigers I have ever seen…and I don’t blame them…

  9. Edward Staskus

    Tigers need water to drink, other animals to eat, and vegetation in which to hide. I guess they could eat Shiva Rea, but then washing her down is going to be hard, and as for the vegetation, well, there isn’t any in the desert, so they are not going to like that.

  10. yogasanas

    Her mala beads are almost as big as her balls. Iron-ic balls.

  11. Yeah I think you did too… it was the quotes that got me rolling in that direction. I appreciate your commentary…very much.

  12. I’m very serious about being yoga people.

  13. Sweet Pea

    Great post and discussion about our very un-ironic yoga culture! Doc Rot- To reply to your above post regarding the ‘witnessing of the absurdity of the image’ perfectly voiced a thought I had today about our yoga culture in general. It seems that so many people take yoga so seriously, and by yoga I mean their dedication to their ‘practice’ which is mainly a dedication to their asana practice- getting better at the circus type poses- and their ‘yoga lifestyle’ in general. Your articulation about the audience for the process of decay/rot and our witness to it to help give it momentum was spot on. I feel so encouraged to have websites such as this and the opinionated and perceptive commentators that respond. I don’t feel like I am the only one in the midst of this yoga culture (and as someone who teaches in it as well) saying- what the hell is going on here?! Let it rot baby!

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