Yoga Journal is Just a Vessel for Commercialism /// Getting Upset About Its Yoga Connection Misses the Point

Wow. Last week, huh? Turned out to be a real zinger, right? All that “support the union” talk. All that Yoga Journal double speak being thrown around. All those yoga people getting really really wound up about a cause they didn’t even know existed until the day before, ’cause no one really cares about unions unless they’re told to (check FB feeds from days prior to find all that pro-union yoga solidaridad. Oh right, there wasn’t any).

So what happened while we were all asleep these past two days and the yoga community got all fired up like a John Friend effigy?

Well, It’s All Yoga, Baby continued to basically corner the whole YJ/Hyatt boycott coverage, making even alt-indie-news outlets dizzy with being too-little-too-late. Nice work, sister! (Just check the site for all the posts).

Then there were the few articles that did come out, which made Yoga Journal look like some straight up stupid f’ing detached forgetableness. (Check out the SF Bay Guardian article and the Counterpunch article).

Then, Seane Corn came out with a statement that basically says she will not participate in a yoga conference or event held at a Hyatt so long as the boycott is in place. (I guess the hyper-commercialism of YJ is dope, so long as the working class gets an extra paid sick day).

Then, a new activist-oriented FB page called “Decolonizing Yoga” sprang up with the tag:

“Challenging racism, patriarchy, capitalism, colonialism, ableism, heteronormativity and privilege within yoga and spirituality. A place for radicals, queers, activists, anarchists, feminists & revolutionaries to unite. Let’s do this!”

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…which is both exciting (because, well, it sounds pretty damn exciting!) and slightly wearisome (because, much of what passes as “yoga for activists” ends up being really watered down [because “hey, everyone is a teacher”] and involving a lot of pillows and “just do whatever feels right for today” because, anything less is “linear,” “masculine,” “heteronormative,” and thus “fascist.”)

This group then proposed an event titled “I Pledge to Not Attend or Teach at the 2014 Yoga Journal Conference at the Hyatt if Boycott Continues,” which I must admit, made us all chuckle a little, ’cause attending and/or teaching at a Yoga Journal conference seems like such a far-fetched idea. It’s almost like someone asking us to promise not to cut off our own nipples. I mean, there’s a time and place for everything, but 2014 probs ain’t gonna be that time, and San Fransisco probs ain’t gonna be that place.

Now, while the SF YJ/Hyatt biz did prick up me ol’ feathers a bit, over the weekend I found myself questioning more the responses to the YJ/Hyatt debacle, than YJ itself. In a way I felt like those old DC straight-edge punks who not only had to rebel against the norms of the world, but also their own stumbling drunk dead-end scene. Picking up what I’m dropping down (around min. 1:18)?

See, what I find so perplexing about some of the language used to challenge entities like Yoga Journal is that it often sounds as if people want to actually change Yoga Journal. As if to suggest that if something as big and grand as Yoga Journal were more populist in design, then it’d be OK. This focus on changing Yoga Journal, or the commercial yoga culture to better reflect some vague idea of commercial equality is very strange to me. Yoga Journal isn’t lame just because Yoga Journal ignores some picket line you never knew was happening. Yoga Journal is lame because its interests lie in hyper-commercialism, which by design is an alienating enterprise, and will ultimately promote the crossing of many picket lines. Who gives a fuck if commercialism take over yoga culture? Yoga culture ain’t anything worth saving, as yoga culture is just a form of commercialism.

Commercialism, like the “soul,” will abide in whatever vessel is willing and able to contain it. It’s not like Yoga Journal is some sort of unique entity that must be stopped, because God forbid someone commercialize “yoga.” Your daily yoga practice has nothing to do with Yoga Journal, and Yoga Journal has nothing to do with your daily yoga practice. Yoga Journal, and ultimately commercial yoga culture as a whole, act as vessels for commercialism to inhabit so long as there is a hungry market. When the market dries up, commercialism will pack up and leave. Find a new vessel within which it can set up shop. Yoga Journal will be left by the side, like every other vessel.

Ever notice what an old washed up trend looks like once the demand finds a new rationed source of sustenance? Aerobics, anyone? Cajun flavored Doritos? Jogging? It looks dated. It looks empty. It looks uninspired. Pull back its eyelids and you’ll find no one home. That’s because commercialism, the commodified “soul” of the fad, the fickle inspirator, has left the building.

So be careful when you put all your eggs in that Yoga Journal basket. You don’t want to end up kicking some torn up old pair of Z Cavaricci jeans in an abandoned mall, while the struggle has already moved down the highway to a different mall with better parking and one of those outdoor food courts.

16 comments

  1. Garuda

    Dammit! I just bought up the remaining inventory of Samadhi inducing Goji Berries too.

  2. Dyspeptic Skeptic

    Yoga Journal is just a generic “lifestyle magazine”.
    It could just as well be “O” magazine except they throw in the term Yoga.
    It is no coincidence that so many Yoga teachers are now Life(style) Coaches.
    Funny thing is many are unqualified to teach either subject.

    • Yoga Whelp

      Yeah, it’s kind of hard to give a life if you never got one to begin with? I know so many would-be life coaches who are just complete messes themselves. Just check out your local community bulletin board.

      The claims of people like Elena Brower seem to come down to: I met, sucked up to, then publicly ditched John Friend, and now look how many people pay attention to me! Maybe Friend should charge royalties on each of her clients, and those of his other former charges turned guru-wannabes.

  3. YJ is an outlet for a commercial sub-culture which already exists. If YJ disintegrated tomorrow, another YJ-esque would take it’s place. It’s not the magazines, the conferences, the products, the seminars, the retreats, the Acai berry colonics which are a problem (annoying as they are). It’s always boils down to the people themselves who participate or create such a commercial sub-culture in the first place and more importantly, their intention. If it’s not Jane Fonda’s workout, it’s step, Tai-Bo, Zumba or Pilates. Or yoga. Next? Maybe Capoeira or meditating during the Barre workout?

    “In a way I felt like those old DC straight-edge punks who not only had to rebel against the norms of the world, but also their own stumbling drunk dead-end scene.”
    The granddaddy of punk himself, The Clash’s Joe Strummer had to deal with this on a massive scale and went M.I.A for 10 years when punk went mainstream and it’s original message got lost in the shuffle of hyper-commercialization, when punk was about being anti-establishment and then became part of the establishment itself and lost it’s soul.

    • I agree, EER, and probably should have made that point more clear. The journals, conferences, etc. will often be created specifically for, or at least redirected toward, the hyper-commercial (HC), a term I’m trying to stick with, so as to leave room for a little commerce/exchange/etc. At any moment, people can reject this HC wave by direct refusal, absurdist acceptance, or moving camp elsewhere. I’ve seen all three. Your Joe Strummer example is a good one for moving camp. Adbusters in a weird way depicts absurdist acceptance. And, struggles against a Wal-Mart moving in can be for direct refusal.

  4. Any opinion on Origins magazine. It seems like Vogue or Wallpaper to YJ’s Marie Claire …

  5. amphibi1yogini

    I meant ORIGIN magazine, the one about Yoga, Art, Music and Lifestyle …
    Supposed to be a socially conscious, artsy coffee table book, but I am not really buying that …
    Fewer ads, glossy, heavy paper, and thickness of book don’t make less commercialism, to me …

  6. Gus

    I’m really glad you’re around. You’ve become an essential voice in the culture of yoga. I’m excited you’re curbing the overly-simplified potshots(they’re funny, but limiting) and instead have started some necessary discourse. We need you, and the stuff you’re putting out there and the dialogues you begin are changing the trajectory of my thinking and my path, so thanks.

    • Thanks, Gus. While we like overly-simplified potshots, as well as their limits, I agree, there’s more to it than that.

      So glad you’re sticking with and enjoying the site. Even more so that it’s having a (hopefully) positive effect on your thinking and path. Much love on that.

  7. Garuda

    It seems to me that a publication that bills itself as “Yoga Journal” ought to have something other than crass commercialization as it’s lead. They tend to not represent Yoga and they certainly are not journalists. While it might be more benevolent to let them be who and whatever they are, they misrepresent Yoga as a whole and should be called out on it. If comments contain snark, sarcasm, dry wit, or even mere ironic maundering about YJ, it is not intended to try to change YJ, its just a way to entertain. Much the way that many posters take a cheap swing at the likes of Sadie Narnini or whom ever. YJ may be low fruit but they did it to themselves through greed driven editorial practices.

  8. Be Scofield

    What is it that makes something hyper-commercial? Here is a video of the NYC anarchist bookfare: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=W_nBhJTrg_g

    It looks like a largely commercial enterprise to me.

    It seems like some believe that yoga is in a special category of its own and should be treated differently when it comes to commercialism and critique. But I’ve never understood how yoga asana and how it is taught across the country should be held to any different standard than a large pilates gathering, the Greenfestival, Apple conferences, book fairs…etc.

    Like, is the Greenfestival hyper-commercialized? Would this critique against the YJ conference be equally applied to it? Just curious what people think about this and if they believe that yoga conferences or yoga has something unique to it which makes critiquing it’s commercialization more important/significant than pilates or the Greenfestival.

    • Hey, Be. Thanks for the vid! I’ve been to this, and for any anarchist with a few bucks in her/his pocket, the convention is like letting a kid run wild in a candy store!

      As to your question: I think it’s pretty clear that this site has no intention of “saving” yoga or keeping yoga “pure” from commerce. We’re critiquing commercial yoga culture, because yoga is the niche we’re focusing on. As one of us has said before, were we clowns, we’d critique commercial clown culture. This is why we tend to not use yoga scriptures to back up our views, but rather pull from other media-crit-friendly sources. This is more or less a media criticism site. (Although at times we might quote from scripture if it seemed particularly clever to do so).

      We also distinguish between what we call “daily yoga practice” and “contemporary commercial yoga culture.” The practice is largely physical in nature, has the *ability* (at least) to rely on not much commodity exchange, and is more or less immediate (you, floor, air, breathe). Yoga culture, on the other hand, is mediated to a great extent by an exchange of money for products.

      The great thing about an early morning yoga practice: stores won’t be open for hours!

      But, here again, this has been said. While we could make a strong argument against money as a medium of exchange on the whole, we’re less inclined to go there. We are all consumers to some degree, though some more so than others. Each in their own we way go through this mediated life. And, even if there were a “silver bullet” to “fix” the “problem,” (terms I’m not fond of employing), I’d be against using it. Silver bullets are for werewolves. They serve little use on a twisty path littered with vampires.

    • Yoga Whelp

      The short answer is, because “yoga bleaching” changes everything, The American yoga industry is not just selling yoga-related goods and services, it’s slapping the “yoga” label on completely unrelated goods and services, “blessing’ them as part of the same consumer ethos. But what’s far worse, i think, is that yoga is selling yoga’s spiritual materialism as a lifestyle, and yoga as an unverified “cure” and “treatment” for all that ails you physically and psychologically, and indeed, as a uniquely Western and transcendent pathway to the Divine, superseding religion itself. The yoga industry is quite literally playing God – and it’s playing at playing God. Last time I checked, only Lucifer would do that — and try to get away with it.

      Pilates, by contrast, is modestly selling a fitness and wellness regimen through a series of specific techniques. Green festivals are promoting environmental awareness and healthier living. Yoga’s hyper-commercialism is going much further — it’s deliberately invoking and implying that it has a special mandate from Heaven, and it’s promising to actually take you there – for a fee, and for your undying psychic allegiance. You don’t have to be especially religious to consider that ambition a sacrilege and a public menace.

      “Spiritual materialism is “Satanism” — Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

  9. Yoga Whelp

    By the way, it may be worth mentioning that Yoga Journal, while something of a flagship publication, is not the only yoga mass circulation magazine out there currently. Others yoga mags include Yoga International, LA Yoga, Flow Yoga, Shambala, and Origin, all of which are available online. Integral Yoga and Bikram Yoga have their own magazines, too, I believe.

    However, the most ambitious competitor may well be is the brand spanking new OM magazine, published out of the UK. It’s development should be watched closely.

    Listen to this, from the premier issue –

    “Welcome to OM magazine, the UK’s most talked about new yoga and lifestyle publication.

    [Really, but you just came out, in 2013?]

    Designed to inspire and to energise, OM magazine wants to help you enjoy a more active and rewarding life, drawing on the physical and mental disciplines of yoga, an ancient practice just as popular today as it was thousands of years ago.

    [Who knew there was a $10 billion yoga mass market in ancient India! Dayum, must have been a lot of room in those ashrams and caves]

    We take our exercise seriously but this is more than a health and fitness magazine.

    [Oh, hence the Om?]

    At OM, our goal is to both entertain and to enrich, to nurture your soul at a time when the world around you may be preoccupied with more material concerns.

    [Unlike you, dear enlightened reader]

    In every issue we aim to nourish body, mind and spirit, to galvanise you into action, and to challenge how you feel about the world around you and the people and things in it.

    [Holy shit, you sound like a faith healer, masseuse, community organizer, life coach, shrink and muckraker
    all rolled into one!]

    OM magazine is not just about doing yoga – it’s about living yoga.

    [Actually, I think it’s just about READING about yoga]

    Namaste

    [Your mama]

  10. Pingback: yoga journal hearts hyatt: notes on a yoga conference model

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