Thinking About Branding /// Presence vs Absence /// Yogilebrities as Valueless Links in Value Chains

Victorian photograph of ghost and frightened man. Circa 1865.

Victorian photograph of ghost and frightened man. Circa 1865.

This weekend I got to thinking about branding (again) and how the branding of yoga teachers relates to the idea of presence and absence.

Imagine a yoga instructor who is both well-liked and sought after by enthusiastic students. Imagine this instructor has no dvd, no website, and teaches in a studio or space without any sign. Without a brand, this teacher is more or less required to be present in order to convey the teachings of yoga and collect payment for his services. In effect, this instructor’s income is linked directly to his being in a physical space to teach.

Compare this to an instructor with the same following, but who has branded himself. In doing so, this instructor is able to sell his images, teachings, and trademarked sequences to an audience not in his immediate vicinity. By commodifying his person, this instructor now has the ability to collect money solely on the strength of his branded identity. In order to earn wages, this yoga instructor has to merely ship his image, name, and presentation to a locale that is receptive to his teaching. From here he can simply collect from afar.

Seeing as in the spiritual world the idea of presence has come to hold a lot of weight, the ability for a teacher to transmit wisdom through a disembodied medium (for example via a dvd) is curious. Previous to the age of the video tape, a teacher was tied to the physical. To be present meant to either be within sight of another, or to be in a state of consciousness, as in: to be in the present moment. And yet, with the proliferation of sharable videos, physical presence is no longer a necessity, and thus “presence” has come to mean little more than “presentation.”

If this be the case, at what point is the physical no longer needed once a representation of the physical is fully set in motion? At what point does the physical yoga instructor, the one who has “branded thyself,” become little more than an outmoded link in a faulty value chain of their own making?

From wikipedia:

“A value chain is a chain of activities that a firm operating in a specific industry performs in order to deliver something valuable (product or service). A business unit is an appropriate level for construction of a value chain, not divisional or corporate level. Products pass through activities of a chain in order, and at each activity the product gains some value. Chain of activities gives the product more added value than sum of the independent activities’ values. A diamond cutter, as a profession, can be used to illustrate the difference of cost and the value chain. The cutting activity may have a low cost, but the activity adds much of the value to the end product, since a rough diamond is significantly less valuable than a cut diamond.”

How this might look in the commercialized yoga world:


Tomorrow, Baudrillard gets a nod. Woo hoo!


  1. Yoga_Dude

    Scenario #2 reminds me of the Catholic Church.

  2. Dyspeptic Skeptic

    Dharma seems to be making up for lost time lately. I see he is appearing at just about every YJ conference and Wanderlust. His teacher trainings are priced at $4000. His online store sells every conceivable nicknack. I particularly like the spiritual items sections with the Ganesh stickers and refrigerator magnets.
    (beware, turn down the volume as you will be assaulted with a loud and lingering Om)
    Sadly, in terms of commercialism, this is one of the most egregious examples of yogilebrity exploitation, particularly since he is considered the grand old man of “American” yoga. You would think he would have learned some better lessons along the way.

    • The way I see it, he could have gone two paths–he could have decided to keep a low profile and go really sedate and nearly old-school (kind of like Alan Finger with ISHTA), or this GloboGym approach.

      Well, Dharma Mittra started out as a bodybuilder. Do the math, people.

      • Dyspeptic Skeptic

        I know of no teachers who refer to themselves as self reverentially as Dharma. Therefore, while I may disagree with them, I do not consider them hypocritical as to their marketing efforts. This from Wikipedia and his website: Dharma “was accepted and initiated as a sannyasi (one who renounces the world in order to realize God).” What a crock.

  3. Garuda

    !!!New!!!! from Garuda Enterprises, It’s ‘Fool’s Gold Yoga’
    Yes all of your favorite, shiny poses and people, and nice speak, without the ickiness and time consuming assaying that some schools require.
    For just $29.95 you will receive a fancy picture of me, Garuda, to hang on your wall. You will also get a DVD of my prize student Lil’ Suzie Stickman performing my market tested Yoga flow sequence ™.
    If you order now, at no extra cost to you, I will include your very own, very personal mantra that I have selected especially for you.
    Dont be the last one on your block to order because supplies are limitless.
    Just send a certified check for $29.95 PLUS $10.00 FOR SHIPPING AND HANDLING TO :
    PO box 2345
    Cayman Islands

  4. Scenario 1 Yoga Instructors are the one who end up having a pretty solid following, usually spread by word-of-mouth and based on the fact that they know what they’re doing and why. There’s such an Iyengar yoga instructor in town, who isn’t a “star” instructor but all the other instructors have heard of him, but he usually works from home or the local YMCA. I know people who have come out raving about his classes and once they take once class with him and his quality of instruction, they can’t go back to less. He’s got such a devoted following and a stellar reputation precisely because he’s completely present and isn’t a yogilebrity, product or image.
    Hype has a very short shelf-life. Authenticity and genuineness pays off eventually.

    • Garuda

      I was one of those teachers to be sure. Right down to the YMCA thing. Unfortunately, the Y sees the world through market driven lenses as well, so instead of teaching the mean level of the classes, the Y feeds the monster by giving the room to a 23 year old cheerleader thus marginalizing the mean in favor of the other 23 year old cheerleaders. So it is not limited to commercial entities. It seems that there is a pluralism brewing.
      Those who want to teach 8 limbs as service, and those who want their ankles behind their heads for vanity.

  5. gross

    i appreciate this post, b/c i highly question what these BRAND teachers are offering into the world. may don’t teach regular classes anywhere, they just gallop around the world teaching some total BS 200hr trainings on the side of a cliff in greece in 2 weeks (btw, impossible to teach 200hrs in 2 weeks) and then never see the student again until they appear on another 3-5k retreat with them in parrot cay… , and they survive off photos and being nice to people in the super short amount of time they are “transmitting” their “deep knowledge”. seriously? yoga = relationship…. = over time. can you imagine anyone trying to have shiva rea as an on-going teacher for years and looking towards her for mentoring? she would not waste her time on one person (unless she was grooming her 2nd line in her brand).

    maximize the buck, minimize the time. passive income KI JAYA… yoga? eh, a means to an end.

  6. I judge by what they are selling and if the price is reasonable for what they are selling. I recently opted to get the ten dollar body rolling ball instead of the “special” fifty dollar ball, and got used DVD’s instead of new, but as Clavin Klein learned from his Dad some people just like to pay more for the same item.

  7. “this instructor now has the ability to collect money solely on the strength of his branded identity”..

    But is the above true? Brands on their own are worthless. I could brand my own asana/calisthenics/gymnastics/yoga instruction. But because I do not know what the fuck I am talking about my branded dvd would only by purchased by the Babarazzi. I would not be able to buy a new car or even a pair of naked yoga socks with the Babarrazi as my only customer.

    My problem with almost all Yogilebrities is not that they are “branded”. My problem is that in, IMO, most branded asana/calisthenics/gymnastics/yoga instructors do not back up their brands with real knowledge and skill. I am not interested in an instructional brand which is only backed up by a hot body, nice smile or a good personality.

    Geeta Iyengar published “Yoga, a gem for women”. Mr. Iyengar has published books and written numerous articles. Are the Iyengars branded now? One can receive instruction from the Iyengars without the Iyengars being in the room.

    Lets say that Geeta or her father do decide to “officially” brand themselves and sell instructional dvd’s. That instruction still would have value. This value would be separate from the brand. Why? Beacause they both really, really know what the fuck they are talking about.

    • gross

      that is really true. very true.. they DO know what the fuck they are talking about and it would be AMAZING to have some video’s of them teaching things. but i think the point is that they DON’T have these videos b/c each teaching is so timeless and specific to the moment. there are so many layers to that it cannot be taught in one video or whatever. but their books are amazing.

    • amphibi1yogini

      Yeah, there is little profitability potential in creating mass media videos, unless they become bestsellers.
      The teachers have to troll for private clients and retreat kickbacks where they can.

      Please wake me up when this is over …

  8. The P

    Even when some of these yogilebrities are physically present leading a workshop/training/whatever in front of actual students there is this disembodied, not really there quality about them. Like they are pre-programmed holograms fed onto the workshop stage featuring excerpts from the latest DVD offering. There are so many youtube examples to choose from but I will offer a recent vid I tripped across featuring Shiva Rae and Chris Tompkins that has me oddly fascinated. Just skip to the 5 minute mark where Shiva is adding that human connection to the workshop via student name introductions.

    The entire segment is so staged and affected, with her overboard hand gesticulations, the strange explanation of how the “village people” of the world greet each other and her big theatrical imitation of an Africa village person shout-greeting people. I’ve been to Africa and don’t recall anyone shouting at me like that. It’s all a big show, empty theatrics. I have no idea who Shiva Rae the person is from that video slice of the workshop other than someone who likes being the center of attention and wants you to be impressed that she’s been to Africa and met the village people.

    • The P

      Technical question .. what am I doing wrong that I can’t embed the youtube video above? Is there some special setting I should be using? Any help would be appreciated.

      • @The P, if you click SHARE (next to ABOUT and ADD TO), then click EMBED, it will give you the embed code. You can change the size, too, so it doesn’t overlap the body. let see if that works:

        • The P

          That’s what I did. It doesn’t look from my end that your copy/paste of the embedded code worked either. It just shows the link with a “[youtube ” preceding it. Maybe it’s my browser? Sometimes copying the embedded code works and other times not. Dunno..

        • It must be blocked in the options. Then again, WordPress or something could be ripping something out, because that’s not the straight embed code. It’s usually possible in wordpress comments, though WP sure can be wonky. Or again again, maybe there are some protector spirits guarding the babarazzi from shiva rae’s image.

      • Hmmm… I’ve noticed that for some people the link translates as a video, and for others it doesn’t too…. Let me see how it works for me:

        • The P

          Well, it worked for you, of course! Must be the metal plate in my head.

          Ah yes, Gorgoroth, in the early years, before Grumpy Cat joined and their music lost all it’s subtle irony..

    • the moment already came

      I’ve seen The Village People. The way they greet each other involves much, much more leather.

    • Oh God, The P, you are killing me with that video. I did what you said–I skipped to the 5 min mark–and I had to quickly stop it because it was so mortifying that my milk ducts (I’m nursing a sick baby right now) clamped shut.

  9. My comparison is that like any other product, a yoga teacher or a spiritual teacher can be judged by what it charges you to be with it in physical or virtual reality. At least that’s one way I decide whether it’s been overly co-modified. Perhaps it’s up to you to decide the spiritual value for yourself.

    • amphibi1yogini

      By the time it gets “commodified” into mass media, much of the spirituality is blanched out of it.
      They seem to think their public just wants a workout.

      But then, I take up pilates. I am not well enough to be doing much yoga any more (don’t have the time). What do I know?

      • Garuda

        Kinda like when I order in the local Vietnam restaurant. The descriptions are nice but I just order the one’s whos picture looks the most palatable…Faux…or…Pho

    • I get what yre saying, Peggy. My last comment was a bit uncooked. I blame it on responding by phone with limited reception. Like now.

  10. Yoga Whelp

    I think the big innovation is the web site – which functions as the virtual “storefront” for the large mass of yoga teachers who may not fit into Scenario 1 but have not yet grown into Scenario 2 – and may never do so, in fact. These figures usually are listed on the web site of one yoga studio – which may be their “home” studio – but teach in more than one place, without, however, offering their own DVDs or other major branding and marketing tools. In fact, some yoga teachers are simply listed on the studio storefront, as part of its “roster” of teachers, without even having their own website. In addition, there may be affiliated Facebook pages, for the studio and/or for the individual yogi, which further expand their “square footage,” while serving as marketing platforms for workshops and events, and providing space for continuous online interaction with favored clients and students. Some teachers add in homemade short videos that are posted on their page. Since these are only available on their website – and free – they are somewhat less “disembodied” and commodified than a DVD, while using the same basic technology.

    We’re probably dealing with progressive stages of a phenomenon, perhaps a continuum, and most definitely there’s a social status hierarchy inscribed within it, based on actual “popularity,” plus artificially generated buzz and celebrity. AB’s two broad categories may be Weberian “ideal-types” useful more for conceptualizing the basic issue, perhaps, than for describing the actual patterns and their variations – or all of the relevant venues. Again, cyberspace more than mechanical reproduction of imagery may be the critical new element here. People have been taking photographs, posting them, and making videos for quite a long time. Using the Internet and other social media – much more recently.


    Even the “real dealers” are doing it. And I’m happy to be able to have Mohanji’s teachings available here. His audio recordings of Krishnamacharya are very precious to him, as well.

    Teachers have been writing books for ages. Iyengar made Television specials. Krishnamacharya made videos. According to Mohan, he was ALL ABOUT promotion. He knew how to market.

    • gross

      i think there is a big difference in promoting with actual content, and posting videos of yourself all done up in make-up in pretty locations talking about yourself and not about yoga at all. like elena brower. promotion is fine, people have to live…. but promoting your BRAND w/o content is a little lame. something like that.


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