Thursday, September 9, 2010

Yoga, Weight Loss, & Spirituality: Parsing the Cultural Politics of Slim Calm Sexy Yoga

Coming close on the heels of L’Affaire Toesox, the highly publicized launch of Tara Stile’s new book – catchily entitled Slim Calm Sexy Yoga – has once again got me thinking a lot about the tricky relationship between yoga and North American culture.

And it is tricky. Because even though part of me would simply like to denounce the crass commercialization of yoga and be done with it, an even bigger part doesn’t feel justified in doing that.

But why not?

After all, I don’t think that having prominent yoga teachers push highly commercialized images of “slim sexy” bodies, along with weird promises such as shrinking practitioners from a “size 8 to 00” (see ad below) is OK. On the contrary, I think that it’s pushing the evolution of American yoga in precisely the wrong direction: one that undermines, rather than strengthens, its potential to heal our hyper-materialistic and spiritually disconnected society.

Still, when I listen to those who hold the opposite viewpoint – who think that the images and messages associated with SCSY and the like are inclusive and inspiring, that they’ll bring more people to the practice and that it’s all good – I recognize many of my own, most deeply held values. Up to a point, their arguments really do resonate with me.

So both out of a sense of identification, as well as basic respect, I don’t want to just denounce the pro-SCSY arguments as wrong-headed. Instead, I want to try and parse out why I think that they incorporate some really beautiful values – and why I believe that many in the yoga community are applying these values in confused and confusing ways.

As I see it, the underlying issues boil down to democracy, spirituality, and culture.

“Yoga is for Everybody”

For those of you who haven’t been following the discussion, SCSY hit a nerve in the blogosphere with the following ad:

True, even fans of Tara Stiles have had a hard time justifying these over-the-top promises to “burn bra fat” and so on. Nonetheless, most easily wrote them off as unfortunate distractions from the virtues of the book itself – which, they argue, is a valuable introduction to yoga for a mass market audience.

“Using the language (of weight loss, de-stressing, and sex) that so many people already understand to deliver a yogic message might just be a great step towards a communication that permeates the people more broadly,” wrote blogger Brooks Hall in a popular Elephant Journal post. Most readers loved her perspective: “Yoga is universal with a different meaning for each one of us,” one reader approvingly explained.

I love this very open, inclusive perspective too – but only up to a point.

I love the deeply democratic commitment to bringing yoga “to the people” – making it accessible to everyone by reaching out to meet them where they are right now. And it’s precisely because I share this value, and think that it’s really important, that I can’t simply denounce SCSY, much as it turns me off on a personal level.

Plus, I can’t ignore the fact that numerous testimonials on Tara Stile’s You Tube channel (and elsewhere) demonstrate that she is in fact turning people onto yoga. “Thank You Soooo Much for your Video's,” one fan enthused. “I am Learning so much, I am a beginner and you have made it so simple for me to follow, I have been doing Yoga for about a week now, going on to week two and loving it. You Rock!”

So Who Am I (or Anyone Else) to Judge?

Given such glowing praise, one might well ask: Who am I (or anyone else) to criticize such successful mass-market yoga? It seems churlish, if not selfish, to insist that the “Slim Calm Sexy” approach is moving yoga in the wrong direction if it’s seemingly working for so many so well.

And indeed, some are not shy about accusing critics of being unnecessary pains. “I find this whole debate so irritating,” fumed one commentator. “The idea that someone who is practicing x and x yoga style or at a gym somewhere isn't practicing real yoga is demeaning. Should they just pack up and go home then? It's just another way for some people to be elitist and divisive.”

Tara Stiles herself a similar argument in a recent Huffington Post article (pointedly entitled “Getting Real About Yoga and Weight Loss.”) Here, she criticized those who believe that yoga should be about “something other than weight loss, something wrongly perceived as deeper, more intellectual or psychologically superior”:
There are people who intensely clutch an idea that yoga is a higher system, not to be lowered to the weight loss or even fitness category. This is the same kind of clutching that has kept yoga part of a tightly knit club for so long, since its introduction in America. I am standing up for yoga, because if yoga was a person, she/he would have no part of any superior air.
Wow. That’s quite a statement: If you believe that yoga is about more than weight loss, then you’re a part of an elitist, exclusivist clique!

IMHO, that’s a very weird position for a yoga teacher – not to mention one who’s the official instructor to Deepak Chopra – to take.

The Pitfalls of Yogic Populism

But then again, maybe not: after all, this kind of quasi-populist reasoning is all too common in America today. In my view, however, it’s precisely where the democratic commitment to bringing yoga to the people goes wrong.

American society has largely embraced a lowest-common-denominator approach to democracy, one that accepts no standards other than what’s popular in the mass market. It’s the “tyranny of the majority” - now fueled along by manipulative, aggressive, and lavishly funded marketing and advertising campaigns.

By this logic, if weight loss is more popular than spiritual growth, then it is, by definition, wrong to insist that the latter is more valuable than the former. Following this line of reasoning, the contemporary “yogic” desire to sculpt a hot bod must be elevated to a status of at least equal importance with more traditional commitments, such as cultivating non-violence, truthfulness, and non-covetousness. To suggest otherwise would be (I suppose) divisive and elitist.

Say what? Much as I try to wrap my head around it, it still boggles my mind that I’m living in a society where prominent yoga teachers teach that it’s wrong to believe that spirituality is more valuable than weight loss.

How did we arrive at such a confused and confusing place?

The Problem of Standards

While I can’t fully answer that question, I can think of some things that help explain the weirdness of American yoga culture:
  1. When yoga was transplanted from India to North America, it lost its organic connection with any guiding spiritual tradition. Although yoga was never exclusively tied to Hinduism, in India there was (and is) a natural connection to its vast religious and spiritual resources. In North America, no such deep cultural link between yoga and spirituality exists. 
  2. Many people – including many yoga practitioners – are extremely uncomfortable with the term “spirituality.” It’s very vague and has off-putting, flaky, New Age-y associations.
  3. In contrast, improving our physical and mental health – both as individuals and a society – is an important, pressing, and popular cause. It’s very concrete, and has many positive associations.
  4. We hold strong democratic values. So, it makes sense that anything that’s seen as contributing to a popular cause (health, or more broadly, improving our physical bodies) trumps an amorphous, counter-cultural, and confusing value (spirituality). 
  5. All of this is unfolding in a context in which democracy has been made into the servant of neo-liberal capitalism. Alternative visions of American democracy – ones that don't put materialist, market values at the center of everything – have been under attack and in remission for the past several decades. (The main groups protesting the eclipse of non-market values have been religious fundamentalists, who, it's safe to say, aren’t exactly a strong presence in the yoga community.)

The result? A society in which yoga practitioners and even teachers can – no doubt with the best of intentions! – advocate the view that it’s elitist to believe that yoga should be about something more meaningful than weight loss.

Yoga, Spirituality, and Democracy

I disagree. I don’t think that it’s elitist to hold fast to a higher vision of yoga. I don’t think that it’s exclusivist to believe that the work of the yoga teacher is to help people connect to their authentic selves; their inner spirits. And I don’t think that it’s democratic to accept the mass market as the arbitrator of our values.

The reason that I want to hold on to the truth that yoga is about more than feeling slim, calm, and sexy is not because I want to put down people who find that ideal attractive. It’s because I believe that it’s really, really important to offer them something much more valuable – something that will really help them in their lives – if we can.

A good yoga teacher can and should work with students who want nothing more than a hot bod. Or to help a bad back. Or to de-stress. Or whatever. I totally agree that it doesn’t matter what draws someone to yoga; it’s all good.

But I also believe that the work of a real teacher is to provide students with experiences and resources that will (if they are open to them) lead them to a much deeper connection with their bodies and selves – one that, ultimately, touches the mystery that I call Spirit.

Anything else is selling us all short. And no matter how much it sells, or how many people love it, I still believe that we are all being done a profound disservice if we don’t continue to value the deeper dimensions of yoga – which are, when you stop to think about it, really the only ones that will ultimately help any of us in the end.


  1. Hi, Carol. I appreciate all the careful thought that went into writing this essay.

    However, those of us who support Tara (although not her misleading ads) are arguing for diversity and acceptance, not for a lighter form of Yoga over your deeper, more spiritual version.

    In my opinion, it simply doesn't need to be an either/or argument as your whole essay implies. And neither is it lowest common denominator democracy. It's inclusiveness vs. exclusiveness.

    In my inclusive Yoga world, even some of the fundamentalist Christians you specifically deign to exclude practice Yoga. Why not?

    Furthermore you are seriously misusing Tara's quote. She said it should be OK for someone to practice Yoga just for weight loss, not that that's the only way to practice it.

    Anyone who knows Tara's overall work knows that she appreciates and embraces other forms of Yoga, too. This is obvious in her very public embrace of Deepak Chopra, who represents the opposite end of the Yoga spectrum--the pure spirituality of the Upanishads.

    What an excellent combination these two make together, and what a great advertisement for Yoga diversity, inclusiveness, and cross-fertilization.

    Your serious mis-statement of Tara's views seems to be the driver of most of your blog. And no one's saying you shouldn't make all the arguments you want to in selling the virtues of your particular spiritual approach to Yoga, or that I shouldn't explain my personal preference for the Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita.

    If one is to make a more logical argument against Tara Stiles Yoga, it would be the radical feminist point of view of Linda, Svsasti, and others. I don't subscribe to their point of view, but I will give them credit for making a cohesive society-wide argument that this is part of a insidious attack on the mental well-being of all women. But that has nothing to do with Yoga per se.

    In spite of my disagreement, I still want to express appreciation for your thinking and your essay. It is a valuable contribution to the debate, and I personally think this debate is good for everyone.

    Bob Weisenberg

  2. Hi Bob: Thanks for reading and commenting. You may well be right: perhaps I am misinterpreting Tara Stiles message. I admit that I had never heard of her until recently. I did try to research her work as much as I could in a limited amount of time. And I could certainly point to other examples of what I characterized as an overly populist approach to teaching yoga. But maybe I'm blind to her deeper teachings, which seem so obvious to you. It's certainly possible - although I'd need more help in understanding precisely how that's true.

    Or maybe we're talking past each other: my point is not that it's wrong to practice yoga for weight loss - as I said, I agree that whatever brings people to the practice is good. My point is that I don't think that the work of the yoga teacher is to promote yoga for weight loss, pure and simple - even if that's what people want, in my opinion, if that's all you offer them, you're not really teaching yoga (and not serving them well).

    So this distinction between practitioner and teacher is important to me, and I'm still not really clear on your take on it.

    Another, smaller point of clarification: my mention of fundamentalists was not meant to suggest that they shouldn't practice yoga - while I can understand why you read it that way, that wasn't my intent. I was instead trying to make the point that other culturally strong voices against the dominance of market values in our society have largely disappeared.(And that fundamentalists, as I think anyone would agree, are not exactly a big presence in the yoga community.)

    I will continue to try to understand your perspective better, because I don't feel that I quite get it. Thanks for the dialog!

  3. wow, Bob. I haven't heard the phrase "radical feminist" in over 20 years, although I like to think I'm more of a radical humanist.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts, Carol. Let me noodle this a little bit and get back to you tomorrow. This dialog is very good for me. I like the way it forces me to clarify my thinking. Thank you.


  5. You know Bob, you seem to do a lot of talking about yoga without appearing to have an actual practice (or if you do, you never talk about it or discuss your insights from your practice)... and yet you do have an awful lot to say.

    I've mostly ignored your comments as the ravings of someone who doesn't really have a clue. But the problem is that you talk loudly and often. And you say a lot of rather ridiculous things.

    Your comment here is no different.

    "inclusiveness vs. exclusiveness"... Come on! I mean really.

    You admit to not being interested in traditional yoga. So in some ways you're very exclusive in your perspective. Your exclusivity is that you choose to deny anyone else's right to feel offended by the way yoga is being sold in America. You argue that anyone who disagrees with you is being elitist and exclusive. That simply doesn't stack up.

    And let's put this whole argument into another context. Let's talk about... tennis. It's a multi-billion dollar industry world-wide. You can't just go around calling anything you like - say table tennis - by the name of tennis. You would get sued in a heartbeat.

    But poor old yoga isn't a corporation - yet - so Americans try to make it one, and in the process reinvent it to suit themselves. It's appalling. And from someone outside of America and someone who has been studying and practicing yoga in a much more tradition setting for a while now, I can't tell you how insane most "American yoga" looks.

    And where exactly do you draw the line with your "inclusiveness"? Is watching someone do yoga to be considered yoga? What about drinking coffee in a cafe? Or sky diving? Can we include pretty much anything and everything in the world under the banner of yoga, simply because there's people out there like you, who want to be able to define yoga as "anything we like"?

    An important aspect of yoga is the ability to discriminate. But not as in discriminate against people for benign reasons. Rather, discriminate what is real and what is not.

    Seems to me that a lot of what people are claiming as yoga is simply not real. As are a lot of the conversations that happen in the blog space where people make all sorts of yoga claims without ever having had a regular practice or having studied under a recognised teacher for a lengthy period of time.

    And then, calling those of us who disagree with people like Tara's "radical feminists" is appalling. And rude! I understand you have sons and no daughters. So you've never had to experience the trials and tribulations of a young girl trying to grow up in this world. As such, you are again speaking from a position of extreme ignorance.

    But to call us "radical" for our opinions is also a way of saying that we can be ignored because our views are "so extreme". That sort of opinion was very common in the 1960's.

    And once again, you're showing your own exclusiveness right there.

    Also, what's this? "But that has nothing to do with Yoga per se."

    Yoga is about well-being of mind and body. And yoga teachers who promote harmful mind-body messages definitely has something to do with yoga, in that it is so NOT yoga.

    I shake my head at the Tara/Deepak connection. Tara clearly has a warped view on body issues and maybe that comes directly from her years as a dancer. Who knows? But something is definitely off with her. And something is definitely off with your radical defense of "everything is yoga".

  6. Linda. I'm sorry if I chose the wrong term. I actually meant that as a neutral descriptive term, but if it's the wrong one, just replace it with the one that's right.

    My point was to acknowledge that there's a consistent, cohesive, and long-standing body of thought behind your criticisms of Tara.

  7. If yoga was a person, I doubt she'd want people to become self-conscious about their "bra fat" or realize that some one wearing size 8, has "less than desireable" hips.

    I'm all for bringing yoga to the people. I do it 5 times a week. I don't chant or discuss yamas and niyamas, but I'd like to think my students eventually come to the realization that something is going on beside strengthening and toning. Actually, I know they do, because they tell me as much.

    So this size 12/14, with hips courtesy of two babies, seems to be able to bring students, retired teachers, teenage moms, grandmothers, blue collar workers, lawyers, nurses, etc. etc. to a place of calm centeredness without ever resorting to loose-weight-quick promises or parading around naked. Ever.

    So why can't that be populist yoga? Like you said, Carol, why does the language of the marketplace have to be what resonates with "the people?" How about common sense, straight forward teaching?

    This is what troubles me--the continuing implication that either you embrace the YJ, whippet-thin inspiration/aspirational-photography approach or you are an elitist yoga snob. You're either with us or against us...

  8. Hi, Svasti.

    I'll leave it for others to make their own judgments about your response. But I will correct a couple of facts.

    I grew up with three sisters and no brothers. I have a daughter and a granddaughter in addition to my two sons, two grandsons, and six nieces.

    I was once married to a woman who was one of Wisconsin's leading criminal prosecutors, specializing in sex crimes and sexual abuse. I'm now married to a woman who was an inspirational middle school teacher and is now an education consultant.

    I went to college in California in the late sixties with many women who considered themselves radical feminists. It was not a negative term back then, and isn't to me now.

    (My mother was an early feminist who attended the University of Chicago in the late thirties when it was still unusual, then received her masters degree at USC.)

    I can assure you I do have a serious Yoga practice.

    I invite your critique, as I do from anyone, but I just wanted to correct those facts.

    Thank you for writing.

    Bob W.

  9. "You're either with us or against us."

    And that has been the rising tide that has come out of this entire debate.

    But what is even more troubling to me is the idea that there is something wrong with questioning the status quo, the status quo being the commercial American yoga scene that Carol writes about. Suddenly anyone who questions what is being put out there is considered "elitist." Or worse, a "hater."

    I'm also all for bringing yoga to the people and I've been doing it for about 10 years now in a place where women wouldn't know Lululemon from lemonaid -- Hispanic domestic violence survivors who I can assure you have no desire to be size 00. Sure they ask me if yoga can help them lose their belly fat left over from having babies, nothing wrong with that -- but they sure as hell place a higher value on the peace and calmness they feel after a class over the possibility of losing a dress size, believe me.

    If wanting to bring some emotional freedom to these woman and not just another weight control technique or not wanting yoga "to be lowered to the weight loss category", as Stiles says, is "elitist" or "superior", then honey, I'm the biggest elitist yoga bee-atch you'll ever see.

  10. Lively discussion, couple thoughts. tennis has evolved and continues to evolve, there are rules,there is code, there is convention, someone owns the URL; there is a heirarchy, but no one owns tennis. We honor the Greeks for democracy, but certainly not for their slave-holding. Similarly, there are parts of Indian spiritual tradition that promote a subservience of women to men. Is that practice/teaching we wish to espouse? Commercialism has been one part of civilization since pre-history; might our energies be better spent developing practical, meaniful, alternatives? Being easily offended, to me, speaks volumes about spiritual development, as does denigrating the perceptiveness and/or assuming the quantity and/or quality of any person or groups, knowledge. You can have "holier than thou" or "politically correct" discussion, but frankly my dear, it is a waste of time. The essentiasl truth is the devotee must experience their journey which starts in the here and now. It has been said "all roads lead to Rome" and I think, we know there is not only "one true path"

    Roger Korsak

    PS: please excuse mispellings/gramartical errors, my tools are down

  11. Hey Roger,

    I'm not sure who you are, and possibly you've no back story to work with here. Whatever.

    Moralising about a conversation that at best, you partially understand and calling judgement on what you see, is probably unwise.

    Suggesting that someone is easily offended when you've no context, is also pointless.

    No one owns tennis? Really? Tell that to the various tennis associations worldwide.

    Bringing up slave holding (which Americans had a good go at as well, and a lot more recently) and certain parts of Indian traditions (NEVER spiritual parts though!) that made women subservient to men (again, something western culture has done too, and a lot more recently) is irrelevant to this discussion.

    "Commercialism has been one part of civilization since pre-history"... it HAS? Really? Please explain what you mean by this.

    Denigrating the "spiritual development" of others when you know nothing of which you speak, is ummm... silly.

    There's nothing wrong with being angry, or critical or suggesting that what people are talking about is complete BS if that is your view.

    None of what I have to say comes from a "holier than thou" attitude. Not at all. You only have to read my blog, which includes a great deal of self-reflection, recognition of my own faults and issues to see the falseness of your assumption.

    While it's true that there is no "one true path", there are paths of delusion. And there's an AWFUL lot of that going on in this debate.

    Frankly my dear, your comment in itself reeks of "holier than thou" and "tsk tsk, how dare she be so openly critical" and it's out of context.

  12. Thanks, Roger, for reading and commenting. I totally agree that all of these traditions evolve. My hope is that by discussing important ideas and developments in American yoga, we can contribute at least a little bit in a positive way to that evolution.

    In principle, I don't believe that all critiques of the commercialization of yoga (and related issues) are a waste of time. In practice, they may not be going anywhere worthwhile. But at this point I think that that remains to be seen.

  13. I have to say that Bob's passive/aggresive method of commenting is pretty amusing. With that said, I find this an interesting discussion.

  14. Hi, Martin. Glad that you find it interesting. But let's please try to refrain from negative comments about other commentators. Maybe this piece is generating that because it's too focused on an individual. I was hesitant to do that, but felt that this book, given the rising prominence of the author, marked an important development in American yoga. It - as well as the surrounding discussion - certainly sparked a lot of reflection in me, and I felt moved to share that. But if it's not generating a helpful dynamic, then what's the point.

    (Of course, this comment is referring to a lot beyond your particular comment, which was relatively mild - it's really the larger dynamic that I'm feeling online, including but also beyond this blog, that I'm starting to feel is just not going in a good direction. Hope you understand. Thanks again.)

  15. thanks for a thoughtful, reasoned argument, carol! for me the crux of the post lies here: "American society has largely embraced a lowest-common-denominator approach to democracy, one that accepts no standards other than what’s popular in the mass market. It’s the “tyranny of the majority” - now fueled along by manipulative, aggressive, and lavishly funded marketing and advertising campaigns." and it's aggravating that this approach has been applied to yoga.

    i also believe in making yoga available and non-elitist to all people, but i believe there's a way to do it without stripping it of all meaning and depth, without exploiting people's fears and insecurities.

    i see "slim calm sexy yoga" (and most mainstream commercial yoga) as essentially being white bread yoga: it looks like yoga, tastes like yoga, but is ultimately devoid of nutrients. why offer the populous wonderbread, when they could receive nourishing multigrain bread?

    and like you, my frustration with everything is b/c i believe yoga has so much more to offer than a healthy body, and that these offerings are what our culture needs right now.

  16. Martin.

    How dare you make this utterly shameful outrageous charge that I'm being passive/aggressive?

    That said, thank you so much for writing and I warmly look forward to our future enjoyable discussions.

    Bob W.

  17. Part of the issue I have with an anything goes attitude, coupled with the idea that people may start at one place, but will gradually be moved by practice to a deeper place is that it assumes that the yoga being offered is enough to spark a transformation for a person.

    But when what's being offered is a limited number of Asanas, and lots of pep talks about physical appearance, I seriously question that students will somehow magically have the kinds of shifts in their lives that Yoga was designed to encourage. Asanas are only one of the eight limbs, and if someone is just doing them for their weekly workout, or even for a few days a week workout, it's going to stay pretty much about exercise.

    Now, I'm actually fine with people exercising. Let's just call it something else. "Exercise yoga"? "Pretzel Workout"? Whatever. When everything from being a monastic yogi to some guy sweating in a gym is labeled "yoga," it destroys the meaning of the term, and gives people a muddled sense of what it is that's being talked about.

    I'm fascinated how some folks cling to the idea that discernment, parsing out, and even making critical judgments are somehow "unspiritual" or not "yogic." If those who developed the path over all these centuries never took a stand on anything, then you'd have no practice, pure and simple.

    Carol said: "My point is that I don't think that the work of the yoga teacher is to promote yoga for weight loss, pure and simple - even if that's what people want, in my opinion, if that's all you offer them, you're not really teaching yoga (and not serving them well)." This to me is one of the most important points of the discussion. If yoga teachers are just doing whatever they think will bring people in the doors, then something is very off. Or, again, if people are trained to teach asanas and talk fitness, then call it something else.

    I think one of the elephants in the room is that the word "Yoga" sells, and everyone wants to call what they do "yoga" now, because they know it will get people to spend money.

    The trouble is that this whole "elitist-populist" divide is actually about trying to squeeze too much under one tent. Why do we have to stay under one tent? Maybe we'd all respect each other better if there was a clear, decisive divorce made.

  18. These discussions are good to bring up

    Thank you Carol for posting and being a voice in the journey of this new wave of American Yoga.

    May we always learn from the teaching

    तदा द्रष्टुः स्वरूपेऽवस्थानम्॥३॥
    tadA drashtuH svarUpe&vasthAnaM
    Seer abides in the self

  19. Hi, Nathan.

    You're right. For many people things would be fine if they just didn't call it "Yoga". It all comes back to my "Yobo" proposal in the end:

    First It Was Yobo, Now There Is Ratra (Radical Traditional) Yoga

    Almost a year old now, the Yobo solution is looking better all the time!

    Bob W.

  20. bravo, nathan.

    "But when what's being offered is a limited number of Asanas, and lots of pep talks about physical appearance, I seriously question that students will somehow magically have the kinds of shifts in their lives that Yoga was designed to's going to stay pretty much about exercise."

    what you say is exactly why I don't buy into what many say that if one does any type of "yoga" it will naturally lead them to discover more. yes, definitely with some. but no, not all. people seem to believe that this will magically happen with any type of yoga class that is currently out there.

    which is pretty much why I don't subscribe to the current trend of calling anything and everything "yoga."

  21. "the Yobo solution is looking better"

    a cave in India is looking better to me all the time.

  22. Linda,

    Can I join you? Then we can keep the dialog going.

    (Whatever happened to Rainbeau Mars, anyway?)

    Bob W.

  23. Carol,

    BRAVO! I think your essay is coherent, and right-on!

    If we're not teaching yoga as moksha-shastra, then why not call the classes "Asana Class?" Years ago, as a participant and teacher in a Yoga Teacher Training for 60 yoga teachers, on the first day, when asked who had a consistent mediation practice, only 5 or 6 folk raised their hands! The director responded, "Then you are not practicing nor teaching yoga." THAT GOT THEM!

    As for making it accessible, I've taught in the corporate world, in prisons, and even subbed in gyms, without feeling any need to water or dumb it down. It's so EASY to teach mindfulness, compassionate action, non-jugmental awareness, radical acceptance without using any yoga jargon, overt 'spiritual' terms or expressions.

    This "inclusive" and "accessible" talk is a red herring. What's on the table is a matter of values, and it really is no surprise to me that so many just don't see that. As a culture, we've lost sight of value as we've grasped for more and more quantity (possessions and experiences).


  24. When last visiting this subject was in reactive mode, attempts at humor fell flat. Some days not sure who I am either; it seemed messengers and message were being attacked , authenticity questioned. Carol wrote a expository peice asking good questions. Each adult has a back story, spiritual and intellectual development are not the property of the elite, just the othe day, a young man, of a group some might say "wouldn't know Lululemon from lemonaid" said to me "It doesn't matter what you have, it matter how you take care of it".We all walk the way of the houselder whatever cave we are in. Knowledge comes with communication.The property of the "Utuzi" man is an interesting study. Been been playing tennis for thirty years, came to yoga at the same time through the natual foods movement, now fifty-five practicing the rigor of tennis everyday, to me, being a dancer means smart body management and promotes healthy self-image. Radical femminist was a badge of courage, please don't call me late for dinner.

  25. Hi Roger: Thanks for reconsidering and re-ecommenting. While I don't quite get all that you're saying here (particularly the "late to dinner" reference - what?), I appreciate your engagement with the post.

    I agree that personally attacking others and/or questioning their authenticity is counterproductive. At the same time, I believe that we need to be free to question where new leaders in the American yoga community may be leading us. It's like politics: we can and should question the Obama Administration's (or any other's) policies. That doesn't mean that we need to attack Obama as a person, or even that we don't want him as our President. Intelligent questioning is a good thing and vital to a healthy democratic society.

  26. I'm a jazz freak and usually listen to what is considered "real jazz" (as a Sirius XM satellite radio station is entitled) as opposed to "lite jazz" (as a former Chicago radio station billed itself.) However, I also have a "lite jazz" station programmed in my car radio. they advertise themselves as "contemporary jazz."

    I thought, how appropo for yoga nowadays. if a teacher teaches an asana only class -- no pranayama, no meditation, no chanting, no proper instructions on bandhas, no discussion on texts -- then why don't they just bill the class as "contemporary yoga" and call it a day?

    Just like Frank Jude, I have also taught in places other than yoga studios, in fact, I started out at my local park district and only do workshops at studios now. But even 9 years ago, when supposedly there were a lot less people doing yoga, I never felt the need to water or dumb down yoga. something brought people to my classes other than "slim sexy yoga" or "yoga for abs", when the number of asana-only "yoga" books did not exist as they do now.

    As Frank said, "It's so EASY to teach mindfulness, compassionate action, non-judgmental awareness, radical acceptance without using any yoga jargon, overt 'spiritual' terms or expressions."

  27. Carol, Thanks for the well written blog entry. It's certainly generated some lively debate.

    As for me personally, well, I find the Tara Stiles ad a tad exclusive. I've only worn a bra once in my life for reasons that I don't have space to go into now and I'm not planning on looking sexy any time soon ...

    The picture of the above flag paints a thousand words. It's all about the Benjamins. Why are Tara and Deepak together? Cross-branding: she gets to benefit from some spiritual authenticity and he gets some sex appeal.

    "Radical acceptance:" that's the first time I've heard that phrase. I need to read up on it. It really resonates. Thanks.