Thursday, March 10, 2011

"It's All about ME!": Yoga Journal Mission Statements, 1985 vs. Today

Here's Yoga Journal's mission statement as it appeared in a special 10th anniversary issue back in Spring 1985:
Yoga Journal is dedicated to communicating, to as broad an audience as possible, the qualities of being that yoga exemplifies: peace, integrity, clarity, and compassion. In particular, we focus on body/mind approaches to personal and spiritual development – such as Hatha Yoga, holistic healing, transpersonal psychology, bodywork and massage, the martial arts, meditation, Eastern spirituality, and Western mysticism – and on people who, in their life and work, epitomize these practices. We encourage open dialogue and a range of viewpoints, and we invite you to join us in bringing to our troubled world a life-affirming vision of harmony and wholeness.

This statement appeared regularly in every issue up through the early 1990s.

It's interesting to see how it contrasts to its current equivalent, which is really more of a marketing than a mission statement. (That is, it's the standard blurb that appears on the publisher's website (Active Interest Media), Google Books, etc. - but not on the masthead itself, like the old one did.)
For more than 30 years, Yoga Journal has been helping readers achieve the balance and well-being they seek in their everyday lives. With every issue, Yoga Journal strives to inform and empower readers to make lifestyle choices that are healthy for their bodies and minds. We are dedicated to providing in-depth, thoughtful editorial on topics such as yoga, food, nutrition, fitness, wellness, travel, and fashion and beauty.
There's many things that strike me as significant in comparing these two statements. But one jumps out at me most strongly: namely, that in its current incarnation, Yoga Journal is safely, squarely, and unambiguously "all about ME."

Yoga Journal helps "readers achieve the balance and well-being they seek in their everyday lives." Well, fine and good; of course, we all want that. It "strives to inform and empower" us. Also good. Helps us to make healthy lifestyle choices - check. Provides good content on food and all this other good stuff - well . . . while I have to admit a resistance to the "fashion and beauty" encroachment onto yoga territory, it's sort of - whatever.

In other words, there's really nothing objectionable about the current marketing statement in and of itself. It's only when I compare it to elements of the old one that I feel that something important has been lost.

In particular: 
We encourage open dialogue and a range of viewpoints, and we invite you to join us in bringing to our troubled world a life-affirming vision of harmony and wholeness.
Closing statements have a particularly strong kick and resonance. And when I compare "join us in bringing to our troubled world a life-affirming vision" versus providing thoughtful articles on "travel, and fashion and beauty," well . . . let's just say one seems much more trite than the other.

There's been a lot of discussion about how commercial Yoga Journal has become, and the pros and cons of that, in the blogosphere lately. By and large, I'm convinced by those who say that, given the realities of how difficult it is to run a successful print magazine business, YJ does a pretty damn good job. They continue to publish a lot of great articles. Plus, their commercialism allows them to bring yoga to a wider audience than would be receptive to it otherwise.

Which is all fine and good. But I think that the earlier tradition of caring about how yoga fits in to a larger set of practices that are helping to heal the world needs to be remembered and revitalized.

Speaking from my own experience, it's simply true the current yoga scene often does feel like it's "all about me." While generally nice, well-intentioned people, each individual practitioner often seems incredibly absorbed in the minute details of MY life, MY diet, MY practice, MY poses, MY body . . .

But I also see signs that this is changing. For example, I went to a really inspiring Street Yoga training two weeks ago that was full of social workers, therapists, nurses and others fired up about learning how to harness their practice to serving others. And there are of course other examples out there: Off the Mat, Into the World,, etc.

At the same time, I think that the new (and overlapping) Web-based projects of Elephant Yoga and Yoga 2.0 offer cool new ways to engage in the sort of "open dialog" that this older incarnation of YJ hoped to provide - but simply couldn't in anything like the way that we can now.

I hope that these kinds of initiatives will grow and prosper. Because really, we are all connected, and yoga is about union, so if it's working, it simply can't be "all about me."


  1. You are more optimistic than I am. And you are way more generous to YJ than I think is warranted. Plenty of print mags maintain better content with less consumerism than YJ, even in these difficult times. For example, although it too has slipped, the overall quality in Yoga International is superior to YJ.

    There are some wonderful things happening in the broad yoga community, but I think the me, myself, and I focus is quite fierce, and the forces of consumerism are squeezing all of us even harder.

    Also, just to be really pointed and snarky perhaps - what's the point of having a vastly wider audience from greater revenue if most of the depth gets lost in the process?

  2. Good article. I hear that Kate Nash was once told by her record company that if she had less opinions - she would sell more records. Isn't that what this is all about? If we have a number of possible answers - it is usually the simplest one that is nearest to the truth. To make YJ go away we just need to stop buying it. BTW: EJ and 2.0 are just another YJ waiting to happen on us.

  3. I misread the first part of your post at first and I thought (afer reading the mission statement) "wow, that does not sound like the YJ I know. When have they ever talked about Western mysticism?" Then I realized that was the old mission statement! I never read an earlier version of YJ (I was 9 in 1990) so I can't fairly compare, but YJ to me is just another women's magazine with a bit more yoga thrown in so if I need a guilty read at the airport I may grab an issue as it relates to me a bit more than say, Cosmo. But if there was a magazine available that was more like the old YJ, I think I'd be pretty interested in reading that!

    I personally have been fed up with the way yoga had become more focused on fixing all your "ME" issues in our culture, which is fine and it is addressing a real need. I'm still involved in yoga, but I also search elsewhere for deeper meaning.

  4. Hasn't the culture in general become "all about me"? In the microcosm of teaching yoga at a jr. college for 7 years, I saw the shift in the students.

    The change in YJ is really no surprise.

  5. I'd say the children of counterculture (that's pretty much us, right?) have a hard time dealing with their own victory. Isn't it precisely because we've won the fight against incontrovertible, rigid, "square" moralities and social structures, if only in our minds which is already a lot, that the "me, myself and I" perspective has become so trivial? Shouldn't we celebrate this? I'd really rather live in a society where I'm free to have a meaningless, egotistic life, at least in the eyes of others, as opposed to one where my choices are dictated by social sanction. I know, Carol, you'll tell me that this is true, but that it would be better if people, basically, had better values or knew better. Granted. Actually, how can anyone be against that? Even the "me, myself and I" practitioners themselves, assuming such people also exist somewhere else than in our minds, probably think that way too about hippies, bodywork and massage...

    I just finished reading Sam Harris' "Moral Landscape". He seems to end up suggesting that whatever is not wed to scientific materialism is morally condemnable. I personally find it fascinating that anti-religion crusaders (the pun is difficult to resist) can be arguing in exactly the same moralizing way as some "spiritual" people who are supposed to tell us the way of the moral high road, through ancient teachings with "special" authority. Goes to show one can lament how our society evolved from opposite directions. But I have to grant one thing to Harris. I find it a lot more telling about American society that more than half of you guys still believe the world was created in a week by some superpowerful consience, than the fact that YJ includes "fashion and beauty" in its refreshed definition of "open dialogue" with its readership. Don't you?

  6. Some of the above comments seem unduly harsh to me (the blogpost excepted, and the point rather interesting). I look forward to my YJ when it comes. Most of the magazine's written content is about yoga, the practice of yoga, the teachings of yoga, life or experiences as a yogi at different levels. The recipes are vegetarian, healthy, earth conscious. They provide a fabulous website with free asana practices by some good teachers. I've been happy to see a wide(r) range of models, and am always hopeful this trend will continue. While I do recognize that "fashion" has become a component of the magazine -- the make of the clothing, etc. is often identified -- I can't think of a single issue where fashion has been overly emphasized. Besides, I really have a hard time faulting YJ for making money using a magazine business model that works by appealing to others. Do I really feel incensed that writers, photographers, illustrators, and editorial staff make slightly better incomes as a result? Not at all. Do I really care if the "superficial" aspects appeal to a different audience than myself? Not at all. The magazine is not mine, yoga is not mine. I don't worry if people who come to yoga do so to look the part. Ultimately, we are all relevant and welcome here.

  7. Re: My "harsh" comments - I have subscribed to YJ since 2007. If I thought YJ was totally worthless, I wouldn't routinely join these conversations. If it was like Cosmo or People magazine, to name two wastes of good trees, I'd just say that - waste of good trees - and call it a day.

    Seems like any criticism these days is just considered awful judgment by some folks. Perhaps you might consider - Anonymous - that some of us still value YJ, and offer our comments in an effort to see it continue to be of value.

  8. I enjoy looking at YJ but I obviously have some issues with the image of yoga it presents. I see the reason to stay away from the guru/swami style of yoga b/c it limits their audience, but I'd definitely like to see a.) more depth and b.) more bodies/real people.

    I also think there's a bit of taking yoga too seriously in the yoga community that needs a reality check sometimes. A bit of humor shouldn't just exist on the web, just sayin'