Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yay, Free Yoga Classes at the Mall! But what are we really practicing in these Temples of Consumerism?

Reading this news report, I just had to laugh. But when I watched the accompanying news clip and saw all those earnest young women sitting with their eyes closed and hands in prayer, I felt more like crying.
Surrounded by sleek athletic wear, purses and accessories, 30 men and women at the Town Center mall on Friday tried to focus on their yoga poses and resist the temptation to shop.

Employees of Lululemon Athletica, a fashionable yoga-apparel chain that opened in the mall on Friday, moved racks and shelves to the sides of the store to make room for the yogis, who spent an hour before the mall opened doing their lunges, reaches, backbends and hip-openers . . .

Participant Cathy Rosenberg of Delray Beach, who brought her daughter, Eliza, 14, said she was almost panting with consumer lust when she walked into the store and saw the colorful and stylish clothing displays, which emphasize purple, aqua and gray for the upcoming fall season. But she settled into the yoga session and was no longer preoccupied.

"There's a lot in life that can be a distraction," said Rosenberg, 48, a mother of two. "This is a perfect setting to challenge yourself." After class, she bought two tops for her daughter and one for herself.


America is such a weird place. (Although let's not forget that the beloved lululemon is Canadian, so this new yoga goddess of consumerism has really descended on us from our seemingly benign neighbors to the north.) Yeah, I guess that taking a free yoga class in a store stuffed with the most popular, trendy, sex-appeal-enhancing yoga togs (itself located in a mall filled with endless equivalents of the same) offers a good practice in staying inwardly focused amidst temptation and distraction. But let's face it, if you manage to get there, that's a pretty damn advanced place to be. And I have the feeling that these classes are aimed much more toward beginners.

I know excellent yoga teachers who are lululemon ambassadors and teach in their stores. And it's hard to argue that having great teachers offering free classes isn't a good thing, particularly in today's rotten economy. And I know that most of these teachers are making peanuts in order to do what they love, and that they need the sponsorship. So I understand how it can be tempting to smile sweetly and simply embrace all this as simply wonderful.

But not for me. Frankly, I find this marriage of spirituality and consumerism creepy. What energies are you opening yourself up to as you practice yoga and chant "Om" in an environment that's brilliantly designed to sell products - and not only that, but products that are designed to appeal so deeply precisely because they bolster your sense of identity and self-worth?

It's a vexing situation, to say the least. And personally, I feel that I really need to work my practice in order to feel comfortable in my discomfort with it all.


  1. "vexing" is probably, i guess, about as nice a word for it as can be gotten at ;-)

    advertising, and consumerism, wasn't always around us; it's battle, to be "with" us, at all times, seems to have happened in the 20's, at least as per "Rainbow's End: The Crash of 1929 (Pivotal Moments in American History)" by maury klein

    the book has stuck in my mind for a decade, and maybe you, carol, could say much better than i how accurately he portrays the battle to have access to the airwaves

    yet the question of how private enterprise, and our daily lives, can not only co-exist, but thrive, has never been fully answered - maybe it can't, at least not yet

    would having a free yoga class in a section of an eatery be "better" than at the lululemon store? i've never been to a yoga store yet, but give me time ;-)

    how bout at a day care center that charges for child care?

    really, the question is, any place that charges for a service, right where i'd be placing my mat

    the gym where i teach? a college that competes for tuition paying students? a church with a message and collection basket? oh, a yoga studio with wages and mats and scents to sell?

    vexing indeed ;-) i haven't come up with an answer

    but i sure feel that uncomfortableness you mention, some places more than others, so maybe what answer there can be, is breathing softly somewhere in there ;-)

    thanks carol!

  2. Great comment, Adan; I think that you are right to broaden the question!

    Personally, I am not at all troubled by venues in which there's some sort of simple fee-for-service exchange - e.g., paying for a yoga class at a studio. Why? Well, I accept it as a practical necessity, for one. But also, the more that it's very clear what the exchange is, the more I'm comfortable with it. You pay for class, the studio offers a space in which it's good to practice, plus props, and hopefully an excellent teacher. That's a reasonable and good exchange.

    True, other things may be sold at the studio, but they are not surrounding you when you practice, and much easier to ignore if you wish.

    What troubles me about the lululemon setup is that the messages are so muddled. There's much less clarity as to what this exchange is really about. And while a cynic would say, no there's not, it's all about good marketing, the fact is that there are a lot of people out there who experience it as something much more significant than that(which is, of course, precisely why it's such good marketing). I would actually be more comfortable with it if there was a more transparent quid pro quo; e.g., you can come to this class as long as you buy at least $20 of merchandise. But then of course it wouldn't be so popular! I guess another way of saying this is that the set-up feels duplicitous to me, not to mention very clever in that's hard to resist and hard to criticize.

  3. Comments from Facebook Page:

    Lila Talić: i love when i read things that open my mind in a direction it didnt want to go.

    Linda-Sama Karl: ‎"products that are designed to appeal so deeply precisely because they bolster your sense of identity and self-worth?" -- but isn't that what Yoga Journal is about? 10 pages of articles about non-attachment with 100 pages of ads for every yoga tchotke in the known difference.

    Gail Garza: Yes, I, too, understand what they are trying to do, but at what cost?

    Maretta Jeuland: agree!

    Mat Witts: I think this is called "making yoga accessible" but I think we have to be careful what we wish for. If America wants then America usually gets, but in India the use of religious iconography to sell product is also widespread, although the sensibilities and markets are different enough to legitimately see them as two different issues. We are I think aware enough to realise cultural snobbery offers no "way out" of commoditisation, and the only solution I can come up with is not to try and find your way in in the first place?

    Randall Buskirk: Hmm...Interesting to think about the relationship between having/not having "things" and having/not having "stuff." Also about yoga in the temple compared to yoga in the market. And where we should/shouldn't practice...

  4. I tried to post a response for those wishing to explore a possible solution but got an error message - so a link to my seminal outtake is here:-

  5. I was most surprised to see a couple of men there doing yoga there...

  6. More comments from Facebook!

    Charlotte Bell: On one level you could see this as an act of generosity and community building on lululemon's part. And some of the people who come to these classes probably do truly benefit. But IMO it would be naive to think that getting people into the store to buy stuff isn't the main motivation.

    Charlotte Bell: One thing I find sad is that these free classes compete with classes taught by teachers who are not associated with lululemon. Students, especially new students, will almost always choose free classes over classes they pay for. So in reality, these free classes are not so great for most of the local Yoga community.

    Linda-Sama Karl: you are so right, Charlotte!

  7. I side with your sentiment. While its 'wonderful' and 'great' that the consumers got a yoga session in, and it is superficially a harmless event, it was only a matter of time before a clothing company really zeroed in cash in on yoga the way that Lululemon is.

    I don't care how what inspiring messages they put on their water bottles or how zen a company claims to be it is still just that... a company with a business to run and we are just humans creating the demand for that.

  8. I once saw an article about a British store rechristened Top Mosque:

    with Kate Moss as its "guru"