Sunday, January 31, 2010

Yoga Merchandising and Culture

Full disclosure - I work in marketing and product management. It may affect my feelings on this topic.

A couple of posts over at Grounding thru the sit bones has got me thinking about yoga merchandising and the changes in yoga culture that have come along with the mainstreaming of yoga in the west. My basic thought has been "Why is it that this does not bother me at all?" Perhaps it is because I am a part of it? I mean I am "new" to yoga (in this lifetime anyway.)

There are many yoga bloggers and readers who are talking and commenting about these issues. The collision of food, wine and yoga, the clothing marketing, The ethics of a yoga teacher plugging products, Lululemon, Lululemon and Lululemon.

Why does it bother them and not me? I start thinking maybe "I am not getting it right." This should bother me. I can absolutely tell you that I love Yoga and especially the spiritual path. I love the tradition of it and the openness and the peace and the stillness. I love what it is doing for people everywhere. I love that it is in health clubs and YMCA's and hospitals. I love that Lululemon does classes in their stores. This yoga is changing the world!

Now I must admit, I love the products too. I love the clothing. I love the festivals that combine yoga and Rock n roll. I love the "famous" teachers! I look for opportunities to practice with them and attend their seminars.

I am going out on a limb here. I think that a lot of the fuss about all of this is because people who did yoga before yoga was mainstream are upset because now everyone is doing yoga. It has somehow lost its specialness. It used to be that only the cool people did yoga. It had an element of mystery. It was esoteric. Now that millions and millions of people are doing it in 95 dollar pants, it has lost its granola factor. Ironically, it has not lost that granola factor for the new people doing it. They love it for all the same reasons that people were loving it for 20 years ago. Yoga has not changed.

The Yamas and Niyamas don't tell us we cannot own nice things. They don't tell us we can't have businesses and market products. They tell us how to make our choices. They tell us how to focus on our own practice and spiritual growth. My teacher Rolf says, "The Yamas and the Niyamas are the firm ground we stand on." He is right. My life has been touched by these teachings.

During asana practice my Jade mat is the firm ground I stand on. My Prana sleeveless shirt covers my belly until I strip it off halfway through class. My Reebok compression shorts suit me well. I teach in my Lululemon pants - great for a cooler classroom and they allow me comfort and the ability to demonstrate with free mobility. I have shunned the traditional loincloth Iyengar wears in "Light on Pranayama."

I just don't have an issue with merchandising, posing, celebrity teaching, shoes on the mat, TV stars featured as yoga practitioners. Oprah's feature on Bikram Yoga has the Hot Yoga studio I frequent filled to the brim. It brings a smile to my face. Some of them will go. Some of them will stay. Some wear Lululemon ordered over the internet, purchased so they would feel good and 'fit in.' Some wear no name shorts and cotton t-shirts. Some buy Prana in the lobby and wear it immediately.

As we move through Bikram's half moon series and the sweat starts to pour, we are all equal, all the same. All practicing yoga.


  1. I hear ya... There's a fine line that is drawn before we can get to over-commercialization. From the other perspective, the "celebrity" yogi's must continue to walk that fine line and be our example of how not to step over it. Having a store in the studio serves the students as long as the studio isn't taking advantage of the opportunity. Selling products that are necessary for classes and well-being I get... Stepping out and making your name a "Product" I do not. Standing up for what is pure and true - shining in the light... go for it!
    There are a couple of yoga teachers that are walking that fine line at this moment. Going to the point of owning words I feel steps over the line. The exclusivity of a type of yoga is not what I signed up for. There is a form of expression of yoga out there for everyone. Bikram, Anusara, Iyengar, Slow Flow... as a teacher I feel it is our job to support yoga and the benefits of "Just Do[ing] It"...

  2. I hear you on the word ownership Kim! I have a few words I'd like to own!

    I agree on the 'just do it part.' That's what I am doing. As far as the products go - I think that special products make people feel special. And I guess the studio is providing a service and making a profit. Nothing wrong with that.