Now that yoga studios in the District of Columbia have been lumped together with fitness centers and tanning studios for the purpose of paying the local sales tax, some advocates are advancing the argument that yoga is not really (or exclusively) a physical fitness activity.
City DeskShould Yoga Be Exempt from the “Yoga Tax”?
The Yoga Alliance, a national nonprofit yoga advocacy organization that boasts more than 50,000 registered yoga instructors as members, argues that yoga is not actually a fitness program and should be exempt from the new sales tax that has come to be known as the “Yoga Tax.”
This whole debate gets into the shifting definition of yoga in the U.S. mainstream culture and marketplace. On one side, Christian critics say that yoga is a religious proselytizing activity. The counterargument is that it’s not religious, spiritual at most, and, more commonly, physical as practiced in the United States. Others lament that the “yoga industry” is making billions of dollars a year, which contradicts the whole claim that yoga studios should be exempt from sales taxes.
ToeSox, the athletic apparel company that specializes in socks that fit five toes like a glove and have a sticky sole surface, was pilloried in the blogosphere a few months ago because it used two women au natural to model their merchandise. Kathryn Budig did ads that featured yoga poses. Carrie Macy did Pilates routines. Rarely mentioned was the photographer, Jasper Johal, who has specialized in the human form in various stages of undress — yoga, dance and fashion.
I have to admit that I’ve taken a peek at the ads in Yoga Journal. Of course, I have the excuse that I am an amateur photographer in love with the human body in a state of mindfulness. I was attracted by the challenge of capturing advanced asana without displaying any naughty parts.
I could not do justice to the diverse perspectives that came to bear on the issue, and there were many. But I’d like to come back to one aspect of the debate that did not get highlighted. Some commentators sneered at ToeSox because this type of sock was not “standard-issue” yoga gear, and was therefore superfluous to the practice. ToeSox is merely exploiting yoga to flog conspicuous consumption and profit off objectifying women.
I started thinking, however, that there could be valid reasons to use grippy sole socks:
Modesty: Not everyone has feet that conform to classically shaped feet, or they may be sensitive to ridicule or just have a bad body image. I have seen people in yoga class who insist on keeping their socks on, and slide around on the mat.
Skin and nail conditions: Lots of people have reasons to hide their feet because various skin and nail diseases may disfigure their feet. These conditions can be resistant to treatment. Wearing clean socks to class (combined with a fungicide because these socks are not the equivalent of sanitized latex) would shield other yogis from possible infection.
Slick surfaces or slippery carpets: it’s a lot easier to fit a pair of socks in your carry-on than a yoga mat, even a travel mat. The ToeSox site points out that Pilates equipment can be slick.
Cold feet: poor circulation could make some people to bundle up their extremities (ToeSox also sells grippy gloves). I’ve practiced in a couple of rooms where I wished I’d had a pair of sox because a bad draft made my mat feel as if I’d pulled it out of the refrigerator.
Better than sneakers: in some gyms and fitness centers, people practice yoga in their athletic shoes so replacing sneakers with ToeSox is an improvement.
In defense of the company, ToeSox tries to do the right thing, supporting charities like the fight against breast cancer and sanctuaries for hard-to-place dogs and the Green Bus Project (an effort to share yoga and conscious living). The company uses organic cotton to protect the environment.
I guess what I am trying to say is that one of the virtues of a dynamic market economy is that it tends to respond to needs, even the niche demand of people who want to cover their feet (for whatever reason). Who are we to create even more obstacles to a yoga practice?
FoxBusiness.comThe Business of Yoga will probably strike many yoga purists as another example of crass commercialism. But the growth of Gina Norman’s Kaia Yoga from a single studio to three wellness centers over four years shows how their understanding of yoga guided them along a path of personal truth:
Our business has been so successful because we realize that yoga classes are just the start to supporting all aspects of a person’s being. This lifestyle approach leaves room for endless growth within our business model. In a world that is increasingly speeding up and overmedicating to deal with unhappiness and stress, our business is a breath of fresh air. An individual can find a yoga class, a green juice, a massage, a workshop or a relaxing yoga trip to Costa Rica. There are never-ending options for personal growth, healing, embodiment and mindfulness for everyone.
Gina Norman’s holistic approach actually opens up multiple income streams, as they like to say in business school, and made the company more resilient to get through tough times.
I have vowed to avoid writing about news stories on yoga, but this one is important because it provides a fresh point of view of the discussion about the viability of yoga in America.
Whenever the New York Times starts publishing multiple articles on yoga (two articles in less than a week; see the previous two blog entries), it usually portends a major existential crisis for the U.S. yoga community. The attention from major media is another indication that yoga is dipping into the American mainstream and losing its authenticity.
One of the central bugaboos for many commentators is that yoga now means big bucks. Just look at some of recent articles: The Future of Yoga, How Yoga Sold Out (WSJ’s Speakeasy blog, written by Stephanie Syman) and YogaDork’s Who Will Save Yoga?. Somewhere in these articles you’ll find a statement like “…yoga is a $6 billion industry with some 16 million American followers.”
These figures comes out of Yoga Journal‘s 2008 Yoga in America study. Journalists love the YJ figures because they come from a reputable source, confirm that yoga has moved beyond niche status, and impute the value of their own reporting on the topic (“My editor did not send me out to write a human interest feature about an ex-hippie.”). Continue reading It’s just money but who’s counting→
Because this year is Yoga Journal‘s 35th anniversary, the magazine has been celebrating the milestone. Among them, they brought together all the cover art of Yoga Journal. Then they wanted visitors to pick the best all time, the most intriguing, the most inspiring and the favorite vintage. I did not vote because it seemed to be pointless exercise. But I did go through all 220 issues and began a reflection that came to some interesting conclusions. I’ve been a subscriber since 2004 (I have them all) and usually read it within a week of arrival. Stephanie Syman used the progress of Yoga Journal as a barometer of the discipline in the United States in her book, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America.
The California Yoga Teachers Association started and owned Yoga Journal for the next 23 years. At its humble start in 1975, Yoga Journal looked completely amateurish (those were the days of photocopying the print run) and then gradually shifted to modestly acceptable for a niche magazine.
In late 1979, the magazine covers took a quantum leap in quality, becoming a professionally produced identifiable brand (or it may have reflected publishing tastes of the time). I don’t know anything about its content. I’m just speaking of its covers. [MLS: You can see the contents of all issues up to 2009 at Googlebook. The marvels of the Internet.] Continue reading History through the covers of Yoga Journal→