Tag Archives: market

Venting about yoga cliques and Sanskrit names

Irasna Rising in elephant journal makes some cogent arguments that I’ve been thinking for a while, but have not had the time or energy to put into a coherent package:

Why I Left Yoga (& Why I Think A Helluva Lot Of People Are Being Duped)
Sanskrit, like Latin, is a dead language. Let it go already. The Catholic Church let go of the Latin Mass after Vatican II back in the early 1960′s. Chanting in sanskrit does not make you look cool nor does it make you an automatic Hindu. Or, an authority on yoga, Vedic studies or Indology (yes, that is a real academic subject.) Nor does having a made up Sanskit-derived moniker name make you any more real either with names like Blissananda, Ganeshananda, Serenityananda etc.

This compacted extract is just one of seven points that she makes about how yoga is unfolding in the States. Irasna (her byline is Earth Energy Reader) is an ethnic Sikh so her comments carry some weight.

Photo: a foot on a yoga mat
Getting off on the wrong foot: our grasp of yoga is unbalanced.

On the other hand, we should note that there is no one “yoga” grafted on soccer moms, super models and gurus-in-training that obsess about having flat abs, round buttocks and enlightenment. Although there are plenty of aspiring people who would love to play “yoga cop” to enforce authenticity and the Yoga Sutras, there is no orthodoxy, no doctrine, no dogma, no priesthood for North American yoga. That option started fading away about the same time my generation got over their Woodstock high and ashrams were tainted by sexual scandals. In a more contemporary vein, there is no “American yoga industry” just because Under Armour wants to steal market share from Lululemon, and every yoga studio has to turned into a boutique and a teacher training academy. That is a cash flow problem.

What we have are three distinguishing traits of the North American yoga scene: (1) a capitalist marketplace that wants to dress everything up as a brand, (2) an enormous spiritual hole in our collective psyche stemming from our Judeo-Christian roots, and (3) a groundswell of psycho-somatic suffering (trauma) that Western medicine and psychiatry are unable to soothe, much less heal.

I am sure that I could think up other factors in the yoga enigma, but this venting will allow me to get back to my own personal contradictions and inadequacies. And I’m not leaving yoga. Yoga is not a place; it’s a state of mind-body.

A new market study released about the US yoga market

Now we have a more current version of the market study about Yoga in America to tear our garments and lament the commercialization of yoga:

New Study Find More Than 20 Million Yogis in U.S. “The latest Yoga in America study shows that 20.4 million Americans practice yoga, compared to 15.8 million from the previous 2008 study, an increase of 29 percent. In addition, practitioners spend $10.3 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations and media. The previous estimate from the 2008 study was $5.7 billion.”

I wrote about this previous version last year, It’s just money but who’s counting. What has been made public this time is just a press release. Yoga Journal will probably publish a longer piece in a coming issue of the magazine. At least now, we won’t have to cite the pre-Great Recession 2008 figures.

In Defense of ToeSox

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.

For anyone living in a cave during August and September last year, here are a few pointers: Judith Hanson Lasater’s Facebook letter, It’s All Yoga, Baby’s portrayal of the dispute no more sexy yoga ads! and toesoxnudegate: the feminists & kathryn budig speak up, Elephant Journal and  JHN interview, or Yoga Journal’s defense with Naked Truth in response to JHN. Carol Horton’s take,  Naked Yoga Beauties Selling Stuff! Or, the Personal, the Political, and the Commodification of the Body.

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?

A studio owner tells her story about “business success”

FoxBusiness.com The 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.

It’s just money but who’s counting

Photo: a hand mudra during meditation
A classic hand mudra during meditation closes the energy circuits

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 YogaHow 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

History through the covers of Yoga Journal

Cover art for Yoga Journal
May 1975

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

Are men’s need for yoga duds meet by the market?

New York Times Dress Code — What’s a Guy to Wear for Yoga?: I used to fall for this question when I started out in yoga.

While the market in yoga-centric clothing for women is bursting at its fashionable seams, the choices for men are laughably sparse. They range from absurdly large, overly modest basketball shorts that bag downward in inversion poses to alarmingly tiny shorts that provide freedom of movement but give your classmates a far-too-clear view of your, uh, chakras.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason why yoga-specific men’s clothing is so scarce is because the demand is adequately met by the existing market, despite what the article says. The abundance of sweat-dispersing, quick drying athletic wear, from Under Armour to Prana, means that there’s no problem to put find something to wear on the upper half of the torso. The issue of shorts requires a fabric with lots of give, but even swim suites will do. Besides, trying to find bargains at Lululemon is a lot harder than at Sports Authority or TJ Maxx.

Exceptions: where I will concede the point, is when a yogi has gone well beyond the intermediate phase, and gets into balances that require legs to get placed on arms. Sweat is a superb lubricant on skins so it requires inordinate amounts of strength to hold something like One-Legged Arm Balance (Eka Pada Koundinyasana), and having long pant’s leg to provide some friction is a welcome aid. But this is a small percentage of the men who do yoga. Of course, if you want to require environmentally correct fabric choices (hemp, for instance), then all bets are off.

The real issue for men is that going to a yoga studio is intimidating because of all the women, usually much better at the discipline, in attendance. So the “what-to-wear” question is really an excuse for not going. I think women have a much tougher challenge for appropriate yoga clothing, which is why there’s an abundance of options.

Captialism and yoga

In America, most yoga studios are intent on transforming the classroom into the peak yoga experience. Instructors choreograph their asanas and vinyasas, script their dedicatory monologues and invoke rituals to make each class unique and vibrant. Each session is blessed with a musical soundtrack worthy of a DJ, exotic scents, and candle light. Indeed, the best classes can lead us to achieve a unique state of being, purged of the mental and physical toxins that weigh us down, exploring the edge of our capabilities — and maybe a little farther, and enpowered by the stillness that remains. A dozen or more bodies breathing and sweating in unison build up a lot of energy in a room.

In the United States, it’s preordained that the consumer market dictates that each studio owner — and teacher, for that matter — competes against the other studios and fitness centers for customer allegiance, as well as against all the other temptations in the market. They must have a firm grasp of supply and demand, and find the hook, nuance or niche that will distinguish them from other options and keep customers coming back for more enlightenment. That’s also one of the reasons yoga styles and approaches have proliferated beyond the lineages traced back to India.

There is a subtle corollary message in the U.S. studio system, that a student will never be able to duplicate the ambiance, pace and intensity of the studio in the privacy of his/her home, even with audiotapes and DVDs. No wonder students get discouraged at how pale their home practice seems in comparison.

But the real test for a good teacher is whether a student can take something learned in each class back into the home practice. Only rarely do I hear teachers give assistance focused on the home practice. I’ve come to the realization that the class setting can only be of true value when it helps students take yoga’s essence back to their home and into the world. That’s why I want to be more consistent with recording my “one thing from class” idea — to find something in each class that can feed back into my home practice.

Yoga studios part of urban renewal

Washigton Post Breathing New Rhythm Into Tired Streets:

“The city does not count its yoga studios, but an informal survey turned up 25. The oldest are clustered around affluent Georgetown, Tenleytown, Cleveland Park and Dupont Circle — with six on Wisconsin Avenue alone — while the newest have set up shop on steadily gentrifying U Street, Logan Circle and beyond. The most recent arrival is Yoga House, which opened on Georgia Avenue in the Petworth neighborhood in October. “

Debra Perlson-Mishalove of Flow Yoga Center

Debra Perlson-Mishalove greets yogis and yoginis with a smile at Flow Yoga Center.

My downtown DC yoga studio, Flow Yoga, will be expanding its facilities over the next few months. It’s taking over the second floor in the townhouse that it shares with a liquor store on P Street. I went back to class after a two-month absence due to my daughter’s illness and the class was packed on both occasions, four rows of seven mats. That means no long-winged arms in Warrior III or when bowing from Tadasana. Of course, there are classes when attendance is lighter. but the limited change facilities and clogged common areas during evening classes are really holding back the business. Debra, the owner, started out two years ago and was doing well in her second year. Of course, expansion means that Debra is going to have to deal with building permits and trades, a test for any yogi’s composure.

The Post article talks about yoga being a sign of gentrification (not necessarily a wholly great thing) and that the neighborhood is seen as safe when a woman to go to class carrying her mat rolled up under her arm. Out in the “burbs,” the classes at Thrive Yoga tend to have more mature clients, moms with kids and professional women. The big selling point is child care during class hours. The packed classes tend to be on the weekends in the morning. Rockville is definitely not a yuppie hotspot.