Thoughts on yoga as a business

I finally got my September/October issue of Yoga Journal. It has already been out on the news stands for a month, but my subscription did not arrive. I had to give it a decent time to see if it would finally showed up. When it didn’t, I went out and bought a copy. The issue is a full 200 pages long and comes with a DVD promoting the new yoga instructional video series starring Natasha Rizopoulos, with medical commentary by Dr. Timothy McCall. Plus, a Winter issue of Balanced Living (a kind of bonus publication) has just arrived too. Plans are to turn it into a stand-alone magazine next year.

This brings me to a line of thought that’s been on my mind. I’ve noticed commentary in yoga forums and blogs that Yoga Journal has strayed from its original humble beginnings in 1975. It now has a circulation of 310,000 readers, up three fold since 1998, and attracts mainstream advertisers, like Clairol and Sutter House wine, as well as the more typical ads for yoga clothing, vacations and training programs. Yoga Journal holds several conferences a year. Its new publisher, Lynn Lehmkuhl, honed her skills as the publisher of Ladies’ Home Journal, and some critics quip that the magazine is starting to look like it. In other words, it’s becoming a big business.

I think Yoga Journal is embarked on a spiritual path that is as difficult as being a celibate monk. As a former journalist who lived off what he wrote, I fully appreciate the difficulty of turning a publication into a viable enterprise that appeals to a broad readership and also interests advertisers. Sustaining a commercially viable publication focusing on yoga requires a keen sense of business as well as a loyalty to the core values of yoga.

In Western capitalist, materialist society, it’s a tough fit. As strange as it may seem, you can have just much “semi”-independence if you have a strong commercial product that has broken out of the pack and has a diversified advertising base, rather than a non-profit always drumming up donation. Once you decide to be a for-profit organization, you can’t say that you’re only going to make a little money. You have to prepare for a market downturn or competition from other publications or media.

As yoga moms, rat-race burnouts and other members of this emerging group become an identifiable segment of the market, the stronger the trend of absorbing and co-opting yoga into mainstream culture.

For those who miss the day when Yoga Journal was untainted by commercialism, they can get their daily ration of purity at many of the yoga websites and blogs that are maintained without any money-making interest.