Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Where's the Oprah of Yoga?

Ah, yes, the Yoga Star Hot Scale. Leave it to Yoga Dawg to help us laugh instead of cry. It got me to thinking, with all the chatter about skinny white yoginis as the face of yoga and "spreading the word" and endorsement deals and yoga competitions--what do students want?

Kristin, of Namaste from Duluth, posted that query a few months back when we were discussing "American False Idols" and I wanted to get back to that thought. As more and more ex-models and actresses and dancers get into the teaching act, and corporations choose whippet-thin bodies to hawk their yoga wares, I get frustrated. For me, for potential students, for everyone who can't touch their foot to their head or has a non-European family history but studies yoga. Is this really what we want yoga to look like? (I'm not questioning teaching credentials--I'm talking about an image, here).

What I want, and what I suspect many practitioners want, is not a teacher to admire or be awed by (lust after? be jealous of?), but a teacher that inspires and gives you the feeling that you can attain. The yoga industry, such as it is, is missing a huge opportunity here. Why is Oprah such a phenomenon? Because she presents herself as one of the crowd--some one who has been around the block a few times and has weaknesses and enthusiasms and overdoes it once and awhile. (
Obviously, most of us will never be Oprah, but you know what I mean.)

That's what I want in a teacher. Some one who has a sense of the human condition, who has had to work for what she's earned. Some one whose talents seem within reach. I want some one more experienced than me, who can guide me, but also some one who offers a vision of what--with practice--I could be some day. Strong, peaceful, dignified. I don't really care what lip gloss she uses...I want her vibe.

Kripalu has figured it out. Their ads show students of all sizes and races, peacefully engaged in Sukhasana or Tadasana, and it gives you a feeling of calm centeredness. To me, it's an honest depiction of what a yogi should look like--focused, a smile playing on the lips, a lifetime of sustainable practice evidenced in a healthy body.

Seriously, marketing to kids is a fools' game. If we really want to "spread the word," let's show who yoga has helped, who is still figuring it out, who can't do Bakasana to save his life but can nail Trikonasana. Let's talk about the mental benefits instead of just the physical. Let's honor the flexibility of the average backbone. This isn't Cirque du Soleil, people, it's real life!


Linda-Sama said...

I love Kripalu ads! and I have never watched Oprah -- and don't care about her leaving Chicago....

Jenn said...

Well said. I myself struggle with the image of yoga that seems to be the norm at the present moment. Maybe because I don't fit into that image. Whatever it is, the images we see most often are not what yoga is to me...not what I teach...and I think it's sad that there may be people who could really benefit from the practice who stay away because they can't see themselves fitting that image.

PetalsYoga said...

Amen sistah! I couldn't agree more. Bring on the real people and real compassion for individuals. Every single body is beautiful and has infinite potential. Yoga should guide us towards reaching our own joyous potential, not frustrate through trying to attain unrealistic "ideals".

Linda-Sama said...

I've had the discussion more than once with my students about how disingenuous yoga advertising is, e.g., people in impossible looking poses, crazy arm balances, legs behind their necks. each one has always told me that that stuff is NOT what brought them to yoga and that it probably turns more people off than on to yoga.

Robyn said...

We can only point our students in their own direction. Influencing them to look, move and be a certain way will never bring them to their own yoga practice. Yoga should be less about the "what it looks like" and perhaps more about "how the asana feels".

I doubt only the one example of a whippet skinny, uber flexible model would be sufficient if we had the approach of "feeling our yoga". With this approach, the image of the model could only be opened up and its possibilities would become endless.

Brenda P. said...

L-S: I don't even think I've ever watched Oprah's show. I'm thinking more of how she presents herself and her "brand." (ick, branding)

J/PS: Yoga ads usually just make me feel fat, not inspired.

R: wouldn't it be nice if that was the way the world worked? I'm afraid that we're a society so saturated by images that only the most enlightened individual would remained uninfluenced by advertising.

I'm especially frustrated when I hear about new or potential students who are baffled and intimidated by the way yoga is presented in the media. First time students almost always apologize that they aren't very flexible or weigh too much or some other inadequacy that makes them "bad" students.

I doubt most teacher try to tell their students how to look or act. I'm talking about the way yoga is presented in the media and how it is perceived by the general public, rather than in the private realm.

Linda-Sama said...

"First time students almost always apologize that they aren't very flexible or weigh too much or some other inadequacy that makes them "bad" students."


I am uber-flexible, always have been, but that has more to do with how my bones are put together (yes, I study with Paul Grilley!). Once I explain that concept to students ("yoga is all in the bones"), they are so very relieved and actually feel liberated to do THEIR own yoga, not the one they see in ads.

babs said...

I certainly don't fit the media image of a yogini and I sometimes think that puts my students at ease. And, I get the most compliments on my teaching when we do something that is amazingly hard for me. Last night we were working on revolved triangle, and I shake and lose balance and am not graceful at all. I had a couple of students tell me that it is comforting to know that as a teacher I struggle in poses too.

My husband always likes to tell people I'm a yoga teacher and when he introduced me last week, the person looked kinda shocked and then gave me elevator eyes! Funny.

I thought this post was right on!

pennyauctions said...

Great article...While this imagery is hitting yoga and creating a "lust" or "jealousy" of yoga instructors or what they "should" be, it isn't an uncommon theme. Just look at any billboard, tv, or magazine advertisement. It has the great looking, underweight model as the front man (or woman) I'm afraid this won't change anytime soon either.

On a side note, If any of you fellow yogis would like to escape the cold of winter to a yoga retreat in Thailand, just click on the link. The yoga and meditation center is on the island of Phuket and the scenery is beautiful. So, if you want to take a holiday in the "Land of Smiles" then check out Yoga Thailand


Bob Weisenberg said...

Yep, Kripalu is great for many, many reasons. Good blog.

Bob Weisenberg

yoga planet said...

i love yoga so much, and that's what it's all about, enjoying what you do and the way you do it.

It's A Yoga Thang said...

I agree, thank you for writing this post.

lz said...

Hi Brenda, I just discovered your blog today, and I'd like to thank you so much for your wisdom and insight in this post. I practice yoga avidly, and I know exactly what you're describing with the "yoga image" that is portrayed--and I agree that it's misleading.

I especially appreciated what you want in a yoga teacher: "Some one who has a sense of the human condition, who has had to work for what she's earned. Some one whose talents seem within reach. I want some one more experienced than me, who can guide me, but also some one who offers a vision of what--with practice--I could be some day." What a clear description that states the truth so concisely. I agree; that is what I would want in a yoga teacher too: someone who inspires me, not only with her knowledge, but with her humility.