Sunday, January 24, 2010

The start of something beautiful...?

I'm going to go out on a limb, here, but I think the days of the Celebrity Yoga Superstars are coming to an end.

Certainly the days of trying-to-make-a-buck-out-of-yoga are still completely with us (see Yoga Inc.), but I think the notion of an iconic Spokesyogi is so very last decade. Sorry gang, I really don't think there is another Shiva/Rodney/Seane/John/David/Gurmuhk out there.

It's not because they're irreplaceable--it's just not the same world that it was in the 1990s, when yoga instructors were few and far between. For a regular practice, you had to turn on the VCR. As we moved through the last two decades, yoga's popularity exploded (
look at Roseanne's yoga timeline for the 2000s' developments). By now, almost everybody has access to a yoga class, whether at the nearby YMCA or neighborhood studio or on iTunes. Nobody needs an introduction to yoga, because it's everywhere. And people are getting the word from their friends and relatives about yoga's benefits--they don't need some scrawny, stretchy kids showing off their pincha mayurasana skills to serve as an introduction (like that would make you want to take a yoga class, anyway).

Maybe it's time for the sexy bendies to start focusing on something else besides building up their "brand." Seriously, where will it possibly lead? Even with the support of the yoga industry behind them, the trademarked, merchandised yoga business model doesn't have much of a future. Herding cats, baby. Like every other subculture on the Internet, you can find just about any type of yoga to practice--for Athletes, for Mothers, for Golfers, for Christians (dear god--Son Salutes?). There's no way to build up a critical mass of followers without exhausting yourself shilling shoes and lip gloss, appearing on talk shows (in competition with rock star wives) and, perhaps every once and awhile, teaching a 200-person workshop. You might make some money at first, but it's not sustainable--and are you really helping anyone deepen anything with the headsets and adjustments from assistants?

I say all of this is very, very good. No one should have a monopoly and everyone should have access to the close attention of a trained instructor. I hope the days of the Superstar are over. Those crowded workshops are fun like a rock concert is fun but is anyone really improving their practice during one of those?

I'm not sure what set me off, but it seems like we're heading into the next round of look-at-me/shop-with-me YouTube yoga moments. Maybe it's time to move onto something new.

Friends, it's 2010,
let's keep it local and personal. If the foodies can do it, why can't we?!?

(P.S. For re-presentation of some of these points, see 1/29's post..."What I Meant to Say...")


19 comments:

Namaste_Heather said...

Interesting perspective. It's funny, I was thinking about my teaching style yesterday after my morning class. Another teacher was in attendance who is a very playful teacher. I tend to be more serious and enjoy helping my students really learn alignment and how to do poses correctly. I think there is value in both. Then I thought, what really matters is that students learn enough to be able to do a home practice. As a teacher, that's what I hope for. Anyone who practice yoga daily will see the benefits more consistently. And by practice, I don't just mean asana, but philosophy as well. I'm rambling now. Thank you for this wonderful post. It gives me more to think about and learn from.
Namaste.

roseanne said...

I sure hope the end of the yoga celebrity is upon us. However, I feel that the machine which powers the yoga celebrity is the same machine which powers celebrities in general in our culture ~ and this machine is difficult to predict or influence.

However, what we can do as individual yogis is choose to support yoga in our communities. Rather than saving up to go to the big conference, spend that money on a membership to a studio down the street. Rather than buying a dvd and practising at home, choose to take classes with a teacher in the community.

And as yoga teachers, we can commit to staying local (instead of having ambitions to travel and teach, or offer workshops in the Carribean) and cultivating a sense of community in our neighbourhood classes.

At least these are the choices that I'm doing my best to make on a daily basis.

Brenda P. said...

Roseanne, I agree with you on the "celebrity machine", but I also think the shelf-life of that kind of celebrity is extremely short these days. Avocado or banana-short.

Hopefully a yogi with any integrity won't resort to reality-star type antics to keep the attention (see Choudhury, B.)...which still only guarantees a couple of months or so.

N-H; Right on. Why teach if you aren't trying to encourage a life-long habit...

Jenn said...

I do hope you are right.I've grown very discouraged by the "yoga industry machine" as of late and am trying to take a break from all the glorified hype to refocus on the roots of my practice. Just today I decided that I will indeed enroll in a teacher training program that starts next month that begins it's training focused on teaching teachers to teach first one on one, and then to a group, to honor the roots of the guru-student relationship. I'm very excited. It feels good to step away from the hype and start to feel my flame for yoga grow brighter again.

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful words!

Jen said...

I was browsing the shelves at my local bookstore today and couldn't help noticing all the "beautiful people" shilling their yoga books and feeling a little conflicted about my place in the yoga world. Thanks to you and your commenters, I'm feeling a little less jaded. My hope as a teacher is to inspire a love a yoga in my students, and I'm hoping that doesn't mean I need to wear $70 yoga pants (cringe.)

David Lincecum said...

I guess they are only celebrities because "we" made them that. I'm not sure I agree that this age is over. I agree with the earlier comment that what made them celebrities is western culture.

Whether their brands are sustainable or not does not really matter to me. I have enjoyed many of their brands. What is nice about yoga is that I might just as easily find myself practicing alongside one of them as attend one of their workshops. I enjoy an occasional rock concert too!
David

La Gitane said...

Brenda, I think it would be interesting to look at the line between "yoga celebrity" and "celebrity teacher". Yoga has a long tradition of "celebrity gurus" (for the time!), those whose names were known across the land and whose teachings were sought out by students from far and wide. I think when people are good teachers, they become well known. I recently took a small workshop with a very well known teacher found her approachable, down-to-earth, attentive to every student in the group (even knowing us all by name) and a truly amazing teacher.

I guess the difference is those who remain teachers, and those who become just 'celebrities'.

Lovely, thoughtful post!

Rachel said...

Oh I so hope you're right. Ideally I would like everything to be a bit more local and personal.

Brenda P. said...

LaG--EXCELLENT clarification. Thank you for making it. And I didn't mean to imply the "celebrity teachers" I listed weren't good teachers. I've had classes with several of them and found them engaging, charismatic and inspiring.

However, they were all teachers first, and spent many years teaching before they rose to prominence. And I think there are a number of younger teachers in the pipeline that have some of the same potential.

But I don't think that we will see stars of their intensity again, because of the aforementioned reasons.

So I wish the strivers would just cool it and stop using yoga as a marketing tool for themselves. Get back in the studio and pay attention to your students, will ya?!?

MS said...

Brenda, I love your common sense approach! I think the yogi celebrity phenomenon may fade as our culture moves on to the next fad. I'm not saying yoga should be a fad; I'm saying it's the hip and hot thing right now (propelled, in part, by Lululemon and adidas and people branding their yoga, etc.), and that fervor will fade. Those of us who love yoga will continue to practice, and the rest of culture will move on to martial-arts-in-space or Denise Austin-stretching-on-a-rack or whatever the next hot thing is.

Jamie said...

SON Salutes? Oh dear!

Brighid Rowan said...

Thank you for posting this!

Mahita Devi said...

Thank you!

Linda-Sama said...

even in India I saw a story about Jennifer Aniston and how yoga "changed" her life. even in the land of Krishnamacharya, celebrities sell yoga.

Jamie Hosmer said...

Growth always starts within ourselves, not from the outside. So, yes, I think if we focus on ourselves, our own community that we live in, instead of the "rockstar yogi" (certainly nothing wrong with having them however), we will find ourselves moving in a positive direction, guided by our purpose, instead of being guided by something outside ourselves.

Brooks Hall said...

Yes, I see that "Yoga Celebrity" (especially without the practice) as a goal is pretty strange and doesn't seem to authentically fit with the Path of Yoga. And I agree with the thought of connecting with local classes and teachers. That's an important and wonderful gift in the current popularity and profusion of yoga!

However, I think a public figure can have a positive influence on people practicing and teaching yoga locally. I did some programs with Seane Corn last summer and she shares an incredibly valuable message, and her popularity supports a strong influx of students to her offerings. I say: good! She uses the force of celebrity well.

So I just think it can be helpful to have honorable focal points to keep us inspired, and therefore I don't dismiss the label "celebrity". I just think that it depends...

And I really don't buy the idea that the 'era of yoga celebrity is over'. ...just don't see that one.

Tracy said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/27/dining/27yoga.html?em
The above article seems an inferior imitation of my idea of "Rat Pack Yoga" inspired by your groovy jazz yoga music. :)

writeonyoga said...

Great post, Brenda. I preface this by saying I still think very highly of Yoga Journal, but I think that they will eventually have to stop using the same old yoga celebrities as story sources.

Kitty said...

"Hmpf!" That's me in my Cartman voice reacting to the "yoga industry." I wholeheartedly agree with your point, but let's leave Seane Corn off the short list. I've had the opportunity and privilege of taking her class on several occasions in several venues large and small, and I count her among my teachers... she's the real deal, and her example as a living yogini has enriched and informed my practice in ways I cannot believe. Thanks, Kitty, who teaches for free in Indy.