Are We Commoditizing Yoga?
Allow me to begin with a quote featured in this week's Boston Globe, citing Justine Wiltshire Cohen's approach to sharing the practice of yoga. "We believe that yoga studios should act in ways that are consistent with the teachings of yoga,'' it says. "We will never sell plastic water bottles that go into landfills [because ahimsa means 'do no harm']. We will never sell $150 yoga pants [because aparigraha means 'identifying greed']. We will never accept offers from companies to promote their gear in exchange for free publicity or products (because satya means "truthfulness''). We will never brand, trademark, or pretend we've made up a new style of yoga.''
Wiltshire garnered the attention of the newspaper with a panel discussion that took place October 17th at Down Under Yoga titled "Balancing Acts: Poses, Products, and the Future of Yoga in America," which was led by her and yoga mavens such as Barbara Benagh, Patricia Walden, and Peentz Dubble. It was to address the issues coinciding with the growing popularity of yoga: How do we appreciate the fact that so many people are interested and practicing in mainstream culture, while remaining focused one the sacred, authentic core of its teachings, without the corruption of commodity and consumerism?
I was impressed to learn about the panel and the urgency the teachers involved seemed to bring to the issue. And I was even more intrigued by the flurry of press around it, the opinions that began to emerge in blogs and posts, and that it seemed to strike a nerve across the yoga community in an interesting way. Cohen described the topic as "the elephant in the room." I believe her to mean that it is addressing a topic of glaring concern to many within the yoga community, and that it is simply not talked about enough in an open forum.
This issue is something I think about constantly. I've been watching the "business" of yoga explode and evolve over more than a decade, having taught at a host of studios in different cities and enjoyed the sanghas following many teachers. "Yoga has become a way of life," a friend remarked to me the other day. It has become part of our culture and products have come to market for this segment and opportunities to capitalize on it abound. Some of it I absolutely love. And some of it literally hurts to look it, when I see a product or teacher espousing its yogic wonders, when it has so many inconsistencies with the tenets of yoga that I find it damaging and diluting to the practice.
Yes, I am a yoga teacher and yes, I am the owner of a consumer products company. So, yes indeed, this issue is close to my heart. I myself sell To-Go Ware to studios and yogis all over the country. And, quite frankly, they are some of my favorite customers. Not merely because I enjoy the engagement of my own community, but because yoga practitioners are incredible ambassadors. Our products are meant to help people wake up to consumption, to walk their yoga practice off the mat and into their lives, and to give them a tool to do so. Yogis get it, help spread the message and it feels almost and honor to have this awakened segment of the population to work with. So, biased or not, I can see great merits to using conscious consumerism mindfully amongst the yoga world.
This begs the question, where do we draw the line in a today's day and age of what is yoga and what is not? Here's where I see a mindful discernment needing to enter the picture. There is of course the renunciate path, where a student can abandon worldly possessions and experiences and retreat from our consumer society. That's an easy way to solve the problem. But for the majority of us, we are still living in the world with stuff and services all around us. We need to be thinking about how we engage, how we consume, and how it aligns with yoga (if at all).
This is why I love what Justine Wiltshire Cohen and Down Under Yoga have done to bring this topic into greater awareness and start a lively conversation about it. I hope that it continues to proliferate and encourage people to start asking questions about the things they consume and the things they offer in the name of yoga. May it lead us all to better answers.
*image above courtesy of Yogadork
Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA.