Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sexy Yoga?


The commercialization of yoga has been a topic of debate since it hit mainstream in the west.  With any commercialization, sex will soon follow.  Somehow, someway.  In the September 2010 issue of Yoga Journal, Judith Hanson Lasater wrote a letter to the editor expressing her "sadness" over an Toesox advertisements where nude hard-bodies flex and stretch in yoga poses ... wearing nothing but Toesox of course.

So the debate shifted and flared around the over-sexualization of yoga.  Has the practice become too focused on the body - and how it can shape, mold and optimize it for sexual pleasure? 
There is no doubt that practicing yoga equals a better life overall - and within that life, if you happen to be sexually active, well that's going to be better too.  That said, if one begins practicing yoga for a material gain, such as a better body or sex life, they will - as the gurus of past explain - miss the point.  So while sex and the body cannot be divorced from yoga (in fact many yogic traditions believe the body is a vehicle for Samadhi - the actual goal of yoga), it cannot be made the goal.

Back to the advertisements.  Are they undermining the validity of yoga?  Should they be banned from a respected yoga publication such as Yoga Journal?  Or, are they benign reflections of the time?  Perhaps a beautiful expression of art and celebration of the human form?

I'm torn.  On the one hand I believe that sexual thoughts on the mat can be a distraction to meditation.  That using naked bodies to sell a yoga product is sensational at best and not worthy for our discussion.  On the other hand, I believe in free speech and artistic expression.  The rising and falling of the mind can be a tool for meditation and therefore sensual thoughts on the mat, while a distraction for some, may serve as a door into a deeper meditative state if used wisely.  Power to anyone who can practice naked in a crowded room and stay focused on their practice!

We'll never be able to stop the commercializing of yoga.  The wide range of products, some helpful and some not so helpful, are here to stay.  And honestly, I enjoy some myself! 

If you want one of the best summaries of the debate - as well as a scanned copy of Ms. Lasater's letter to the editor - check out Yoga Dork.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting topic. Aesthetically, the photos are always beautiful and tasteful. I'd call them artistic commercial photography (not art, necessarily but that's a topic that has been stretching along for YEARS.)

    As advertisements for a product that is intended to help an individual go deeper into Asana practice ... well, I think I agree with Judith Hanson Lasater (LOVE her!). I, too, have looked at these ads in my Yoga magazines and found them giving me pause. It's not the nudity, per se, but rather a slightly uncomfortable, something-feels-vaguely-wrong sensation that I think stems from the very commercial use of the body and Yoga. As teachers (and practitioners) we try so hard to convey the inner depths of Yoga that can be achieved via Asana, and it's often a struggle to get our students to release their ideas of "perfection". I just think these ads become one more layer that needs to be peeled away when someone arrives on their mat -- wearing toesox or no.

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  2. Deb - thanks for your thoughtful response. Since I posted this article I've ruminated on the subject, tossing back and forth from liberal freedom warrior to conservative stalwart of yogic principles. I agree that there is something fundamentally disturbing about the vast commercialization of yoga - and as practitioners we fight an up hill battle to strip down those images of perfection. But even without modern day media, human society would find its own way to "commercialize" or "idolize" worthy subjects. We communicate through pictures and, well, we end up gravitating toward the prettiest (and sometimes flashiest) ones.

    All that said, I'm not defending the Toesox ads, I'm just perplexed and wondering - if you can't live without 'em, how do we live with 'em?

    And I heart hiking too :)

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