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Yoga Class

posted Nov 11, 2009, 10:52 AM by Natalie Cox   [ updated Feb 2, 2010, 8:53 PM ]


Is Yoga Classist?

Having practiced yoga for nearly 10 years now, I can’t help but notice that yoga could very well be featured on the website “Stuff White People Like.” Yoga in the U.S. is a disproportionately vanilla-flavored world, or so you’d think when you look at the faces of those dominating the covers of yoga magazines, instructional DVD’s, yoga websites, and ads for yoga conferences and retreats. I find the whiteness of yoga a touch ironic, considering the practice originated in India. However, this post isn’t to take issue with white folks doing yoga. After all, I myself am among the paler yoga practitioners.

Rather, I am intrigued and perturbed by how classist yoga media seems to be. One only needs to pick up the latest copy of Yoga Journal to witness the “upper-middle classing” of yoga. Once the scene of beatnick hippie drop-outs, the modern American yoga world according to Yoga Journal consists of Prius-driving, Whole Foods shopping, island-hopping vegetarians. The editors of Yoga Journal clearly write for an audience of privileged people with a surplus of time and income.

Consider their advertising. Most mags partner with advertisers they think their readers might actually buy from. Men’s Health advertises bulging biceps, Cosmo advertises Botox. Yoga Journal advertises a variety of health and wellness products, none of which are affordable to your average human being. $20 dollars for specially formulated probiotic juice containing the same bacteria that lives in my expired milk? Please.

Their clothing ads are the worst offenders, however. In addition to an inappropriate ad campaign featuring a female yogi posed in nothing but socks, many of their ads feature designer ensembles costing upwards of $100 bucks per item. As a person who teaches 5 days a week, I need durable clothes, and if possible, a cute variety of them. However, I do not need to spend $250 on a pair of chintzy silky yoga pants designed specifically to enhance my butt.

It’s not just the ads; Yoga Journal’s content also screams trust fund baby. Take for example the November 2009 issue’s cover story, “Retreat Ideas for Every Budget.” I have never actually been on a yoga retreat in part because they are cost prohibitive. So I paged over to the article hoping there would be some super cheap, super close place I could quite literally camp at for less than a Benjamin. Alas, the piece seemed to consist primarily of journalistic advice on how already well-off folks can continue to afford luxury in financially stressful times.

Option one is the “home retreat,” creating a tranquil and conveniently cheap environment in one’s own abode. “So-and-so spent two hours in silent meditation, then swam in her pool and took long walks,” is the example they provide. “Take a bath, turn off the phone, and cook nutritious organic meals.” While undoubtedly cheaper to retreat into one’s home, not all of us have a home that is retreat-worthy. Their assumption is that all yogis live alone (and/or can send their partners, children and roommates away for a weekend), own spacious and well-furnished homes, have to access to a pool or a quiet neighborhood to walk through, and possess both cooking talent and the cash to spend on organic produce.

Second, they advise students to take their favorite teacher to Hawaii for a DIY retreat. Not everyone has the planning skills and a relationship with their yoga teacher to construct a trip like that. And much as I would love it if a group of yoga students invited me on a tropical vacation, the three other jobs I work for the privilege of being a yoga instructor prohibits me from such an arrangement. A plane ticket to Hawaii or the Bahamas or some other paradise is not necessarily feasible for most yoga teachers, much less their students.

And finally, the last option offered is the “classic retreat,” which at least Yoga Journal openly admits is a luxury that few can afford.  Unsurprisingly, the participants in this story are all software developers and CEO’s of their own companies, making it ever clearer that hours of massage and yoga and facials on the beach in Mexico is not something for the everywoman. But one quote really bothered me: “the toughest part about going on a retreat is choosing which of the many fabulous options to choose from.” Sorry Yoga Journal, but the toughest thing about going on a retreat for most people is finding the money and time to afford it.