Future of Yoga: Commercial Venture or Spiritual Practice?

The great commercialization conversation is moving out of the yoga blogosphere and into… the yoga studio. This weekend marks the grand opening celebration of Down Under Yoga in Newtonville, Massachusetts and the festivities include sample classes, nibbles and a summit entitled “Balancing Acts: Poses, Products, and the Future of Yoga in America.’’

Studio founder Justine Wiltshire Cohen has invited leading Boston-area teachers, including Natash Rizopoulos and Patricia Walden, to the summit, which will be focused on the commercialization of yoga. “Everyone is afraid to talk about the white elephant in the yoga room,” Justine said in an article in The Boston Globe (she obviously doesn’t hang out in the yoga blogosphere, where nobody is afraid of any white, pink or blue elephant).

The article notes that the Down Under “website makes it clear where [Justine] stands on the question. ‘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.’”

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this conversation. I wish I could be there, to hear these respected and knowledgable teachers discuss this in an open forum. It’s a rare opportunity to hear these issues discussed by experienced teachers, without being filtered by the media (or bloggers).

And speaking of the media, The Boston Globe article contains some interesting tidbits, including a quote from Yoga Journal editor-in-chief in regards to Judith Hanson Lasater’s infamous letter: “We also need to run a commercial venture… We are Americans and one thing Americans do is shop and like nice things. And one of the ways we identify ourselves is having a certain look. The yoga industry does support our desire to create self-identity through what we wear or what we purchase.’’

As well, the journalist takes a low blow at Anusara Yoga, singling it out as a “particularly irksome” brand of yoga and referencing the recent NYT profile of John Friend. It’s unclear if this was a paraphrasing of a comment by the Down Under Yoga founder, or if it was the only example of branded yoga that the journalist could find.

What direction will the future of yoga take? And are we willing to follow the trajectory, or take the next exit?


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