Judith Hanson Lasater’s letter to the editor in the September 2010 issue of Yoga Journal, expressing her concern about the use of “naked and half-naked women” in ads for yoga products, has struck a deep nerve in yoga practitioners. She took the time (while teaching at a yoga retreat, no less!) to answer a few questions and go deeper into her reasons for letting YJ know how she feels.
Q: How do you feel about the reaction to your letter? It seems like there’s been an outpouring of agreement with your stance.
JHL: The response has been interesting, to say the least. Probably running about 98% in agreement with what I attempted to share. The passion of the responses is also a surprise.
Q: How long have you been feeling concerned about the direction of YJ’s advertising policy? Was there any ad in particular that prompted you to write the letter, or was it a general growing sentiment?
JHL: I like to pay attention to the US yoga scene in all its fascinating permutations. There was something about a particular ad that I saw in YJ that really touched me and so I decided to write a letter. Part of writing the letter was to articulate for myself first what was going on inside of me when I saw the ad. I guess I believe in the old adage that clear writing reflects clear thinking, and I wanted to get clear. (Isn’t that we we are doing on the mat and on the meditation cushion and all day long to practice yoga?) So I wrote the letter. I am a little surprised they published it.
Q: I understand that you must be disappointed to see YJ become another “voice of the status quo” and I’m sure that wasn’t your intention for the magazine when you helped start it 35 years ago. What kind of voice did you hope it would become?
JHL: I would love to be able to say that we had such a clear intention all those years ago, but it is not true. I do remember clearly that we all loved yoga (not just asana) and wanted to share it with the world. We were crazily naive about everything that went into publishing a magazine. We learned over and over again that you can’t publish if you can’t pay your staff, your distributors and your mailing costs. Business is the way of the world and nothing wrong with that. But I had and still have dreams about how the magazine and the world can be, part of my character I guess as an optimist.
Q: There have been many conversations and discussions about the commercialization/sexualization of yoga, and the response from many people is, “Yes, well we live in a capitalist society; everything is commercialized. Why not yoga?” But I see that you feel differently. What do you see as the problem with using sexual imagery to sell yoga? What is compromised?
JHL: I just want to help create a safe space for yoga to be taught. With all this sexualization of yoga clothes, props, etc., it must spill over into the environment of yoga classes in ways that do not honor the boundary between teacher and student. In the US, we pay people the most money who can distract us the best: actors, personalities and sports figures. Entertainment is all about distraction. As I understand it, the deepest practice of yoga is about the opposite: refusing at first, then later embracing, the act and art of not distracting myself anymore from myself and the moment. So it seems to me that the use of naked bodies to sell yoga products is about using distraction to sell introspection. For me it is not about the nakedness; rather, it is about using bodies to distract us instead of using ads that inspire us to practice yoga, to live in the present and to be open to compassion and grace in each moment. I am sad when I see yoga in general, and many yoga classes in particular, becoming about distraction and entertainment.