john friend + ana forrest + tara stiles: a NYT compare & contrast

Three flavours of yoga teachers – which would you choose?

The New York Times has once again fixed its gaze on yoga culture, this time with a short profile of Forrest Yoga, the method created by Ana Forrest. While I was reading the article, I couldn’t help but think back to a couple of other recent yoga teacher/style articles in the NYT: last summer’s seminal John Friend feature and the Tara Stiles profile from earlier this year.

The articles vary in depth, focus and length, but after a close reading of all three, I noticed some common themes. Here’s a handy dandy compare and contrast guide to the NYT’s approach to three very different, yet similar, teachers. All text is directly quoted from the NYT articles and everything in italics is my commentary.

Type of yoga teacher
Ana Forrest (AF): itinerant, fierce
John Friend (JF): rock star yogi
Tara Stiles (TS): former model with skyscraper limbs and a goofball sensibility

Name and origin of style
AF: Forrest Yoga – her last name, apparently
JF: Anusara – Sanskrit for “flowing with grace”
TS: Strala – a word she said she and her husband made up, but it turns out to be Swedish for “radiates light”

Description of style
AF: intense
JF: touchy-feely
TS: nondenominational

Characteristics of style
AF: long holding of positions, emphasis on abdominal core work and standing series that can go on for 20 poses on each side
JF: classes are less about toned abs than about self-expression and enjoyment
TS: focuses on the physical and health aspects of yoga, not the spiritual or the philosophical

Brand identity
AF: a boutique cult brand (in New York City, anyway)
JF: “We do yoga lifestyle, helping people to be happy. How do you like that?” (John Friend himself)
TS: powerful… with no less than Jane Fonda and Deepak Chopra among her devotees

Personal mission
AF: curing the ails of the modern world, including computer roadkill bodies (lower back tightness, shoulder pains and neck aches) and spiritual malaises that lead to destructive behaviors like addictions
JF: to reclaim yoga from the many U.S .teachers who were so consumed with the physical practice — it was all about the workout — that they sweated out any trace of spirituality
TS: “I feel like I’m standing up for yoga. People need yoga, not another religious leader.” (Tara Stiles, fyi)

Typical students
AF: N.F.L. players, recovering addicts, dancers and cancer patients
JF: Mostly young, mostly women and most of them spectacularly fit, [who’ll pay] around $150 for three days of nonstop Anusara
TS: The firefighter from Long Island who feels intimidated by “oms” and New Age music. The African-American 30-something from Brooklyn who is looking for a little diversity on the mat. Or the cashier from Morris, Ill— the river town of 14,000 where she grew up — who drives to McDonald’s for dinner several times a week.

Student testimonials
AF: “The thing that spoke to me about Forrest Yoga was the invitation to feel your body deeply and befriend your body as a source of wisdom and intelligence instead of something that you should occupy while you were on earth.”
JF: “My experience at [his] conference altered my being. I drove through the mountains and stopped every few minutes to write about the dancing rivers and the aspen paving my way with liquid gold.”
TS: “We are both nonconformists who have incurred the wrath of traditional yogis.” (That would be Deepak Chopra, btw)

Approach to training yoga teachers
AF: 200-hour foundational teacher training… 400 hours of field work, a nine-day advanced teacher training and, upon invitation, a one-week Forrest Yoga mentorship…. The Guardians meet with Ms. Forrest annually and mentor instructors who are in the equivalent of a post-graduate program.
JF: the teacher-training manual… is about as detailed as an oil-refinery operations handbook. Like Iyengar, he created a teacher-certification program; his students must complete a minimum of 200 hours of training at workshops — an expense that can require extensive travel — buy his training manual ($30) and pass his 30-hour take-home test. A $195 training DVD is also recommended. There are licensing fees of around $100 that must be renewed annually.
TS: costs $2,500, although she plans to lower it to $1,500, and it takes place over four weekends… emphasizes practical knowledge and looking inward for strength, not toward a guru or leader for empowerment

Pop culture comparison
AF: She is to Yoga Journal as Angelina Jolie is to Us magazine: a mainstay
JF: Joel Osteen, the magnetic evangelical megachurch minister with the feel-good message and a book-and-television empire
TS: Okay, I couldn’t find one. But her “sexy cover-girl” and “cheerleader” looks were referred to several times.

See also: why i’m obsessed with the NYT’s obsession with yoga and NYT on john friend, yoga mogul

20 Comments

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  1. “recovering addicts, dancers and cancer patients” — hmmmm…..how come I’m not in the NYT?

    Oh, wait. I was. 😉

    once again, American yoga = cult of personality.

  2. you know- it really is weird how tara would be “non-denominational”, such a religious term ya know? (i know it’s not meant to be that way, just an observation- as a speech therapist i get caught up on language and such lol).

    great comparison!

  3. A nice compilation…but now I want you cast your gimlet-eyed, media-savvy thoughts across what it means. It seems like the descriptions are pretty accurate–at least as far as image goes–but I wonder if the way the teachers were presented is biased in any way. Same writer for all three profiles? An agenda? The writer seems a bit skeptical of all these approaches (maybe that’s just from the chosen selections)…

    I dunno, whadaya you think?

    • hmmm, what does it mean? i think it is an indication of popular perceptions of yoga teachers, as well as a reflection of the NYT’s strange fascination/confusion about yoga. but really, it’s just a fun analysis and close reading of 3 apparently different articles. they were all written by different people, and i’m not sure if there was a particular agenda. the articles were also very different in scope ~ the ana forrest profile was really just a info piece that she’d be coming to NYC in a few months and that there’s a new yoga style on the blog, and only a brief phone interview was done with her. whereas the john friend feature was 5,000 words and included interviews and exclusive insights into his work (workshops, parties, staff gatherings). tara stiles was somewhere in between, with an interview and visit to her studio, but it was also addressed the criticism she’s received.

      the skepticism you read might be my own! i wanted to point out the absurdities and commonalities in the three articles.

  4. Interesting! Thanks, Roseanne!

  5. Humorous. The graphic was well chosen, but could perhaps be even more specific, e.g.: AF – shot of whiskey, straight up; JF – fruity rum drink with little paper umbrella; TS – exotic new Manhattan cocktail that also wows ’em in Peoria. Yum. Now that’s all sounding pretty good to me – ah, marketing!

    • that would have been a great graphic! i was really wishing i had graphic design skills while i was working on this ~ i had all these great ideas but couldn’t find them for free on the internet! another skill i need to add to my toolbox…

  6. Ha ha Carol, I was thinking of body types…AF – Hardened, JF – Doughy, TS – Anorexic

    You need to expand this to other stars Roseanne (and yes, a infographic of these guys traits and identifying signs would be hilarious)

  7. All I see here is once again, too much focus on the teachers and not the teachings. Yoga really shouldn’t be about the personality of the teachers, but about the wisdom being departed. And please, save all of us from Tara Stile’s “4 weekends” of yoga teacher training!

    • i agree that it should be about the teachings and not the teachers… however, that might be demanding too much from the NYT or any mainstream newspaper. the one thing these stories all have in common is that they appeared in the style/lifestyle sections of the paper. and those stories tend to focus on the personality behind the idea, whether it’s a designer, artist, writer or entrepreneur…

  8. first, i like the new web design – clean and inviting, cute too!

    oh, yes, the article 😉

    i’ve never trained with any of these folk, but there’s “elements” of each that appeal to me, believing in the wisdom of my own body, finding it’s ok to enjoy and have fun in a pose, and not being bound to a lineage or teacher

    all that said, if i had to choose training from any of these folk (all costs provided of course 😉 i’d go with tara, than ana, then john

    the “non-denominational” and focus on fitness aspects from tara are closest to my own leanings – i have extremely strongly held passionate spiritual beliefs, but the operative word is “i” –

    they infuse what i do, how i do it, and how i feel about what i do; that’s enough for me 😉

    i don’t know much about indian culture, and feel i have enough to handle being a hispanic american at this time of immigration hatred etc, but can’t help wondering why the constant calls that american yoga is just a cult of personality, since when i hear of indian yoga, it’s almost always “someone’s” yoga, and that person is not only a personality, but a guru, quotable as authority, and clearly revered

    not to say i don’t see that happening with american yoga personalities, but then i don’t see that not happening with indian personalities, past and present

    that may just show my own ignorance, or it may show that perceptions run similarly across the continents 😉

    either way, yoga doesn’t care, i think

    • interesting, thanks adan! i totally agree that charismatic teachers and “cult of personalities” exist in India, too. it’s not exclusively a western thing.

      and yoga, personified, most likely doesn’t care! however, dynamic teachers with a strong following can actually impact how the practice evolves.

      thanks for appreciating the new look!

  9. nice new look, Ro!

  10. Great post. I’ve been really perplexed by the NYT’s fascination with yoga… I wonder if it’s just that they have a lot of writers on staff who practice or if it’s signaling a larger shift in our culture that’s hard to be aware of from the “inside.”

    I would like to see something more from them than just the profiles of famous yoga teachers… I mean really, I’d like to think there’s a lot more newsworthy items to cover that are yoga-related than the latest celebrity teacher. How about the sort of evangelical yogaism passionate yoga teachers are carrying to third world countries? Yogis as a political force (YogaVotes)? The ecological consequences of turning on heat panels in thousands of hot yoga studios in the middle of summer? Maybe it’s too much to expect from a mainstream newspaper, but if you’re gonna cover yoga at least go for the REALLY juicy stuff. 😛

    • yes! i am waiting for the day when the NYT (or any paper) writes about some of the cool, progressive, thoughtful, socially conscious stuff that is happening in the yoga community.

      in the meantime, that’s what Yoga Modern and blogs are for, non? 😉

  11. Enjoyed this. Thanks.

    Bob

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