Last week, an obscene number of articles about yoga appeared in The New York Times (three in one day, in the Sunday, July 25 paper). Even people outside of the yoga blogging community seemed to notice it. “Why is the New York Times so obsessed – and confused – about yoga?” asked Paul Raeburn on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker (he followed up with another post tracking the NYT obsession). Good question! He astutely observed that “the Times, whenever it encounters yoga, seems ready to pounce on the entrepreneur-charlatan, or the spiritually inclined numbskull, or the 20-something fashion victim.” This prompted a summary – although no response or retort – on The Atlantic Wire.
Here’s a list of the articles that appeared in the paper in the past weeks (dates refer to online publication):
- Where the Ascetic Meets the Aesthetic, July 29 ~ (another) review of Stephanie Syman’s book, The Subtle Body, by esteemed book reviewer Michiko Kakutani.
- Up Close – Yoga Blogger Covers the Lighter Side, July 28 ~ a profile of well-known (and much loved) yoga blogger, YogaDork.
- For Some Fitness Buffs, Intense Heat is No Deterrent, July 28 ~ even in the heat of July, those wacky hot yogis are practicing yoga in a room heated to 106ºF.
- The Yoga Mogul – John Friend, Creator of the Anusara School, July 19 ~ the tipping point, and apparently the longest most in-depth article about yoga ever published in the Times.
- Posing as Fitness, July 15 ~ a compare and contrast essay on Syman’s The Subtle Body and Robert Love’s The Great Oom (which had already been reviewed in the paper on April 15).
While the NY Times’ yoga coverage seemed to have reached some cosmic climax last week, it was only slightly more obsessive than usual. A quick glance at the NY Times Topics page for the subject of Yoga reveals 224 articles published since the beginning of time – or at least since the mid-90s, which is when the NY Times and the rest of the world really started paying attention to yoga.
Since the beginning of 2010 alone, the NY Times has covered donation-based yoga, “entertainment” yoga in hotels and resorts, and the ethics of yoga practice and food (especially meat, wine and chocolate). Last year, the paper was preoccupied with yoga competitions, Lululemon (repeatedly), the yoga regulation debate, and doga. The paper is especially fascinated by the marketing and commodification of the practice.
“The irony is that yoga, and spiritual ideals for which it stands, have become the ultimate commodity,” the paper quoted Mark Singleton, the author of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, as saying in the April 23 article on donation-based yoga. “Spirituality is a style, and the ‘rock star’ yoga teachers are the style gurus.” And in a gesture of even greater irony, the article itself appeared in the Fashion & Style section of the paper.
Which is where most of the NY Times’ yoga articles show up ~ or in the Fitness, Business and occasionally Travel/Leisure sections. Fair enough, since the paper doesn’t seem to devote a lot of space to faith or spirituality, and – despite what us yoga bloggers may think – yoga is hardly front page news.
But it’s difficult to deny that the underlying tone of the NY Times’ yoga journalism is often condescending, bewildered or critical. Even last week’s uncritical and supportive profile of YogaDork managed to trivialize her work in the opening paragraph: “In mid-July, while the oil slick in the Gulf and the Goldman Sachs settlement were dominating the news, a blog named YogaDork had a worldwide exclusive. “Lady Gaga Takes Private Yoga Class in Cleveland,” the post read…”
Journalism, by nature, is a cynical and distrustful field. And so it should be. I wouldn’t expect lovey, feel-good articles about yoga in America’s leading paper. After all, it’s not The New Yoga Times. But there are plenty of positive, innovative ways that yoga is being applied in the world. There are plenty of inspiring leaders, amazing communities and thoughtful practitioners who could all use a little more coverage.
As for myself, I’m obsessed with the paper’s coverage because I see it an interesting barometre of the mainstream culture’s perception of yoga ~ unfortunately, it’s also an influencer, so its biased coverage may have a negative impact on people considering yoga, or those who are already confused by it. In the end, I have to agree with Paul Raeburn’s concluding question for the NY Times about yoga: “Why does it frighten you so?” Yeah, NY Times, why?