yoga for trophy wives? vanity fair profiles sonia jones & jois yoga

Jois Yoga founders: Sonia Jones and the Jois family

I have to admit that I soft spot for Vanity Fair’s coverage of socialites and billionaires, so I couldn’t resist this article on Ashtanga yoga in the April issue. Vanity Fair loves money, celebrities, royalty and risky extravagant business ventures, so it’s no wonder that this story caught their interest.

The article describes how Sonia Jones, “the wife of hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones,” has paired up with Pattabhi Jois’ daughter and grandson to launch Jois Yoga, a chain of yoga studios and boutiques, with headquarters in Encinata, California. This is causing a split within the American Ashtanga community.

Sonia Jones is introduced at the scene of new Jois Yoga studio about to open in Greenwich, Connecticut:

The money behind the new studio comes from Sonia Tudor Jones, whose husband, 57-year-old Paul Tudor Jones II, runs the multi-billion-dollar hedge-fund empire Tudor Investment Corp. Tudor is one of the oldest and most respected hedge funds—its flagship fund, Tudor BVI Global, has averaged annual gains of 21 percent over its 25-year history, according to The Wall Street Journal—and while very little about it is public, Forbes has estimated Paul Tudor Jones’s net worth at $3.2 billion.

Jones is also a noted philanthropist, the founder of the Robin Hood Foundation, the oh-so-stylish charity for the hedge-fund set. The Joneses live in Greenwich. This will be his wife’s fourth Jois studio, or “shala” in yoga lingo, and that’s only part of her far-flung project. In partnership with Pattabhi Jois’s daughter and grandson and a friend, San Diego-based entrepreneur Salima Ruffin, she’s also launched a Jois line of yoga clothes, and she is setting up charities to bring yoga to everyone, from charter schools in Florida to villages in Africa. Ruffin likes to say that Sonia is the “Mother Teresa of yoga.”

Sonia Jones, as she likes to be called, is devoted to yoga not for the reason most American devotees are—the attainment of physical perfection, with maybe a little spiritual bliss tossed in—but because she thinks it restored her to health. [via VanityFair.com]

YogaDork has a great summary of the five-page article and asks tough questions about what this means for yoga in North America (namely, “Are we doomed?”). I, however, couldn’t help but read the article through the lens of developments in the yoga world, and another community which is negotiating a grand (and far more dramatic) schism. While the article was written well before the recent Anusara scandal, it references John Friend and describes the system as total opposite of Ashtanga:

Ashtanga as Jois taught it is not a yoga where anything comes easily. John Friend, the creator of another popular form of yoga, called Anusara, likes to say that Anusara is the “yoga of yes.” Tim Miller tells me, only half-jokingly, that Ashtanga is the “yoga of no.”

The situations are different, but my wish is that the founders of Jois Yoga will learn something from Anusara about the dangers of branding, cult of personality, over-deification of the guru, and shady leadership.

An intriguing and well-researched read, the article is a refreshing change from the sensationalism and melodrama of the New York Times’ assault on yoga in the past couple of years. It closes with wise words from Kino McGregor, which are applicable to almost any school of yoga right now: “The future of yoga is decided by the students, and whoever will bear the torch of Ashtanga yoga will be decided by the students. I don’t think we need to try to control it. We just need to sit with the uncertainty of it.”

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  1. Just like in the world of sport: “They [the club owners] are renting the game from the fans.” Sparky Anderson, Detroit Tigers

  2. I’m new to yoga and, as a relatively tightly-wrapped person, seeking to find a comfortable peace with its sometimes overly crunchy (to me) aspects. Certainly there are a lot worse things Ms. Jones could do with her money and time, but when her friend and business partner tags her as “the Mother Theresa of Yoga,” I blanch and half-dismiss the entire project. That was a comparison perhaps better not made.

    It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I’m a VF subscriber and have only skimmed the article so far, but now I really want to read it AND yogadork’s take.

  3. I do think that the VF piece was pretty evenly written, but as good as the Sonia Jones’ intentions are about the dissemination of yoga to disadvantaged kids and the like, this continued “McDonaldization” of yoga somehow doesn’t sit well with me. Bikram, Anusara, Kripalu, Jivamukti and now Ashtanga. Great.

    I also think there are echoes of neo-colonialist and quasi-imperialistic attitudes of trusteeship in this “Mother Teresa of Yoga” outlook, somehow this uber-rich white woman is going to save the dark kids of Africa by being the benefactor of yoga. I work in development and I can tell you right from the get-go, that that model of “development” is as old and outdated, I’d be curious to see HOW yoga will be disseminated in Africa, which part of Africa and by whom. Grafting cultural and spiritual practices from a diametrically different culture to another in certain parts of Africa which is equally as old has traditionally and historically had very negative results. There are gender issues, tribal issues, cross-cultural issues which you have to take into account, it’s not like building a well. I mean look at Oprah’s girls school in South Africa, it was a total disaster or Madonna’s Save Malawi project.

    Ms. Jones is better off giving the money to respected and established NGO’s like “Right to Play”, Aga Khan Foundation or Unicef who do have extensive experience in working with local partners for development initiatives particularly when it comes to children, women and physical activity.

  4. a friend of mine has said that the boutique at the Encinitas studio feels like the Gap.

    : /

    • not surprising. what is it about encintas, anyway? why is it the black hole of yoga?

    • JOIS in greenwich is like Lululemon or Gap (as you mentioned) to me. Nice clothes but slightly pricey for average people. Only JOIS t-shirt logo.. about 20s. Nice and good services inside plus… with valet parking on the workshop days. I did not expected that…. but feel good…

  5. Why is it people have to bring other people down to make themselves feel better? Sonia has forsight and trying to share something she loves and is passionate about with others. Thank you Sonia!

  6. No Sonia needs to step right back – she is not Ashtanga yoga it is a lineage – Sharath Guriji’s grandson should be directing and leading – this should not be about creating a ‘brand’. It should be about the practice – and really – what needs to be changed about the practice. It’s simplicity and purity is its strength – and we are in danger of having that diluted

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