Oooh, I love a good yoga debate! Recently, CBC Radio’s Q featured a really interesting discussion on the corporatization of yoga. The fabulous Jian Ghomeshi moderated a conversation between Ted Grand, founder of Moksha Yoga, and John Philp, filmmaker and author of the newly released Yoga, Inc (he’s also made a documentary of the same name). I was excited about the opportunity to hear these two duke it on the airwaves, and think they both have a lot to say about this topic. They are good representations of both sides of the argument, as Ted has founded a yoga franchise (Moksha has studios in 30 locations around the world ) and John has spent years researching the yoga industry. Both men have integrity, are articulate and really know their stuff.
The commercialization of yoga is a topic that I am particularly fascinated by and have spent a lot of time thinking about. I spent 3 years working in and observing the yoga business, and straddling the worlds of yoga and media. While I never got rich (not even close) from it, I was involved in co-creating a yoga “product” and having to sell it. So I really enjoyed the depth and knowledge that both guests brought to the subject.
The conversation started with John pointing out that with all this corporatization and money-making, North American culture is forgeting that yoga is ultimately about spiritual enlightenent and reducing it to a form of exercise. Agreed. However, Ted pointed out as a consumerist society, we’re going to see yoga through that lense, and yoga is still learning to adapt. I like how he noted that yoga is unfolding, it’s still in an adolescent phase in North America. He also said that it doesn’t matter why people start doing yoga.
Since this is public radio and not high school debate club, it ended with a general consensus about the dangers of the “Wal-Mart effect” on yoga and what is lost with the standarization and commercialization of yoga (or “McYoga”), such as when big yoga chains suffocate smaller community studios (however, if I had to pick a winner, I’d chose Ted Grand – he had the clearest argument and the best insights). The corporatization of yoga is a complex and complicated subject. Generally, I think the corporatization of anything sucks, whether it’s coffee or music or food. Yet, I know that it’s unrealistic to think that yoga is so pure and sacred that it’s unaffected by market forces. There’s nothing wrong with running a yoga business, and it’s entirely possible to run a business on yogic principles.
Sometimes I feel depressed because there is so much shallow, glossy, body-oriented, competitive yoga out there. I see so many misrepresentations of yoga and so many people (including yoga teachers) who don’t know anything about the tradition or history of the practice. I get highly irritated when I see news stories about Nicole Ritchie doing yoga and pilates to stay fit during her pregnancy. But I don’t fear that the essence of yoga is being lost or diluted in our culture. I believe that yoga – whatever it is, still figuring it out – is resilient, adaptable and timeless. I also think that as a fitness trend, it will eventually die out, as all trends do. And what will remain are the sincere practitioners, the life-long yogis who live the practice and feel it in their whole selves. This, somehow, gives me hope.