Yoga, Inc.The Shadow Side
Not all practitioners find the Americanization of yoga—and especially its commodification—to be so fantastic. "The downside to it is that people get the impression that they need props and paraphernalia and a color-coordinated yoga outfit with shoes to practice yoga. In truth, you don't need anything," says Sharon Staubach, one of the founding members of Yoga Alliance and an instructor in the Denver area. "Shoes, if anything, interfere with the practice of asana." Another downside, says Staubach, is evident in the advertisements used to sell yoga products. "Like most ads, they feature beautiful people, Cindy Crawford types, who are then airbrushed into somebody's version of perfection. Studies show that when women look at women's magazines-rife with such ads-their self-esteem plummets," she says. "For yoga ads to do this is so against what yoga's all about. Yoga is about cultivating nonharming to self and others."
Professor Weissler sees another problem in the commodification of yoga, as with other spiritual practices. "People come to believe that they can buy enlightenment. And a kind of spiritual laziness sets in. People say to themselves, 'Oh, I bought the meditation cushion. I bought the yoga outfit. Now I'm a yogi.' Of course, it doesn't work that way," she says. "Enlightenment is only achieved through hard work and daily spiritual practice. It's not easy to achieve. It's not meant to be easy." The bounty being made selling yoga and yoga products is off the mark, says Deborah Rogers of Scottsdale, Arizona, who practices Iyengar and Anusara Yoga. "At a time when the economy has taken a toll on many Americans, there are studios raising their prices. It saddens me. I have heard many people comment that they love yoga but can't afford the extra cost per month," she says. "Another thing is the price of the clothing. I can remember a couple of years ago paying $40 for a top and bottom. Now they're charging $60 for just a pair of cotton pants."
Steven Thompson, a student of raja yoga in Ontario and a teacher of philosophy at the University of Toronto, says he doesn't like to see acquisitiveness and greed anywhere, "but they are especially noisome when the products being hawked are related to yoga. Yoga is about turning inward and finding peace there, not in material excess."
Thompson adds that he is averse to anyone making oodles of money off yoga- whether by working at a studio, selling products, or teaching. Yet a recent issue of Entrepreneur, a magazine that ballyhoos great money-making schemes, called the yoga studio a "million-dollar idea." The publication profiled one California couple who opened a Bikram Yoga studio in 1995 with $25,000 and by 2001 were earning $250,000 a year. Thompson finds that kind of profit excessive. "One of the people who introduced me to yoga was taught by an Indian yogi who refused to take money because he saw his knowledge as a gift freely given from our ancestors," says Thompson. "I realize that people need to eat. But still, to serve as examples for the practice, a yoga teacher should not earn more than is necessary to live in modest comfort."