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Naked Truths

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Opinions run hot about nudity in advertising and Yoga Journal’s role in contemporary yoga culture.

In the September issue, we published a letter written by the esteemed yoga teacher and Yoga Journal co-founder Judith Hanson Lasater, which expressed her disapproval of advertisements featuring naked women. It’s been a hot topic ever since, and it seems appropriate to offer a few thoughts.

First, I greatly respect Judith and her concerns. Over the years, we’ve had conversations about the magazine, the business, the community. More than once, she has called me to share an opinion, in her trademark direct style, and we talked about her September letter before I published it. I appreciate her frankness.

I interpreted Judith’s formal note about ads that she feels “exploit the sexuality of young women in order to sell products” to be a message both to the folks at Yoga Journal who make advertising decisions, (I am responsible for editorial direction only, I have no authority over advertising)–and to the larger community, including the creators of the ads.

Clearly Judith’s letter struck a chord, and I’ve read the opinions of many people who agree with her views. Others have written specifically in support of what they see as the artistic beauty of the ToeSox ads, in particular, which feature the talented yoga teacher and frequent Yoga Journal contributor Kathryn Budig demonstrating poses in the buff.

The diversity of reader opinion isn’t surprising, given the diversity of the yoga community today and the highly subjective nature of the matter at hand. But somewhere in all the heated blog posts about whether nudity equals exploitation and about what Yoga Journal‘s advertising policies should be, I’ve seen a fair bit of frustration and misunderstanding about Yoga Journal’s role in the community.

Over the past 35 years, Yoga Journal has evolved from a nonprofit publication aimed at yoga teachers to a popular magazine read by more than 2 million Americans and supported by national advertising. Perhaps the biggest difference between the magazine Judith founded and the one I edit today is that while Yoga Journal continues to be a source of instruction and insight on yogic practices, it is now also a chronicle of the ever-evolving yoga scene–a scene that didn’t exist 35 years ago and one that some old-time practitioners would, quite frankly, find un-yogic.

Yoga Journal doesn’t intend to be a textbook of ancient practices, nor an arbiter of yogic morality. It’s a magazine that introduces people to a world of ideas–sometimes profound, life-changing ideas that they might not otherwise be exposed to.

It’s a messy time to be in the business of covering yoga. Some yoga publications that offered a purist’s view of the practice are no longer in print, while “workout yoga” is popular on the newsstand. Yoga Journal remains devoted to bringing a full spectrum of teachings to a wide audience, and it does so while walking the age-old line of art and commerce.

Spiritual teachers often say that while monkhood requires practicing austerities, it is actually easier to live in a cave than to practice yoga while living in the world; it’s tough to maintain a quiet mind when deadlines loom, when the kids meltdown, when all kinds of distractions beg for your attention. Yoga Journal lives out in that world–tackling real-life issues of finances, politics (yes, politics in the world of yoga!), and the sometimes-clashing ideals of the yoga community. I’m proud that amid all the chaos, the magazine continues to focus on delivering wise teachings and practical tools for bringing the essence of yoga into our daily lives.

We are grateful to have the support of the teaching community, including Judith and the many other dedicated teachers who share the depth of their knowledge through our pages, and the support of our advertisers, which enables us to continue offering world-class instruction, insight, and inspiration for practice. As always, we hope that the magazine we work so hard to bring to you, serves you well.

–Kaitlin Quistgaard
Editor in Chief, Yoga Journal