I don’t think I’m alone in sometimes feeling adrift amidst the massive pop-culture scene of yoga and the tidal force of commercialism. Although I continually seek to anchor myself in practice, I feel pulled back and forth from the surface waves of pop-culture yoga to the currents of ancient wisdom that flow deeply through the tradition. I can’t say that I entirely despise commercialism, after all, I want to make a living writing about and teaching yoga. But I do question the degree to which commercialism seems to be steering the communal boat of yoga culture these days. Does the yoga community have the integrity to continue to plumb the depths of this tradition or will we eventually find ourself asleep, and drowning in shallow waters?
One recent response to the commercialized, celebrity yoga empire is the newly emerged anti-celeb yoga website thebabarazzi.com, which is full of sarcasm at the expense of yoga’s commercial paradigm. On one hand, I love that the “babarazzi” are challenging the celebrity yoga-sphere. They are shedding light on all of the ways we are deceived by this subculture into thinking that the pinnacle of the good life is a product of FB “likes” and page views. Recently, YogaCityNYC conducted an interview with one of the “babarazzi” about their site, who commented that: “There was all this celeb yoga going on – everywhere. People even calling themselves that. We thought, wait, the other side of this is missing. Where are the tabloids, the paparazzi, because the celebs types are dominating this discussion? It needs some balance.”
I get their point, but here’s the thing, despite the somewhat refreshing shot thebabarazzi.com takes at the all too self-serious celebrity yoga empire it also does nothing more than continue to meander through surface musings. It too remains floating in a sea of superficiality, in a way unconsciously legitimizing the very thing it seeks to uproot. Is this a good response in the face of the narcotizing threat of commercialism and celebrity culture? Is this really the “other side” of celebrity yoga and what balance actually looks like? After all the paparazzi – which this parodied website was named after – are, in actuality, a robust symbol of North American celebrity culture. Sure, they expose the dirt on its shiny façade but they also perpetuate it.
So what is the true antidote to an over-emphasis on yoga’s commercial side? What does real balance look like? I believe it comes down to this: If commercialized and celebrity yoga is indeed the shallow surface froth of yoga’s greater complexity then what is needed is depth. If it is a reduction of yoga’s multidimensionality then what is needed is expansion. If it is a shiny but hollow vestige of something more substantial then what is needed is SOUL. These things are the genuine “other side” of the commercialization of yoga. But, in order to balance the vigorous currents of commercialism the global yoga community must commit to yoga’s bigger picture. I know we have to be able to make a living in a capitalist milieu. But, can we do that with the voice of depth, expansion and soul as our guide rather than commercialism as as our master? What might that look like?
What do you think - Is commercialism really a threat to yoga? What is required from the community as a whole to keep yoga from being drowned in it? Is there a balance point where commercialism and depth can be reconciled? Do anti-celeb sites serve a purpose?