When the old yogis complain about commercialization, who can blame them? Gucci sells a yoga mat and matching bag for $655. Companies use famous yogis and yoga lingo to advertise cereal, beer, and Hormel pork-loin fillets. Jane magazine’s new ad shows a foxy blonde: “She practices yoga,” reads the caption. “She’s perfected the keg stand.” Yoga is at a confused, precarious place, teetering on the edge of overexposure. On my way to the Jivamukti party I stumbled on a tiny store in the ultrahip Lower East Side called Fuck Yoga, which features store-branded T-shirts, matchbooks, skateboards, and neon signs. I figured this was my proof that yoga had indeed crossed over to the dark side, becoming a close cousin to the SUV and the fur coat and dental insurance—all the eternal targets of youthful mockery and protest.
So was this all meant in hostility to yoga? I asked Fuck Yoga’s owner, Barnaby Harris, thinking I was asking the obvious.
“No, not at all,” he said, “I practice yoga every day. And we sell yoga mats.”
You do? So what the—?
“Enough already,” said Harris. “I mean, OK, [yoga’s] great for you, makes you glowing and healthy, etc., etc. But enough already.” (The store also sells T-shirts that say fuck frank gehry. Same basic idea.)
The Here and Now
So yoga may be overexposed and commercialized. But that doesn’t mean we’re all hypocrites. This is not the ’60s, not an age of ideological purity. What harm can it do if a rich couple in Beverly Hills wants to fund yoga for East L.A. schools, or if a psychiatrist prescribes yoga to one of his patients? It’s a tepid approach, perhaps, but it’s harmless, and maybe even a little bit cheering. If anything major is lost, it’s a sense of abandon. Yoga hurries the trend of what Christopher Lasch called “the corruption of sports,” where “[g]ames quickly lose part of their charm when pressed into the service of education, character development, or social improvement,” as he wrote in a 1977 essay.
Yet the abandon is still there, if you know where to find it. Late in the evening at the Jivamukti party, after all the concerts and speeches, the buzz dies down. Sting is gone; so is Trudie. Russell Simmons and Kimora Lee, Simmons’s diva wife (they are reportedly separated), have gotten tired of sitting cross-legged on little folded blankets. Baptiste is gone too. There are yoga celebrities here, but they’re of the old-school kind, known only to real insiders.
This is the authentic Jivamukti, which better than most studios seems to effortlessly, unself-consciously hold odd things together: the fun and the overly earnest, the fringe and the impossibly trendy. The whole staff once posed in one of those PETA ads (“We’d rather go naked than wear fur”) and made it look like the Princeton Nude Olympics. The Jivamukti teacher who taught my class that afternoon looked like a fourteen-year-old’s fantasy of a camp counselor: blonde and tan and a little mysterious, a party girl with a serious side.