The Advertiser’s Yogi

If you look at magazine covers or ads for yoga clothes or classes, you will almost always see one type of body. Slim, young, flexible, attractive and almost always Caucasian and performing some incredibly difficult, complicated asana (pose). That’s it!

You can’t possibly think you could be a yogi if you are a person of colour, overweight, a senior, a child, disabled, injured, etc. In fact a yogi is according to advertisements probably less than 1% of the total human population. Although I do know the rules of advertising and they are basically selling sex with these kinds of models – you are supposed to think - YOGA MAKES YOU SLIM, SEXY, FLEXIBLE.

But the problem is that the other 99% of the population either feels a) I can’t possibly do whatever that model is doing, b) I don’t look like a yogi so I wouldn’t be welcome in a yoga class or c) I’m in a yoga class but I can’t do that pose or look that way so I must be a failure!

Using advertising that is very restrictive concerning the models used  in their ads is not yoga. Those ads then bring about feelings of exclusion; you don’t look like models in those ads so you can't do yoga. This is the absolute opposite of what yoga is trying to achieve. One of the core beliefs of yoga is to de-emphasise the ego. Yoga’s position is that you are here to make yourself better, not to compare yourself to others either to your or their detriment. Yoga emphasises working on yourself: cultivating body awareness, emotional stability, mental clarity. This is a very individualised process which will be different for everyone as students are at different points on the path to attain awareness, stability and clarity.

This type of advertising gives such a one dimensional, negative view of yoga. Yoga began 3-5 thousand years ago by Indian, usually older males. In fact the originators were almost the opposite of how yoga is portrayed today in Western advertising. It started as a holistic system to make one a better individual physically, mentally and spiritually and to lay the foundation for the individual consciousness to become part of the universal consciousness (however one wants to define these terms). Each person has the choice if they want to make joining with the universal consciousness their goal. Yoga has so many benefits on the path to learning how to join with the universal consciousness, that stopping short of that still is very beneficial for the individual on many different levels. So stopping people from even contemplating yoga because of ads trying to sell yoga by using a only one type of model -young, slim, flexible, white - is just WRONG.

Yoga is not perfect but it is diverse and adaptable. It can easily maintain its core structure and beliefs, and still be modified to be accessible to those that can’t and don’t want to look like the people in the ads. There is room for everyone in yoga and to exclude people based on looks does no one a service.

So let’s take a day off – for ONE day, we buy nothing from companies that use these types of models that represent such a small proportion of humanity. We don’t buy yoga props, clothes, magazines, books anything with yoga on it for one day as a signal to advertisers which are advertising to US that we will no longer accept their narrow one-sided view of yoga. If they want to sell to us, then they better think about displaying the whole diverse world of yoga not just their narrow, banal and ultimately uninteresting view.