Countercultural Yoga & the “Body Beautiful.”
by Carol Horton, on Nov 19, 2012
How does the yoga community replicate the sexism and power imbalances of the dominant culture? What is lost, and gained, as the practice becomes increasingly mainstreamed?
In this episode of the 21st Century Yoga Guru Expert Series originally broadcast by Where is My Guru,contributors Melanie Klein and Frank Jude Boccio discuss these questions and many others with co-editor Roseanne Harvey. This is a cutting edge, deeply informed, fun and fascinating discussion of critical issues of body image and commercialism in North American yoga that you won’t want to miss!
Melanie Klein presents “How Yoga Makes You Pretty” at CSUN for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)’s NEDAwareness Week, 2012. Photo by Loren Townsley.
Melanie Klein is a writer, speaker, and professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Santa Monica College. She is the adviser of the Santa Monica College Leadership Alliance, and founder and co-coordinator of Women, Action + Media! Los Angeles. Melanie attributes feminism and yoga as the two primary influences in her work, and is committed to consciousness-raising, promoting media literacy, healing distorted body images and cultivating healthy body relationships. Founder of the blog FeministFatale, her work may also be found at Adios Barbie, Ms. Magazine, WIMN’s Voices, and, of course, elephant journal.
Melanie’s chapter in 21st Century Yoga, “How Yoga Makes You Pretty: Yoga, the Beauty Myth, and Me,” has resonated deeply with many readers, who identify with her struggles around body image and dismay with how an “increasingly commercialized yoga community” has taken to replicating the damaging messages of unattainable “prettiness” that run rampant in our culture:
What sealed the deal for me is when I stumbled upon an advertisement for diet pills in Yoga Journal. Not only had yoga publications succumbed to accepting corporate dollars for products that seemed unrelated to a healthy yogic lifestyle, but now they’d allowed the ultimate self-esteem crusher to enter: advertisements reinforcing cultural messages focused on size, not health. This trend continues with yoga ads, DVDs, and products that focus solely on weight loss . . . and the continued use of models that don’t reflect the diverse range of women and men practicing and teaching yoga.
Poep Sa Frank Jude Boccio leading Moksha Yoga Teacher Training, Thailand 2006
Poep Sa Frank Jude Boccio is a certified yoga teacher, interfaith minister, member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing, and Zen Buddhist Dharma teacher ordained by Korean Zen master, Samu Sunim. His book, Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath, Body, and Mind is the first to apply the Buddha’s mindfulness meditation teachings to yogasana practice. Besides his writing appearing in Tricycle, Shambhala Sun, Namaskar and Yoga Journal,he maintains two blogs: Mindfulness Yoga and Zen Naturalism. Based in Tucson, where he lives with his wife, Monica, their daughter Giovanna and their two cats and two chickens, he travels worldwide, leading workshops and retreats.
Frank’s essay in 21st Century Yoga, “Questioning the ‘Body Beautiful’: Yoga, Commercialism, and Discernment,” brings a critical Buddhist perspective to bear on contemporary yoga culture’s fascination with physical prowess and beauty:
I believe this seemingly positive celebration of the body is merely a specific cultural and historical manifestation of the shadow side of Hatha yoga and its tendency to fixate on the body . . . If we merely stop and proclaim the beauty of the human body, we fail to go deeper. We fail to see the reality and instead get caught in grasping and clinging. Freedom – the purpose of yoga, after all—is to go beyond such conditioning . . . Going beyond the surface, we reach a much deeper intimacy. Dogen, the great 14th century Zen master, wrote,’Zazen (sitting meditation) is the investigation of the self. Investigating the self, we forget the self. In forgetting the self, we become intimate with all things.
You can listen to Melanie and Frank’s path-breaking discussion of body image and commercialism, as well as how yoga can connect us to more empowering understandings and experiences of our bodies (and therefore, ourselves) here via Blog Radio. Or, download the podcast and listen at your convenience. And while you’re at it, check out Melanie’s recent post, “Yoga’s 21st Century Facelift and the Myth of the Perfect Ass(ana).” Plus, stay tuned to elephant yoga for the next installment of the 21st Century Yoga online book club, which will feature Frank Jude Boccio’s further thoughts on these critically important topics.
For more information on 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice (Carol Horton and Roseanne Harvey, eds.), please visit the book website. You can purchase a copy via our eStore or Amazon (paperback or Kindle editions available).