Fear of Yoga
Yoga has somehow managed to embed itself in the great mall of the mainstream
Yoga is the culture wars' Survivor: unbloodied, unmuddied, unbothered by the media's slings and arrows, its leotard still as pristine as its reputation.
Everybody loves yoga; 16.5 million Americans practice it regularly, and 25 million more had plans to try it in 2006. If you've been awake and breathing air in the 21st century, you already know that this Hindu practice of health and spirituality has long ago moved on from the toe-ring set. Yoga is American; it has graced the cover of Time twice, acquired the approval of A-list celebrities like Madonna and Sting, and is still the go-to trend story for editors and reporters, who produce an average of eight yoga stories a day in the English-speaking world.
Journalists love yoga because it fits perfectly into the narratives of everyday life. 'Yoga Joins the Treatments for Kids with Disabilities,' reported the Evansville Courier & Press last summer. According to a recent broadcast by NBC affiliate WNCN in North Carolina, 'Yoga Helps Pregnant Women Prepare for Delivery.' At the same time, a piece ran in Florida's Bradenton Herald informing readers that 'Soldiers Shape up with Peaceful Yoga.'
But wait, there's more: Tribune Media syndicates a strip called Gangsta Yoga with DJ Dog, which appears in newspapers all over the nation. Then there's 'Yoga to Relax Sex Workers!' from the Hindustan Times; and the revelation from Fort Worth, Texas, that yoga is replacing kickball in the city's high school gym classes. Still not convinced? How about yoga skin care, Christian yoga, iPod yoga, golf yoga, tennis yoga . . . well, you get the picture.
Down the hall in marketing, this kind of press is the stuff of dreams. Yoga has ascended to the category of 'platform agnostic,' the highest praise marketers can conjure for any kind of content, trend, or person. Translation? Consumers drop $3 billion every year on yoga classes, books, videos, CDs, DVDs, mats, clothing, and other necessities. And nearly every day, we get news of another study confirming yoga's benefits for arthritics, asthmatics, dyspeptics, depressives, people with HIV and cancer-literally whatever ails us.
How yoga arrived at its present bulletproof status in the media is something of a curiosity; after all, it's foreign-born, liberal by association, and inclusive to its philosophical marrow. Yet yoga has somehow managed to embed itself in the great mall of the mainstream-and not like a rusty old peace sign, either, but as a replicating strand of our national DNA. Even red-meat culture warriors like Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter couldn't swift-boat yoga's progress now.
But yoga's American dream is of a fairly recent vintage, as I discovered during a few years of research into its media past. In a journey through two centuries of our cultural history, yoga has endured a bumpy ride. It has been feared, loathed, mocked, kicked to the fringes of society, and associated with sexual promiscuity, criminal fraud, and runaway immigration. Really. Which make its recent media beatification all the more surprising.
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