A recent post on it’s all yoga, baby quipped about an “adidas yoga” class, offered at the 2009 Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park, Colorado. A barrage of mostly anti-corporate comments spurred spokesmodel Rainbeau Mars herself to type up an ardent defense.
What’s the big deal about yoga branding? Corporate sponsorships? Yoga spokesmodels? Yoga models?
ISSUE #1: Materialism
Some believe that a yoga practitioner who signs on to represent major corporations like adidas is “selling out.” They find it incongruous that a yogi would promote material trappings, especially expensive or unnecessary things (who needs yoga shoes, after all?).
I agree that representing a brand is questionable. But I also see possible acceptable sponsorships. Maybe it’s off-putting to link yoga to a multinational giant, but what about affiliations with indie companies selling ethically produced, fairly priced goods? Exceptions might exist. Also, many indie yoga studios sell their own T-shirts and other logo-emblazoned paraphernalia. I admit that I have considered to print my logo on some materials. Small potatoes, perhaps. But it’s still an example of using yoga and branding for profit.
If we choose to live in the US, Canada, and other democratic, capitalistic nations, we will see yoga being “sold.” I’m opposed, but not adamant. While mass consumerism is redefining yoga in regrettable ways, real yoga continues to thrive. (It’s akin to the popularity of running shoes and handmade bikes: just because phonies and posers buy them, too, doesn’t detract from the real running and cycling that’s going on.)
ISSUE #2: The chosen few
The real issue is whether the chosen few (who become the faces and bodies of modern yoga) are deserving of such recognition. What if BKS Iyengar signed a deal with Louis Vuitton? (Sean Connery did. So did Francis Ford Coppola, Mikhail Gorbachev, Catherine Deneuve, and Keith Richards, all lifetime notables in their own spheres.) Longtime yogis would be surprised (to say the least) but no one would question his stature in yoga.
In reality, most yoga spokesmodels, such as Rainbeau Mars, are beautiful young yogis with impressive asana skills. What about other criteria?
It is hard to know who is truly evolved as a yogi. The physical aspect is immediately observable, but the mental aspect (including ethics and life philosophy) is subtle and reveals itself over time.
Yoga is often equated with sports, but in pro sports, it’s easy to pick the champions. We can judge by sheer talent and quantifiable success. In other words, LeBron James, Tiger Woods, and Roger Federer might land lucrative endorsement deals, but it’s clear why. They are remarkable and superior athletes.
Among yogis, some corporate darlings are deserving, others not. But, of course, that’s the way of the world.