Sarah McLachlan, Yoga Journal, and real journalism

For Yoga Journal‘s 35th anniversary issue, the cover girl and feature subject is singer Sarah McLachlan. I’m not surprised: McLachlan perfectly suits the magazine’s image of yoga. She is attractive, health-conscious, white, and “West Coast”; she supports progressive causes; she’s famous but, like many readers and the editor in chief herself, she’s also a single, working mom who practices yoga.

Reading McLachlan’s interview, I found nothing blatantly off-putting (the woo woo design concept wasn’t her fault). That said, I also found nothing compelling about her thoughts on Lilith Fair or surfing or motherhood or yoga. Without the celebrity hook, would that story have been published?

Think different

Before reading the cover story, I’d glanced at the letters to the editor. One was by senior teacher Judith Hanson Lasater, who criticized the magazine’s inclusion of ads featuring scantily clad women. My initial reaction was less about her letter and more about her role in the magazine: 35 years ago, she founded Yoga Journal; now she appeared only in a blurb.

Imagine if Lasater was featured as cover model and interviewee. Considering the brouhaha she spurred by her mere letter (click to it’s all yoga, baby, for the gist), she surely would’ve shared opinions worth reading.

Assuming that journalism is about big scoops, edgy ideas, and real debate—and that Yoga Journal is real journalism—wouldn’t a Lasater feature have topped the McLachlan homage? (Click to 360 Days of Adho Mukha Svanasana for an analysis of Yoga Journal covers.)

Don’t get me wrong: I actually consider Yoga Journal to be today’s best mainstream  yoga magazine. Despite its glossiness, it does have some substance (such as Sally Kempton’s writings on meditation). And, while I’ve never been a Sarah McLachlan fan, I hold nothing against her.

But, seriously, what was she doing in Yoga Journal?



  1. I think a bigger issue is why doesn’t Yoga Journal, for example, offer a much more diverse approach to the practice. I’ve subscribed for almost 5 years now, and have yet to see a man on the cover. Men are rarely featured in the magazine, and rarely are there articles slanted towards issues male yogis might face. Yes, there are columns by the guy who does anatomy, and also features of Jason Crendall’s asana sequences, but even then, it still feels like me are invisible. There have been a few women of color practitioners featured as models, and interviewed, but never in depth. Other than a few articles on seniors doing yoga – which were well received – there is little diversity in terms of body image and age. I can’t recall any article covering yoga in the wide ranging GLBTQ community. And how about yoga for low income people? What does practice look like for those who can’t afford fancy clothing and high priced studios.

    Even though I agree with you that Yoga Journal has something to offer (I wouldn’t subscribe otherwise), it feels like a mirror for the class, race, sex, and body issues that continue to go largely unexamined in many yoga communities across North America.


  2. My lord, such hostility on the topic of yoga – interesting and a bit confusing. As the editor of a small, niche magazine, I’d like to share my viewpoint (the link to this site came up as a Google watch – I am a fan of Sarah).

    The costs of printing and mailing a magazine have grown substantially over the years. Add to that the economic downturn and a subsequent drop-off in advertising revenue and you should probably consider yourself lucky that you still have a magazine that addresses your interest in yoga. As for the cover and feature on Mclachlan, my guess is that it might be an attempt to boost single-copy newsstand sales and, at the same time, giving the magazine a possible hook for additional press exposure. Additional newsstand sales help the revenue stream and coverage in the press presents the title to a huge group of people who may not be aware of the title but may be potentail subscribers. Both items are important in helping grow circulation without spending huge amounts of money on direct mail subscription outreaches – something that is challenging for a niche market publication to do in large quantities.

    I can see where you are coming from but please, give the magazine staff a break – they definitely don’t make these choices with the intent of alienating readers. And please, if you voice your thoughts to the staff, be tactful and remember that there is another person on the other end of that snippy little email you might send – remember you tend to get back what you put out to the universe – just the way I try to approach life.


  3. Mark: What is your niche magazine? Are you afraid of a “snippy little emails” sent to you correcting your editorial direction?


  4. Mark, you sound like just about every politician running for re-election. “Look, times are bad, but vote for me, and I’ll keep things from completely tanking.” Yawn.


  5. I used to know nothing about Sarah McLachlan, but one day I was in a yoga class the day after her concert. The teacher had not attended most of her concert, but went to the last few songs and then was able to meet her after the show. The teacher, someone who I admire greatly as a deep teacher, said simply, “that woman has a practice. She was so present.” So, I agree with you; I was not terribly moved by what she had to say, but I’m grateful that Yoga Journal is trying to bridge the gap between fame and yoga. I wish for more depth, but I get that not in Yoga Journal but in books, including Lasater’s book. I still think you are right – what an amazing cover to have her on it. 🙂


  6. Hey, I was just offering a point of view on how the decision may have come about. And yes, I get comments, both positive and negative, from readers – just as anyone receives on their job. I may get two or three letters or emails about a particular article for one reason or another. And when you’re putting together a magazine that covers a variety of topics around a central theme, not everyone is going to be happy with absolutely everything. But, I try to present a mix that will appeal to a wide of a readership as possible while adhering ot our mission statement for the magazine. Our readers retain their issues for referene, many have been readers for many years, and new subscribers often order back issues once they find out we’ve been in existence for 16 years. I’m not afraid of comments at all. I welcome them and ask for them in each issue. However, being rude is not necessary. When I referred to
    snippy emails I was trying to get across the point that the majority of people today have lost the ability to be tactful in their communications and that an opinion or thoughts can be expressed constructively without getting threatening or personal.

    I have not seen Yoga Journal but I hope it is able to continue serving all of you for many years.


  7. YogaSpy: I think that you have a great idea. And in my opinion you are right about having Ms. Lasater featured. I also thought the way her letter was placed into the design was to minimize it: at the bottom of the page and broken in half. Come on…


  8. I have to say that I quite enjoyed the article overall. In our age of loopy celebrities, it’s nice to see someone so down to earth and facing everyday challenges, while at the same time trying to make a difference. For me, that’s what yoga is all about. Everybody’s story is valid, even if they downfall into a stereotype.

    While it’s true that YJ’s look is pretty homogenous – and probably so is their demographic overall – I actually think they have made some progress in recent years and I have been noticing more male models in their pages as well as people of diverse skin tones etc. And their models at least are healthy and strong looking, not freakish like many fashion models. Sure, there is so much more that could be done, and hopefully we will see those changes in our near future!!

    @Mark – thanks for stopping by and sharing your point of view. Like any online community, our passion for our subject can sometimes lead us into sensitive discussions, and you have stumbled into one with a long history. I have a lot of respect for the men and women who work hard to bring us our magazines, and I know it is not an easy job, and one in which you must get a lot more criticism than praise. So thanks for adding your voice to the discussion.


  9. YogaSpy, I think it’s great that you’ve brought this issue up. A celebrity cover was a weird choice for the anniversary issue, and in my opinion, an unfortunate one. I actually do think Yoga Journal’s decision to become more of a lifestyle magazine and try appeal to a broader, more mainstream base of readers was a mistake. The big “yoga boom” is over, so while there are many more practitioners than before, that once growing pool of possible readers is now dwindling, and the more recent editorial direction of the magazine has indeed largely alienated the original readership, people authentically interested in yoga as something more than the latest fad. There were a lot of possible choices for the anniversary feature story. What about a cover photo of not only Judith, but a group of dedicated yogis who have been practicing for 35 years or more?

    Mark, I appreciate your viewpoint, and agree that the loss of civility and plain good manners is a problem in modern life, one exacerbated by the speedy and anonymous communication that technology affords. But, how was that relevant to YogaSpy’s blog post, which was measured and thoughtful? Making a preemptive strike and using her blog to air your views about your own personal pet peeve (“Just in case you’re thinking of writing a snippy e-mail, don’t”) does come off as defensive, and also a bit sanctimonious. I can’t blame people for not appreciating that.


  10. Hi Friends! Ha – I can relate to all of you! I do! 🙂
    Many of those who use ‘our sacred term’ – Yoga, seem to be misusing it, and this provokes waves in us (YogaSpy’s current post and similar ones in the past) and our waves provoke waves from others (Mark’s response) which in turn provokes Jamie, and even my own post… I use Provoke Waves because the discussion becomes somewhat personal, emotional.
    To me, yoga as science is being able to notice all this without being involved emotionally, so we can control and pacify it.
    If you identify with my first paragraph you might notice a tiny and devious little word – *our* yoga.

    I am talking about Possessing yoga.
    Thinking that our understanding/practice of yoga is superior to others’ will eventually lead us to defend it, to fight for it, and in my world You fight = you already lost, regardless whether ‘you are right’. I learned this lesson many times in the past. I hope this makes people think rather than provoke them 😉


  11. Hi! I don’t really know much about yoga (except that it takes a lot of practice and calm concentration to do), but it looks like you have a great blog here devoted to it! My mom, grandma, and aunt all love yoga and do it all the time! I just started doing it with my sister every other morning…I like how it makes me focused for the rest of the day!


  12. When it comes to men on the cover of this magazine if I’m not mistaken Deepak Chopra, Bob Harper and even the Dalei Lama were on covers of it over the past few years. I agree, however that there should be more men on the covers, for instance Rodney Yee who is a yogi and teacher thereof.


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