Academic

Take Back Yoga?

Harvard Business School has published Branding Yoga a case study investigating the commercialization and marketing of yoga. Prof. Rohit Deshpandé and his team compare the rise of yoga bad boy Bikram Choudhury with You Tube phenom Tara Stiles, whose sexy videos and alliance with Deepak Chopra have, so the argument goes, become the face of a new generation of yogis. The big questions: Can yoga be patented? And is it appropriate to mix and match spiritual rituals and beliefs to form an ersatz, commercialized fitness?

I have limited patience for attempts to "own" particular physical movements, but great sympathy for the messy, juvenile, imperfect translation of old practices to new times. Today's world of fitness, with its intense group classes, music, clothing, and food is, in many ways, a modern, secular form of spirituality. Urban gyms and health clubs are churches of a sort, and fitness teachers or personal trainers priests, rabbis and imams. All of them strive to attract followers AND to crystallize their practice into a marketable product. So it has been in the past, when churches, mosques, and temples competed for congregations, and so it shall be in the future. Who has the best music, the most compelling teaching for me, and where are the people I want to meet? Instead of heavy woolen robes or stiff collars and dresses, however, we shall all be wearing breathable dry-fit Lululemon outfits, and logging our practices online....