For years I've been writing a personal yoga blog, and sometimes I thought about expanding it to be a bit more useful than me just kvetching about my tight hamstrings. And for a while now, I've been disturbed the trend of yoga towards, well, "trendiness."
But the main "inspiration" for Esteem Yoga was Yoga Journal. For years now, Yoga Journal has been leading the way towards Shallow Yoga with its emphasis on skinny white women on its covers. It wasn't always like this. It used to have pictures of wizened old yoga masters like B.K.S. Iyengar. I'm not sure why they changed, but I never liked the new YJ. And, despite many letters to the editor asking Yoga Journal to stop with the cheesecake pics, they continued on. I stopped buying their magazine years ago. It's a shame, because they do have some excellent writers and good content, but I just couldn't get past those stupid covers.
Well, the kicker for me was last year, when Yoga Journal totally jumped the shark and launched a "Yoga Model" contest. Yes, you have that right. Someone (I did not know) emailed me so I could vote for her in this contest. I was so pissed, I took time off from my birthday to write this scathing piece about it for my yoga blog.
To me, a yoga modeling contest is akin to having nuns in a fashion show, or Buddhist monks vying for the "Sexiest Man Alive" in People. If you are a Buddhist, how'd you like to pick up People magazine and see a feature on "Hot Buddhist Monks," with some buff Asian male model all done up in an orange robe that's open down to the navel to show off his bare chest? (OK, so I admit that sounds somewhat visually appealing, but I still think it would be ultimately tasteless and pointless.)
Yoga, as much as it is a physical exercise to many, is still a spiritual practice for many more. Making yoga into some cheap Hollywood modeling reality show cheapens yoga as a spiritual practice.
It's not just Yoga Journal. If you go on YouTube you'll find plenty of videos of women doing "sexy yoga poses," which focus on their rear ends, and work as soft porn to the guys who go to yoga class to stare at women's asses. If you think women are the only target, men in cities like New York can go to "naked yoga" classes, which, we're told, really aren't about gay orgies or having your body being used to stir up an erection in the yogi next to you. The image of the founder's erect penis poking up from his sitting cross-legged in "meditation" has been burned into my brain, but not in a good way.
(With this last one, I understand there's some reasoning of "male bonding" behind the naked yoga practice, which is supposed to be for both gay and straight men and "safe." Somehow, I'm still skeptical that it isn't ultimately exploitative or at least getting us off the track of yoga as a spiritual practice.)
Of course, let's not forget that in this environment, some of our previously most respected yoga teachers have turned out to be nothing more than sleazy guys looking to pick up chicks. (Anusara's John Friend comes to mind, cough cough.)
It's taken me a year to get around to launching this site (and if you are looking around and wondering where all the content is - it's still in my head, most of it). I had "life" take a bit of precedence between then and now, and I really wanted to sit with the idea to see if I was really committed to it. I wondered if having a site launched based on my anger at Yoga Journal would be too negative. Ultimately, I decided that this site doesn't have to be so much about negatively reacting to some of the worst excesses of yoga as it can be about putting forth a more positive model of what yoga media can be.
To this end, I'd like Esteem Yoga to speak to all the "invisible yogis" out there - the ones that aren't on the cover of Yoga Journal. That could include overweight yogis, male yogis, yogis of color, older yogis, and yogis who just have a hard time reaching their toes. It also includes "normal" yogis who might be reasonably fit and capable, but who just aren't yoga superstars and thus won't be doing a split while balancing on the hands any time soon.
I somewhat fit into that last category - I'm fit and reasonably capable - but I'm also not super flexible (tight shoulders and hamstrings), and at 42 I'm now an "aging" yogi. I'm simply not interested in yoga as a way to make my butt look good. I'm interested in yoga as a practice that enhances my health and well-being.
At any rate, this site is just starting. I hope that it will bloom into something really fantastic as it grows. Ultimately, I want to do this, because I think yoga is such a great thing that it's a shame that so many people may be turned away from it because they don't think they are fit or flexible or young enough. Yoga is so much more.