Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

The Atlantic ran a piece a few years ago on yoga, celebrity and commodification, cleverly titled "Striking a Pose." The tagline wonders:
Fifty years ago, yoga was the province of California communes and fringy New Agers. Now it’s teetering on the brink of overexposure and commodification. So, is it a spiritual antidote to the upscale Western lifestyle, or just the latest manifestation?

Writer Hanna Rosin chronicles the celebrity-cult status that yoga's taken on in the last decade or so, from Madonna's toned arms to Russell Simmons's conversion to the chaos of paparazzi photographers at the opening of a new yoga studio in Manhattan. Her article questions whether the real meaning or purpose of yoga has been lost in the obsession with great abs and rockstar teachers and name-dropping.

You'd think I'd really dig the piece.   It combines many of the topics I'm especially interested in - commodification of the body and of religion, the melding of secular and religious in a physical form, icon worship and materialism, yogic theory itself - in a smart, critical look at yoga today. Rosin points out the conflation of gym and church that the yoga trend has widely become, a non-threatening, urban chic, vaguely spiritual but not-too-scary answer to a shallow American spiritual hunger.  She argues that popular yoga's become a kind of syncretism, a superficial melding of body-worship and cloudy spiritual notions co-opted by a celebrity herd in the same way that Kabbalah became all the rage a few years ago when Demi and Ashton started sporting red strings around their wrists. She calls out the commercialization and commodification of the practice itself, hinting at the complex historical conflict between the sacralized negation of the body (a la ascetism) and the embrace of the body as a potential means for connection with the divine. And ultimately, she writes, "yoga is at a confused, precarious place, teetering on the edge of overexposure."

Good points, all, and I'm glad someone is making them. But to be honest, I didn't really like Rosin much on finishing the article. Her tone was condescending, snooty, snarky in that holier-than-thou-but-maybe-jealous-too way that you sometimes find in articles on celebrities or religion or fitness or fashion. You can't quite figure out if it's envy or intelligence fueling the critical fervor.

Then I read the companion piece, an interview with Rosin herself conducted by Atlantic staff writer Jennie Rothenberg. And I realized that maybe Rosin's heart is in the right place after all. Turns out she does practice yoga herself, and her pointing out the ways in which "yoga has now shed its foreignness" and settled into a very comfortable place in the American mainstream is perhaps more motivated by genuine concern for the preservation of a rich tradition than mere snark or cattiness. I found the interview almost more enlightening than the article itself, in its discussion of the differences between ancient Indian and contemporary Western manifestations of yoga, the 8-limbed path, and the upper-middle-class yuppie lifestyle with which it is often now associated.

Tone notwithstanding, do give it a read.  There should be more written these days about the  melding of commerce and the sacred.  Especially when the body gets involved.

Striking a Pose (The Atlantic)
Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In (The Atlantic)


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