The Amusement Park-ification of Yoga

I’ve never been much for railing against yoga, even when aspects of its modern evolution occasionally make me cringe. But, to be fair, I’ve also never been a fan of saccharin yoga speak in which nothing is ever criticized thoughtfully or considered within the context of actual yoga. Not the business of yoga. Not fanciful metaphor. Not pop culture or pop psychology. Yoga.

Therefore, without too much self-important railing or everything-is-awesome-because-we-do-yoga tripe, I’d like to reflect on a fantastic tidbit that popped into my Twitter feed yesterday via Well + Good NYC about the amusement park-ification of yoga—by way of a New York Post article about Cobra Club, a hybrid bar/yoga studio that recently opened in Bushwick (that’s in Brooklyn, NY for those of you who don’t watch Girls on HBO).

By way of further elaboration, Bushwick is Hipster Mecca, and many hipsters, along with millions of other Americans, do yoga. This is where the mainstreaming and merging with other activities comes in, from hip hop music, to martial arts, to drinking PBR in Bushwick. This is what is meant by the amusement park-ification of yoga, blending it with other things to make it more fun, marketable, accessible, etc.

I read the article on my iPhone, and in equal measure, privately railed against and rallied behind Cobra Club. I scrolled and eye-rolled and scoffed at the concept of mucking up a healthy activity like yoga, aimed to connect and make whole the mind, body, and spirit, with the inclusion of mind-numbing-fogging-fuzzying booze and barroom antics, and simultaneously supported the realness of its entrepreneurs who were candid about how their business idea evolved—two friends attending yoga class together, then catching up over a few beers.  Nothing wrong with that.  And as a result, they were offering yoga to a different audience—perhaps an edgier, more tattooed, less sanctimonious one, and I appreciate that.  So, in the end, I landed in the same camp that I usually do: Yoga Switzerland.

It’s not my thing, but good for you.  Rock on.

Other yoga theme parks about which I have similar feelings include but are not limited to: Hip Hop yoga, Acro yoga, and Yoga During Which Anything Is Ingested—wine, chocolate, beer. It’s not that I don’t love loud-ass hip hop music, holding hands, or eating chocolate, it’s just that enjoying them during yoga is an unnecessary distraction for me. They compete with the purpose of yoga, as I see it, for myself, and they elicit a different effect than what I revere most about yoga: inner quiet, private time and space, and needing nothing. This isn’t to say I won’t try these classes, enjoy them on occasion, and support the creative people and places behind them. I’ve just determined over 17 years of yoga practice what works for me, and what doesn’t.

In this way, we are all stewards of modern yoga, and we need to pay attention to where it’s headed—otherwise, we could all blink and end up doing drunk yoga in bars with zero recollection of where it came from or what it means—kidding. However, I’m serious about the idea that we need to think critically. We need to remain open. It’s good and necessary to have opinions about yoga, if it’s important to you. You don’t need to have my opinions or the opinions of some “celebrity yoga guru” (another delightfully cringe-worthy term), but have your own and know why you have them.

To help, here are some guidelines—nay for what to think about yoga and its amusements and accoutrements—but how to think about them before you rail or rally.

1. Is there a knowledgeable, credible foundation? If so, what is it? Take my friend Dave Romanelli, for example. He loves to blend yoga with things like high-end chocolate tastings and Grateful Dead music. Thankfully, before I ignorantly railed on how preposterous this was simply because it’s not my personal preference for how to do yoga, I had a chance to meet Dave and take his class. Beyond the fact that it is nearly impossible not to like love him, Dave also has a rock solid yoga foundation behind all that fun. I respect that.

2. Does the new yoga style/experience/interpretation serve people in a healthy way? How? Keep your answer simple. If it’s something to the effect of because it’s fun to do yoga and drink wine with your friends, then honor that. Have fun with that. Savor that. But, don’t mislead yourself or others into thinking that wine after yoga is any different from wine on your couch while watching So You Think You Can Dance.

Photo: This is not yoga.

3. What is prioritized? The yoga or the theme park? When yoga merges with other activities and experiences, one aspect is usually prioritized. Figure out which it is—the yoga or the martial arts, the yoga or the Pilates, the yoga or the acrobatics, the yoga or the hipster bar scene—and decide if that works for you. Is that what you want to practice?

Because in the end, that’s all that matters.  

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  • Sandra de Fontenay

    Creative ideas for sure but it doesn’t seem like yoga, maybe they can market the word “asana” instead? Wouldn’t that be a hipster move? :)

  • Naveen Gote

    Thanks for the article, this helped me for Yoga