The foundational text of yogic philosophy, the Sutras of the Indian sage Patanjali
, contains the following tip: “The pains which are yet to come can be and are to be avoided.” Among the pains I try to avoid: reading Yoga Journal
magazine. Though I’m a certified yoga teacher—in fact, the subscription comes free with my insurance—I’ve long had an allergy to what might loosely be called “yoga culture”. Too often I find that yoga-themed books and magazine articles are about the trappings of yoga practice, not the practice itself.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for any and all ways of doing yoga, from the yoga-influenced fitness classes that deal exclusively with Asana (physical) practice to the meditation, breathing and philosophical study that remains more obscure to most Westerners. My own practice of alignment-based Iyengar yoga is a huge part of my life, though I try to avoid writing about it—which is awkward, given that I make my living mostly by writing about myself. My excuse has been that spiritual experiences tend to be difficult to put into words.
But that’s not true: spiritual experiences are easy to put into words, as long as you stick to cheesy, clichéd ones. Though Yoga Journal and similar publications often contain good practical articles by skilled yoga teachers—the anatomy column is reliably great—these tend to be bracketed by goopy, self-help copy in a style endemic to yoga-writing: either cute folksiness or dead-earnest humorlessness of the sort that both invites and defies parody. And don’t get me started on the ads, a regular source of contention in YJ’s letters-to-the-editor section. I’m clearly far from the only person who finds it annoying that articles about accepting your body are always surrounded by photos of young, lithe, mostly-white women showing off skin-tight, expensive spandex. In other ads, Eastern asceticism meets Western commerce in discomfiting ways. The most recent issue had a quarter-page ad for a book called “The Intuitive Investor”, featuring an image of the book jacket floating over a Zen rock garden and the copy “Lovingly written for you … for a life of abundance”. A few pages later, an article about meditating in order to let go of desire nestled between half-page ads for retreats in tropical paradises. Wish you were there? No! Don’t wish for anything!