Riding the wave of yoga’s popularity, the Yoga Health Foundation’s founder Johannes R. Fisslinger conceived of a yearlong campaign to inspire a healthy lifestyle and promote education about the benefits of yoga culminating in a single month of festivals aimed at creating awareness. It’s called Yoga Month 09.2008 and it is drawing some of the biggest names in the yoga world to its side while leaving many behind.
An extensive media campaign and a 10-city festival tour, which includes festivals in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, New York, Austin, Chicago, Boston, Miami and Vancouver, is generating a lot of attention. And the list of sponsors is as hip as the locations themselves. As a result of the campaign so far the Office of Disease Prevention has declared September National Yoga Month, and Yoga Month will kick off in Denver, CO the evening before the Democratic National Convention. But what the promotional machine is lacking is a tangible goal and an accessible experience of it.
According to the website, all proceeds from Yoga Month activities will benefit Youth Health Alliance, a charity that provides free yoga inspired enrichment classes to underserved youth and the families that support them. This organization is a division of the aforementioned Yoga Health Foundation, a California based non-profit organization. It states that it is in partnership with several well-known outreach and educational organizations, but so far I am unable to show any outcome of the organization itself other than Yoga Month. So all the makings of a phenomenally successful P.R. campaign are present, the names, the child-based outreach, the sponsors, but what really is Yoga Month 09.2008?
President of the Yoga Health Foundation, Fisslinger states that, “The Yoga Month campaign is the natural process in this growth and will educate people from all walks of life about the health benefits of yoga and inspire them to take action and focus on a healthy lifestyle. Creating a healthy personal and global way of living is not a choice anymore, it is a necessity.” Will it only take a month and 10 cities to meet this goal? The purpose of Yoga Month 09.2008 doesn’t seem to differ that much from the intention of every yoga class in every studio across the world. Only in this case, a skilled public relations team has created a vehicle to market some already well-known names in the yoga world, and has tacked on a somewhat artificial charitable undercurrent without much proof that the mission or the cause are concrete.
The ten big cities and A-list sponsors are leaving the hundreds of community studios and dedicated teachers in the shadows. Maybe a grassroots focus would take the attention off the big guys, who knows? But I guess what keeps confusing me is the premise for the campaign itself. I cannot find a statement that sets this huge marketing extravaganza apart from what small studios and modest teachers are doing everyday, to share the gift of yoga with our students in the hopes of benefiting their health and well being. To date, the Yoga Month website lists a slew of sponsors, “premiere studios,” and headlining teachers. Maybe all it takes is 10 cities, some big names, and big studios to “educate people from all walks of life” about yoga, but I personally believe that the education begins in the small neighborhood studios with teachers who have been practicing and living yoga for years. The interest in the glitz and glamour of the practice often comes not with the first step on the mat, but after many years of practice. So, maybe those who show up at the 10-city tour will be encountering yoga for the first time. Maybe the curious beginners won’t hesitate to pay $88 for a VIP pass or travel great distances to take their first yoga class. In the small chance that this is not the case, how is Yoga Month reaching the population of potential practitioners? If Yoga Month is meant to educate the masses and benefit the entire yoga community, is it successful?