As yoga becomes more mainstream, it’s not surprising that more and more people want a bite of the yoga pie. While making money as a yoga teacher remains a struggle for most instructors, corporations and businesses are cashing in on the popularity of this ancient practice by integrating yogic language and concepts into advertising and marketing campaigns.
Clothing companies like Lululemon selling $80 stretch pants and $100 mala beads with their logo front and center is one thing. But what about when businesses that have absolutely nothing to do with yoga use yogic words and phrases to sell their products or connect with customers? From slapping an image of the Hindu deity Shiva on a beer can, to using the word “om” in marketing materials, to calling a computer the “Yoga 13”—the use of yogic images and phrases range from offensive to just plain bizarre.
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Let’s take the word “namaste.” Whether you practice yoga or not, you have probably heard the word before—or at least seen it on a t-shirt. Namaste is a spiritually significant greeting commonly used by those within the Hindu diaspora, which translates to, “I bow to you” or “I honor the light within you.” It’s also commonly said at the end of yoga classes to close a practice. Vimeo recently used the greeting in its newsletter, writing: “Namaste, newsletter devotees.” At the end of the newsletter, it reads: “There. Isn’t that better? Don’t you feel more connected to the universe? We certainly feel like we’re existing on a higher plane.”
I get why Vimeo chose to add this to the newsletter: It’s cheeky, and seems to be lighthearted and fun. And yet I can also see why it may be offensive to some: it makes light of a spiritual practice that has deep meaning for many and no meaning for those who choose to use it in whatever way seems cool at the time.
Yoga has been included in advertising campaigns for everything from home appliances to pet medications. There’s even a Zaxby’s commercial that takes place in a yoga class. I suppose no one in Zaxby’s marketing department paused to consider that a number of yogis and many Hindus practice vegetarianism.
In a passage from “The Heart of Yoga,” T.K.V. Desikachar recalls attending a conference in the U.S. where he was horrified by the large number of attendees wearing the “om” symbol on their earrings and t-shirts. One person enthusiastically informed him that his dog’s name was Om. The sound of om, wrote Deskichar, was a sacred sound that should be revered, not used to name a dog. But he didn’t judge these people, instead, he reasoned, they simply didn’t get it.
Perhaps we could all take a cue from Desikachar, and watch out for our own judgments when we see yoga used in advertising for non-yogic purposes. And at the same time—maybe we could be a little more careful of how we talk about, use (and yes, abuse) yoga. Just because we practice yoga, should we really be naming our pets after poses or wearing Hanuman earrings?
What do you think? Are you disturbed by yoga taken out of its historical and spiritual context? Or is it all fair game?