The miscreation of yoga

2470547374_1192129bc8_bRecent news stories about strange yoga habits seem to reveal a media bias of the practice.

Or, more specifically, the stories uncover a bias supporting other forms of exercise.

For instance, WTOP News reports on “goat yoga” as the next fitness trend. Beyond the chance for some puns (the story is captioned: “we kid you not”), the story focuses on locals in Virginia who perform yoga in front of goats.

The Naples Daily News similarly reports on a farm in Florida where you can practice yoga with baby goats during “Barnyard Yoga.”

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the ABC affiliate WLOS reports that “Goat yoga comes to the mountains with ‘Farm Friend Bend’ in Leicester.

Goat yoga is not the only media fascination.

The Northern Star in New South Wales, Australia reports about laughter yoga classes, when people start laughing for no reason through laughter exercises. The practice leader was quoted as saying, “laughter has healing properties for physical, emotional and mental health.”

And then in Canada, audiences of the CBC are told about “beer yoga” during which yogis can choose between a pint or a flight of local beer after they finish their practice.

Not to be outdone, the UK’s Evening Standard reports about a “next big international fitness craze” now in Germany and Australia when you to enjoy yoga and beer at the same time. You may balance a bottle of beer on your head during poses or artfully extend your arm while clutching a cold one. The idea started over a year ago in Germany at a hip Berlin yoga studio, where locals went mad for the idea of stretching during their drinking sessions.

The reporter hopes this craze comes to the UK.

In each of these stories, yoga becomes not only an oddity but a miscreation, having mutated from a “normal” form of exercise to become a spectacle.

What are the odds of someone wanting to begin, or continue, a form of fitness when it is portrayed in the mass media as a distinctly fringe practice?

Is there anything wrong with media stories that focus on these fun and creative ways to get healthy?

No and yes.

Beyond being cute stories about people taking different approaches to fitness and wellness, these trending stories follow other media habits of what makes something newsworthy.

I contend that these media portrayals of yoga pecularize certain health routines and in doing so, legitimate the dominant structures of fitness and its promotion.

beer-706442_960_720Here, yoga is portrayed as the “other” to uphold mainstream (and profitable) forms of exercise such as those needing specific exercise equipment or taking place in particular locations like gyms and fitness studios.

The stories about yoga among goats and with beer are thus conceived in terms of reinforcing traditional economies that surround fitness and exercise.

News stories follow society’s view of fitness and health

Journalists who write these stories, I would argue, are socialized into and internalizing the norms of the dominant fitness culture. Such new stories are consonant with the interests of the leading societal views about fitness and exercise.

The picture of the yogi as one who practices in unusual places (barns or carports) among uncommon objects (straw and animal dung or bottles of beer) and nonhuman creatures (goats and chickens) is constructed by the mainstream media to paint a portrait of yogis as fringe fitness enthusiasts.

Yogis are constituted as societal outliers, and thus, are the stuff of news stories.

101210-F-5666M-001The media here are positioning yoga as unusual and quirky and this representation can be taken from the news stories as reflections of the everyday reality of practicing yoga.

The dominant idea here is that yoga practitioners are part of a counter-ideology in fitness and wellness. Other forms of exercise presumably are more legitimate forms of fitness and are therefore of greater worth.

How journalists reinforce mainstream health and fitness practices

This pairing of one form of exercise with uncommon activities that seem slightly outrageous and superficial reinforces mainstream fitness regimes that include organized sports teams, running or gym memberships.

These stories are the product of an uncomfortable economy at work.

It is an economy that supports the gyms, the equipment and the ideology that exercise has only a few types of faces and types.

We should question these media representations of fitness practices to ask uncomfortable questions about what might lie beneath.