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.

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Co-sleeping media coverage walks an odd, fine line

Co-sleeping became a source of intense media fascination across several continents in 2017.

Most stories find their trigger with an infant death owing to the parenting practice of sleeping with infants, commonly known as co-sleeping. Sources include the tearful parents and other parents who support the practice as ideal for bonding with baby and for everyone to get some sleep.

Baby Child Care PaternityMedical officials quoted always criticize co-sleeping as dangerous and lethal.

The news coverage is heartbreaking. For instance, in Colorado, as reported by Denver 7 News, two parents face misdemeanor child abuse charges stemming from the co-sleeping deaths of two of their infant children that happened in 2014 and 2016.

It seems no one is safe from media attention on this issue. KXAN.com reported on a controversy about an episode of The Big Bang Theory that features a scene of Bernadette sleeping with their new baby. A medical official was quoted as criticizing the show, and directed producers to “seek advice of doctors to make sure what they represent in their show is not only safe but accurate.”

Other dramatic coverage was the ticker across the bottom of the screen on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire television program, blaring that 156,000 babies will be in bed with their parent tonight. This number is about a quarter of all babies in the UK.

parents holding baby

Harper’s BAZAAR reported on the practice as a phenomenon in its article headlined: The rise of co-sleeping, should you share a bed with your baby?

This story introduces several interesting societal and philosophical issues into the debate.

Harper’s examines the feminist associations between this form of “attachment parenting,” which also includes cloth diapering, baby wearing and breastfeeding-on-demand. The style of parenting, as the article notes, puts extreme demands on the mother and is a symptom of general feminist backlash.

Harper’s also discusses the controversial notion from feminist author Erica Jong that she calls Motherphilia, which includes co-sleeping and attachment parenting. Motherphilia is linked almost exclusively to those in the upper middle class and drives an economy that “fetishizes motherhood and parenting.” Working single mothers just do what they can to get some sleep, including sleeping with their infants.

Mainstream media reports also cover the issue by highlighting social media posts related to the practice. CBS News (and many other news outlets around the world) reported on a viral Facebook post from a father of his wife sleeping with their two children, an infant and two-year-old, a post that sparked both huge criticism and praise.

In another report, BBC featured a mother whose infant daughter died. At the end of the story, however, we learn that the coroner’s report concluded the baby had suffered damage on her brain from birth that might have stopped her breathing. This information leaves the impression that the whole premise of the story––yet another death from co-sleeping––is unfounded.

The story fails to make a crucial link: that the rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome are greater during co-sleeping.

Why has co-sleeping become such a hot topic in the news?

This question is more relevant when you consider that infant deaths from sudden infant death syndrome in the UK are declining, according to The Lullaby Trust. This decreasing trend has been happening over the last decade, says the trust, largely because of warmer than average temperatures throughout the year, fewer women smoking at the time of delivery and greater awareness of safer sleeping practices.

According to the National Health Service, each year in the UK 300 infant deaths result from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome with about half occurring while the baby was sleeping with a parent.

While the decreasing trends in SIDS are relevant, they are not declared as journalistically important––they are simply not news. The need for drama is especially evidence in research reported by the BBC noted that sharing a bed with a newborn increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome fivefold.

The idea of the act of sleeping resulting in infant death, seemingly at the hands of the mother, is juicy news. The controversy of the practice is also ripe for newsmaking because it pits emotional parents, both for and against the practice, against one another.

And, these news stories always allow for these voices and those of the medical community, furthering the twists and turns in the debate.

You could argue that economic motivations may be driving some of the coverage. Several stories in the UK and US, highlight products like a cover cardboard box for infant, or shaped cushions designed to swaddle babies, or cradle them within their cribs.

8346009325_d0644c8efa_bHowever, economic matters aside, what’s behind the headlines is often a much more complex set of issues that journalists are rarely taking on in the context of the co-sleeping story.

For example, a story in the UK’s Mirror blared: Mum has her two young children taken away and adopted because she let them sleep in her bed. However, it was not the sleeping arrangements alone that warranted the judge’s actions. There were clear signs of physical abuse as well.

Which leads to perhaps the most troubling yet unstated question in this recent spate of news coverage about co-sleeping.

Is sleeping with infants a form of abuse?

Journalists walk a tightrope in approaching co-sleeping stories as highlighting a helpful or dangerous social practice. Stories that suggest a link between abuse and co-sleeping crosses a line about providing impartial and balanced coverage of a complicated societal issue.

Everyone agrees that child abuse is wrong.

But not everyone agrees that sleeping with your baby is wrong.

News stories are wrapped in the tidy news package of the heart and the head; the parent who loved their child so much that they slept close to them and the scientists who admonish with reminders that the data shows otherwise.

In the middle and caught in the media glare made necessary by journalistic balance are confused parents.