News Flash: It’s an AD People!

As many of you have probably also done this week, I recently viewed this video posted on a few people’s Facebook pages.  Naturally, the curious kitty I am, clicked on the link to view the video.  My initial thoughts were focused on her asana practice.  I admired the manner in which the woman in the video was able to float effortlessly through her random sequence of various advanced postures.  I also picked up a couple of tips by observing her to try in my own personal practice, as I have yet to be able to push from crow into handstand without the assistance of a strap.  In addition, I applauded her for being able to maintain smooth steady breath, and control of her movements, throughout the practice.  In short, my response to the video was based on my experience from an analytical perspective as an experienced yoga practitioner.  When it was complete, I closed my browser and went about my work for the day – thinking nothing more of the video because it left no other impression upon me beyond that.
Then, I began to see it pop up more and more in people’s posts which festered a hint annoyance that finally turned into full on irritation about this stupid crap when I got an email from elephantjournal.com yesterday, in regards to all of the controversy this little 3-minute marketing piece has spurred.  Congratulations to Equinox, for their successful execution of a brilliant, little viral marketing tactic!  Their video has created a whole flood of comments from readers about whether or not their AD (and it is, my friends, indeed an ad) represents Sex, Art or Yoga.  The more people who discuss it, the more people there are to log on and view it and then weigh in on the subject, which is exactly how viral marketing works – the company’s advertising message is sent via social networks across the globe and the cost to Equinox was in the high quality production – which is much less than they would have had to pay to secure ad space for a 3+ minute ad on television. 
This was most certainly a smart business strategy to promote a brand and its product.  It seems to me that the author of the Elephant Journal article was easily swayed, as well, by the company’s marketing ploy, as she touted her full support this week for the beautiful 30-year-old mother’s display of her physical mastery of an asana practice.  I agree that her capabilities are badass – and certainly not easily attainable for the average practitioner.  Some readers have found the video to be “amazing” and “inspiring” – two of the most over-used words in the English language this year, no doubt.  Some found it to be sexy, and many believe it to be Yoga.  Others, like me, are not so easily convinced.  I am weighing in that the video is most certainly 2 out of the 3 and why it is, most definitely, NOT the third.
Below are a few comments that stuck out in particular: 
Claire· ….. As a woman, I didn’t feel offended by the video…but I did question the decision to wear underwear vs. conventional yoga undies (there are plenty of “hot yoga” underwear out there). I questioned what the *intention* of the video was. Yes, us westerners are sensitive about sex. I think it’s due to the objectification we constantly see. I wonder what people’s reactions to the video would be if the woman was heavier set? I know plenty of great yogis that don’t have such a lean physique.  And just as a side note, I see other’s are wondering who the man in her bed is, their relationship and such. I find that unimportant and also invite you to question why you think it’s a man in her bed. Could easily be a woman.

JenniferBYoga  Nobody puts a beautiful woman in black lace undies in her bedroom with a man in the bed in a promotional video unless they want it to appear sexually desirable. Sure it’s beautiful, but it doesn’t represent yoga on a whole. Does any yoga related campaign? So far as I know- nope. At least Equinox is being honest about what most yoga pushers are already selling. As for the art part, sex and art need not be separated. The real question is whether it represents yoga. What it certainly does represent is our current perspective and expectations of yoga. It does not upset me, but I wouldn’t tell someone who doesn’t know about yoga to watch it because there’s nothing to learn from it. It’s just nice to watch. And hey, your post has a lot of people thinking about that!

MexicanDude  I definitely agree with you. And the moment I saw the video was only in awe of her physical abilities to perform this sequence. It is truly beautiful!  Just as a cultural thought… Have you considered of how Indian people would react to this video? In my experience India, the mother-land of Yoga, has A LOT of issues with the naked body, particularly the female body. Whether that is a pre or post-colonial attitude developed in response to cultural attack by Brits or Muslims is debatable… but the reality is that for traditional Indians a naked body belongs to the private sphere. No bikinis (or swimming suits) in the beach, up to a few years back not even jeans or other “sexy” clothes were seen around.  So yes, the way we perceive the body is culturally determined and socially conditioned. In Mexico I know of a lot of very Catholic people who would rather think like your “gringos”, than be open-minded about a semi-naked body. Latinos (including Spanish and Italians) can be very uptight regarding the female body, particularly when it comes to family members (mother, sister, daughter etc.) Your experience in Spain contrasts heavily with many of my own experiences in Latin American and Iberia countries. So, I am writing this just to nuance your thoughts about stereotypes on Latinos and Gringos.  Peace 🙂
Here is the author’s slightly offensive, somewhat ignorant and completely naïve response…….
theawakenedlife Hi there, those are all great points!! Thanks so much for sharing your perspectives. And I was by no means trying to stereotype, but rather ask a question and open a dialogue. I know I can only speak from my experiences and my experiences of not only Latin countries, but most of Western Europe have been to experience very liberal attitudes towards sexuality in the human body… of course it depends on the generation which you are speaking about. This is not so true of the older generations, but of the generations my age or younger, that has been largely my experience.

In terms of Latin America, Brazil jumps to mind. I have never been to a country that was so comfortable with the human body, in all shapes and sizes. I really admired their openness and security in themselves.

I did, however, have the same thought about India and other more traditional countries. This would certainly be the case that showing skin would be much, much more taboo. Absolutely true. But the purposes of this article, I was showing what I see as more liberal attitudes in other parts of the world.

Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. All excellent points.

Yet, while the author was busy standing on her soapbox of disappointment for the American views on sexuality in the media versus those of her Western European counterparts, she failed to do some research on the company’s intention for the video itself (along with studying up on cultural traditions and relations around the world……) .  I wanted to get a fair perspective of the issue from all sides, so I first visited the company’s website and found their creative summary of the video they have entitled “The Contortionist”.
kkkkll“Equinox Yoga Instructor Briohny Smyth has been dedicated to yoga for over 15 years. We spent a morning with her at the Mondrian Hotel in Soho, where she took the athleticism, artistry and sensuality of arm balancing to a new level with a flow from her personal practice. Watch her make the magic happen……

Point 1:  The company represents the video here as both a work of artistry and sensuality.  I feel sensuality is empowering, and confidence is sexy, and art can be both.  I am not sure when or where we decided that if it was one, it could not be the other, but in fact the two can be closely interlaced.  The Mona Lisa caused quite a scandal back in the day for being considered “too sexual in nature”, yet we view it as a masterful art piece displaying a fully-clothed woman, with only the slightest hint of a smile and why???  It is intriguing – you don’t know why she is smiling.  Just as we now don’t know why Briohny is practicing in what we assume to be her room, and assume it to be morning, in her super fancy underwear. 
Then I did a bit more digging on Briohny Smyth to learn she was quite the music star in Thailand some years back, but has been practicing asana for 15 years, and has also battled bulimia as a young woman along the way.  Most women have dealt with body image issues at some point or another in their lives, so I can understand her urge to flaunt it when she lost her attachments to those stigmas – I am proud of her for doing the work she needed to in order to liberate herself from these debilitating, self-loathing thoughts. 

Point 2:  There is no reason for us to label the woman in the commercial as a “soft porn actress” or stamp a scarlet A on her chest because she has some dude lying in her bed.  He is a dude in a commercial.  If he is even a dude at all, who knows because it took me three views of the damn thing before I even realized there was even a dude in her disheveled bed!  Again, let’s not get tied up in labels of who he is – a husband, a wife, a lover, a one-night stand – who cares?!  The real question is what was the purpose of him/her being placed in the ad? 
Advertising, by design, is a form of communication meant to persuade an audience to take action.   Everything in an ad is sketched, staged, scripted, and intended as part of the overall marketing strategy.  Nothing is left to chance, everything has either an obvious or more subtle message that ties back to the personality being portrayed of the brand.  After having spent 15 years in the advertising and marketing industry, I can say from experience the person in the bed represents an added component to Equinox’s personality that is sensual, intimate, or sexual in nature. 

Point 3:  Let’s be clear – Equinox is a company hoping their product appeals to the high-end, high fashion, luxury, materialistic, status-seeking consumer.  They convey this with their location selection, their clothing choices, the “actors” they picked, the color palate of the room, and the music they adopted, which anecdotally was laced with a strong tonality of minor chords – often credited as a subliminal representation of darkness, distress, or angst by most ethnomusicologists.  The clear message here is that by doing this “yoga” practice, you too can attain the results of a beautiful body, have beautiful things, and a beautiful life.  And in your search for superficial happiness, Equinox is the place to go to find it.
I find the timing of all of this hub-bub quite interesting considering that I am beginning my practice of the third agreement this week: Don’t Make Assumptions.  Look at all of the energy that we as a collective have wasted this week on ONE ad?!  An ad meant to entice, through sensuality and art, people to try yoga, we have pondered about, debated, discussed and dissected – all because we are assuming we know what the intent behind the ad was.  The ad was sexy, the ad was art, the ad was NOT Yoga. 

Point 4:  Yoga is Union with God (yes, GOD – stop watering it down with your mind-body-spirit crap and read the history from which your practice came already).  Union achieved through the cessation of thoughts in the mind.  If anything, after watching the video, there seems to be a creation of more thought, and consequently conversation (thoughts expressed out loud….sigh) not less.  As one reader pointed out in comments above, if I had a friend who wanted to know more about Yoga, I would most certainly not send them the link to this video.  I worry that they would feel discouraged.  As a former studio manager, I would be gravely concerned if a teacher taught this sequence in a class to 50+ students because they were left with the impression this video displays “yoga”.  I believe that to be irresponsible of student safety.  As a teacher, I will remind those of you that find this “amazing” and you now feel so inclined to try all of these party tricks – remember that she has been practicing for 15 years, and teaches yoga.  I am also guessing, as a practitioner, she warmed up before she went through these sequences, and did not as the author seems to have perceived, “roll-out-of-bed”.
Lastly – this story also hit the news this week – Sydney Spies, 18, said her photos are “artistic” and represent her true personality.

Now I ask why would a child believe that these pictures are artistic in nature, or appropriate for a high school yearbook?  If the American public is so “uptight about sex”, then why are sexual innuendos woven into most advertising messages?  Why do many women suffer from eating disorders related to the messages crafted by marketing “engineers” that we cannot be happy unless we are thin?  And if you found the video or photos to be artistic – what pant size do you wear?  Honestly, I am curious to know if those us who find nothing wrong with the insidious messages being delivered with ads are physically “fit” versus those who see the ads for the manipulative BS that they are may be of more average build???

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10 Replies to “News Flash: It’s an AD People!”

  1. Well, what do *you* think. On my blogsite, which is part of a well-known commercial goal-setting (read: weight loss and fitness) site, many are divided into two camps: there are the young, hip (and physically hipless) pole-dancing, marathoning and Chalean/P90X/Insanity/Turbo Jam/CrossFit fans with just a cosmetic amount of weight to lose plus a high propensity to put on muscle; and then there are the calorically challenged who are keeping off lots of weight and who may or may not have "socially acceptable" AFTER bodies (without weight loss surgery) … I did not even get to the WLS patients … you get the idea …Just because yoga is a spiritual discipline, it is not treated that way in the West much anymore, by and large–so guess who loves the video … the natural athletes among us … (which does not include me) …That doesn't discourage me from keeping on blogging over there …g(Seems the comment wound up on the wrong blog post by mistake)

  2. Got the comment fixed for you – thanks Tina for your reply! I struggle with labeling the workouts we assign the name Yoga to here in the West as Yoga – when they are in fact anything but. Doesn't mean they aren't beneficial, or don't add to a person's life – in many cases they do. Being immersed into the "McYoga" culture for too long – I have seen what that label can do to the types that you mention are on your blogsite. It is doing people a disservice to continue to market Yoga in this manner. Obviously, I realize I am in over my head to think that I would change anything about mainstream culture – but I would like to at least make people more aware of the differences. I am not sure that gets accurately conveyed in between the lines of my irreverence.

  3. "The clear message here is that by doing this “yoga” practice, you too can attain the results of a beautiful body, have beautiful things, and a beautiful life. And in your search for superficial happiness, Equinox is the place to go to find it."That to me accurately summarizes what this video really about, bottom line. Sure, it's fine to study the moves and be inspired if you're a yoga athlete too, but just remember – it's an ad. Not art, not yoga, not anything elevated or wonderful. And certainly not something that should spark your deepest desires and aspirations (much as the Equinox marketing department would like it to). Sigh. Thanks for an intelligent post.

  4. As an ex-producer of television commercials in New York and someone who has been practicing yoga in various ways for most of her life and dedicated her time to teaching yoga full time for the past 20 plus years I have this to say: The only thing I found compelling about the video was the fabulous space. I've seen contortionists, gymnasts and yogis doing graceful practices endlessly but man, that was (what I thought to be) one sweet apartment. Isn't that funny? The sequence was skilled though I had no yearning to do it or envy for her prowess, the girl was pretty and pleasing to watch but I thought it was a bit boring, again, except for the cool room and the awesome view. Now, that left me yearning as an ex-New Yorker who would love to wake up in such a glorious space! Woman are being objectified all over the place and have been fighting for their place since they were thrown out of the Goddess role by the men who shaped much of our religious beliefs. Yoga is turning into a circus. It's up to each of us who wants that to change, to be examples of strong women or yogis who don't drink the kool-aid, who aren't afraid to be individuals or to help others find their strength.

  5. I couldn't agree more and we do have a choice as to what media we consume or discuss. We have a choice as to how we react to it as well and I feel that it takes strong women to say when they disagree with something. Thank you!

  6. I'm being frank here. Basically, it's soft porn, which is true of lots of ads these days. It's not that she's wearing underwear, as some have stated there is a lot of revealing yoga clothing out there, it's the porn-y black lace with the butt-cheeks hanging out of the back where the underwear is pulled suggestively up. That's what's porn. Not her body, her skin, her movement. And that is corroborated by the suggestion that she has just had sex with whatever gender person is lying in the bed and that if you were like her you would have just had sex with someone in a beautiful room (yeah, I found my eyes wandering around the room at times during her performance, having done gymnastics in my youth before becoming a 20-year yoga practitioner making it not exactly run-of-the-mill but not awe-inspiring either).

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