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Take a Deep Breath, Yoga Ad Was a Joke

March 11, 2002|HILARY E. MacGREGOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The outrage begins with the full-page advertisement on page 11 of Yoga Journal's April issue.

"Invitational. Yoga Pose Off. $30,000 First Prize!" Then in smaller print: "Watch the world's best as they battle for prestige and cash!"

Below are mugs of several grunge-type characters who look like competitors from the X Games, including: Cedar, "2001 Vancouver Yoga Instructor of the Year"; Tara-Lynn Williams, "West Coast Power Yoga Regional Champion"; and "Ananda Kumar, owner and founder of Kumar's Kundalini Kiva."

To many, the ad is an affront to a yogic philosophy that preaches self-acceptance and spiritual transformation, and discourages competition and judgment. But to some enthusiasts, who take pride in their ability to perform pretzel-like poses that leave yoga classmates in awe, the idea of taking home a $30,000 prize was rather enticing.

A surprise awaited at the Web site where readers of the ad were directed for contest information. "The pose off is an April Fools' joke,'' said the site, sponsored by Lululemon Athletica, a Vancouver, B.C., fitness firm. "It does not exist. Be one with your sense of humor."

Unfortunately, most readers never got as far as the Web site. Instead, upon seeing the ad, some readers apparently became so incensed that they either had to work through their anger privately with pranayama breathing or by sending letters to the editors of Yoga Journal.

"I can think of nothing more opposed to the purpose of yoga than asana competition for monetary prizes," wrote one "appalled" subscriber to Yoga Journal. "The idea of a pose-off is anathema to yoga," wrote another impassioned subscriber. "Instead of a pose-off, why not support an asana-thon, where students are encouraged to take as much time as possible getting into the postures?" Said another: "What's scary is that the idea is not beyond believability."

Chip Wilson, founder and chief executive of Lululemon Athletica, which manufactures clothing for specialized sports, including yoga, is unfazed by the negative reactions. "Certain kinds of people who take on these sports adopt them like religion," said Wilson, 46, who was born in Los Angeles, and grew up in California's surf/skate/snowboard culture. "They are feeling empty and void and someone knocks on the door. It could be a marathon runner or a surfer or a yogi, but it is something that fulfills that person. They begin to lose perspective on what the snowboarding or surfing or yoga is all about.

"I looked around, and I started seeing the fanatics getting into it [yoga] and I thought, 'Something isn't right here.'"

He decided to inject some levity into what he perceived as a community that takes itself too seriously. Initially, Wilson tried to recruit local yoga teachers as the phony contestants, but they refused, worried about their reputations. So he made up his own contestants: Ananda Kumar is Wilson; Tara-Lynn Williams is his wife. The others are employees. When Wilson purchased the $15,000, full-page color ad in Yoga Journal, he told only the saleswoman about the joke. The journal's editors were out of the loop, and unprepared for the firestorm the ad provoked.

"Our readers are not happy about it at all," said Managing Editor Nora Isaacs, who has received dozens of calls and letters about the Pose Off. "Readers didn't know it was a joke. They are saying, 'You are going down the drain. How could you do this?'"

Isaacs said the magazine did not check the validity of the ad because yoga competitions are a long-standing tradition in India, where yoga originated 5,000 years ago.

Yoga Journal will print a letter from a reader, along with Wilson's response and explanation, in its May/June issue.

Meanwhile, Wilson is already plotting next year's April Fools' joke. "It's going to be an ad for a men's yoga thong," he said.

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