Yoga’s Court Jesters

It’s official:  The Babarrazzi – the self-styled court jesters of the American yoga scene – have called it quits.  The quirky – and shadowy — intellectual collective that made it oh-so-hip and fashionable to stigmatize American yoga teachers as unprincipled fame- and-fortune seekers – coining the term “yogilebrities” in the process – last week bid a fond farewell to the several hundred contributors – and thousands of readers — that regularly gravitated to their site.  The group – through its erstwhile spokesman and guru, Aghori Babarazzi —  gave no official reason for ceasing publication, other than to say that they were eager to move on to a new web project, It’s Aghorable, and urging their fellow-travelers to follow them there.

As an experiment in post-modern, deconstructionist blogging, The Babarrazzi may have had few antecedents – and even fewer successors.  Over the nearly two years of its celebrated existence, the site didn’t so much report on the latest developments in the bizarre and wacky world of American yoga as it did draw readers into a deeper philosophical reflection on the pernicious and insidious  dimensions of what Marx called “commodity fetishism” — and its impact on contemporary yoga culture.  Through thrice weekly blog postings that drew a bead on the wide-ranging techniques and linguistic gimmicks being used to advertise, market and sell yoga to middle class consumers, The Babarazzi raised important questions about what constitutes cultural and spiritual “authenticity” in the context of modern capitalism and whether the inner soul and substance of what was once a sacred mind-body practice could meaningfully survive under such an unchecked commercial onslaught.

Paradoxically, perhaps, the Babarazzi tended to reject the idea – still fashionable in conservative Hindu circles — of a “pure” and “pristine” yoga that should be protected or “rescued.”  And like good anarchist libertarians, they sometimes fulminated against those – myself included – who argued that contemporary yoga might be “reformed” and “regulated”.  Rather, the solution was simply to “do your own thing,” practicing yoga with more integrity with like-minded souls and leaving others to drop ecstasy at yoga rave parties, attend overpriced mindfulness retreats in exotic Third World getaways, or take yoga on the road like a traveling circus and medicine show.

Still, the Babarazzi showed no mercy when it came to lampooning these same practices.  While sparing many prominent male yoga innovators like Indian-born Bikram Choudhury (non-Whites were off-limits, it seems) and Anusara yoga founder John Friend, they seemed to take delight in subjecting up-and-coming female yoga superstars like Elena Brower and Kelly Morris (the latter a self-described “yoga shaman”) to relentless ridicule, parsing their mind-numbing New Age lectures for hidden spiritual “meanings” – only to conclude that they didn’t actually have any.  Much of what the Babarazzi drew upon for their darkly inspired commentary was already floating around the yoga blogosphere but in the hands of these mad alchemists it became a freshly concocted and deliciously mocking brew that could be sifted and savored, inspiring uncontrollable fits of laughter, then simply cast aside like stale and bitter wine.  Rarely – at least in yoga circles – have so many feasted so well.

No one really knows how many viewers actually visited the Babarazzi web site – not many, it appears.  Publicly available metrics suggest that few of their postings ever received more than a few thousands viewers.  And it was rare for readers themselves to post more than 35 comments on any one post.  However, the site’s influence among the yoga cogniscienti far surpassed its relatively narrow readership.   Many veteran yoga teachers read and contributed to the blog’s discussions, as did a number of the site’s “yogilebrity” targets, some of whom couldn’t seem to resist the additional publicity, even if it did little to burnish their image.

In fact, one of the more celebrated Babarazzi postings from the past year featured the group’s response to Ava Taylor, the head of YAMA, the yoga “talent agency” that helps yoga teachers brand and promote themselves.  It’s a measure of the Babarazzi’s influence – and the fear they inspired – that their blog postings often drew formal replies from figures like Taylor, who didn’t seem to realize that they were about to become more grist for the mill.  Taylor argued that The Babarazzi were “elitist yogis,” who were judging yoga teachers for trying to provide mainstream American culture with a constructive alternative role model to the likes of Lindsay Lohan.  As usual, the Babarazzi reply was brutal and succinct:  YAMA was actually promoting and entrenching the very media marketing culture that produced Lindsay Lohans to begin with.  They even plastered a giant photo of Taylor on the web site, giving her what the Babarazzi liked to call the “star treatment.”  Needless to say, Taylor was never heard from again.

Kudos aside, the Babarazzi may well have failed in their larger objective – to stigmatize and isolate commercial yoga in the hopes of reducing its influence.   In this, they probably underestimated just how powerful the imperative is to exploit yoga and other “mindful” practices to sell the masses a wide range of goods and services far beyond the narrow confines of yoga itself.   And in aligning themselves so closely with the rest of the yoga blogosphere, the Babarazzi may have blunted their own critical edge.  Many once independent blog sites like Yoga Dork are eagerly generating their own version of commercial yoga “buzz” and for them, the Babarazzi came as something of an unwelcome reminder of their long-forgotten past as industry watchdogs and keepers of the yoga flame.

In the end, despite fostering a culture of intellectual resistance among some important yoga influencers, the Babarazzi never proved to be much more than a source of titillating amusement and comic relief – and a most welcome one.  In this, they fulfilled the classic role of court jesters.  Pointing fingers at the nobles, embarrassing them with verbal tricks and word play, yet leaving the larger system of power untouched.  Without some kind of collective praxis, it’s hard to imagine even insightful, cutting-edge blogging slowing down the relentless flow of commerce.  Compelling?  Certainly.  But like so much in contemporary yoga, still just another elegantly proffered pose.

Stewart J. Lawrence can be reached at stewartlawrence81147@gmail.com


More articles by:

Stewart J. Lawrence can be reached at stewartlawrence81147@gmail.com

March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes