Commercialism, Hip Hop, and Yoga: a response to The Babarazzi

I was recently told about The Babarazzi, a blog that satirizes and bashes yoga commercialism (especially the so-called yogalebrity), by a friend and fellow yoga teacher.  I tend to approach most yoga journalism these days with a slight cringe, as so much of what I read is either glossed over with flowery innuendos and  "get thin", or on the opposite side quite damning for either the practice or some member of the community (sometimes quite legitimately).

I was intrigued by the concept and had some spare time the other night so I checked it out.  I scanned the home page and saw several topics I knew would be addressed…  and then one thing caught my eye: an article entitled “If Yoga Culture Were B-Boy Culture”.  Being someone who has explored both yoga and breakin culture to a fairly deep level, I had to look.  What I found there was intriguing and also left me a bit torn about the subject matter.  I could certainly see the writer’s comparison as legitimate one level, however I felt there were some other sides to the coin that could be mentioned.  Also, to imply that something is lost with commercialism is certainly valid, but breakin has now been through almost 40 years of history and the traditional elements are still there for those who seek them out, despite the explosion of popularity in mass media (again).

This is my response below, and you can follow any follow-up by the author or other members on the site.  There is a lot more that can be said, and I welcome the dialogue here or on The Babarazzi.

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I think this is a really interesting argument and of course draws my attention as the creator of Breakti (yes formerly Yoga Spanda)… The thing is that despite the fact that breakin’ (I prefer this term because it’s not just b-boy culture but also includes women – as well as indirectly implies that breakers are more than boys and girls but grown men and women) has shifted from its roots due to commercialism and general evolution (or arguably de-evolution in some cases) of music, the roots themselves are still there AND WILL ALWAYS BE THERE. People still practice the traditional styles and then innovate on them in both yoga and breakin. I studied breakin and street dance styles with traditionalists through and through and have studied yoga with traditionalists as well, strictly Iyengar and strictly Ashtanga, etc. I have also studied yoga and dance with non-traditionalists, innovators, and those who are commercially successful, and sometimes walked away jaded or saddened by the alchemy of mediocrity, but at other times been inspired because they are in fact doing something really amazing with their exploration of the practice.


It’s funny because I studied with some of the people in the very movies Breakin’ and Wild Style. I would never call myself a breaker anymore because I don’t practice it outside of my own personal training, nor do I compete anymore, but it is a PRACTICE, and a way of life for many I know. My own teacher is 42 and still breakin, still practicing, still innovating. He, like all of his peers, has had to hustle hard to make a living. Some of his peers were extremely successful and thus often dubbed “sell-outs” by others who were less successful. Others with immense talent have remained on the underground circuit as a matter of choice or circumstance. It’s probably true that some people did less than honest things to get to the top, but the bottom line for all the dancers I know is that it is HARD to make a living (no different from yoga, although a different playing field). It is always a challenge to mix a true personal practice with a need to eat and put a roof over your head, and hustling is necessary to live on what you love, unless you come from money. The outcome of this marriage of hustle and practice is sometimes beautiful, sometimes very damaging, as we have seen in breakin culture.
The same can certainly be said for yoga, and in this free market economy where yoga clothing companies rake in millions and teachers struggle to scrape by, it is hard not to see the comparisons between the commercialism of hip hop/street culture and that of yoga.


What I warn against, however, is the absolute discrediting of commercialism. After all, it is the free market that has inspired so many to bring yoga to the far reaches of this country. Small towns that never heard of yoga 10 years ago now have studios. People of all walks of life are practicing yoga and that’s a great thing. The same could be said for hip hop culture. While there is a sad story line in many ways of the commercialism of hip hop, it is now an integral part of American culture. I think it is very powerful that a way of life that came from the streets of the South Bronx (and frankly from all over the streets of America) now has a voice in popular culture. That voice is often strewn with negative images and has caught a bad rap many a time, but it is there, and it gives rise to people who would never have known about hip hop exploring its roots, its lineage, its culture in a very real way. That is a beautiful thing.


In closing, I’d love to share the innovations of my own teacher, Raphael Xavier. He has been breakin his whole life, he’s not from the Boogie Down Bronx, but from Delaware, and he learned about breakin from TELEVISION on Soul Train for the first time, he took up the practice initially on his own because he was so moved by what he saw, and now his whole life has been shaped by it.


This class is a serious practice. It is like nothing you’ve ever experienced and he created it out of his own lifetime of experience and personal struggles. Truth may not happen often in popular culture, but it is often inspired by it.