BOB GARFIELD: Americans may admire the physical discipline of figure skating, but increasingly they're doing yoga -- a physical and spiritual practice born in India roughly 5,000 years ago. Yoga was brought here 140 years ago, and some would say it's taken that long to become hip in America and just a little bit longer to become a marketing tool. Rachel Myrow reports from KPCC in Los Angeles.
RACHEL MYROW: Steven Powers has been doing yoga for 2 years now. The president of M&K Sound [sp?], an audio equipment company, added the discipline to his fitness regimen after he spotted a class one Saturday morning on the beach in Venice, California. When M&K began developing a new ad campaign for its speakers, Powers thought it only natural to recommend his yoga teacher, Andrea Brook.
STEVEN POWERS: What are the qualities that a person like Andrea or any talented yogi has? Balance -Power - Focus - Clarity.
RACHEL MYROW: For years M&K's advertising has relied on the company's relationship with big name customers like George Lucas of Star Wars. In recent months Powers and his advertising director decided to try a new tack. The concept is still in development, but when all is said and done, potential customers will flip a magazine page to find Andrea Brook assuming a dramatic asana [sp?] -- poised in the presence of M&K speakers.
STEVEN POWERS: We want to kind of communicate about our speakers that they're not average - they're not run of the mill - we're very much the high end -- you know many people don't hear the difference or they're not that interested in music to go out and spend thousands of dollars on a pair of speakers. [MUSIC FROM M&K COMMERCIAL]
SHEILA CHANDRA: [SINGING "TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS"] TURN OFF YOUR MIND RELAX AND FLOAT DOWN THE STREAM IT IS NOT DYING IT IS NOT DYING
RACHEL MYROW: While Powers professes to be out of touch with Madison Avenue, he's intuitively hip on a happening trend. Yoga imagery is everywhere, lending its limber spiritual veneer to Nike shoes, breakfast cereal, even Internet stockbrokers like Ameritrade. Whether it's SUVs or underwear, advertisers know yoga doesn't just stretch -- it sells. Moreover, it sells to the right people. Carrie Hollenberg, an expert in what makes consumers tick at SRI Consulting in the Bay Area calls them "actualizers."
CARRIE HOLLENBERG: These are people that tend to be leaders in society. They tend to be quite sophisticated; they value independence, self-- they have a lot of self-confidence; they're quite active in their day to day life. They're generally quite technologically savvy. They travel. They are, they're appreciative of other cultures.
RACHEL MYROW: While actualizers haven't elbowed out the patchoulie-scented [sp?] hippies of yoga in years past, they have changed the face of the practice here in the U.S. Consider for example the ultimate actualizer -- Madonna -who even played a yoga instructor in The Next Best Thing.
MADONNA: Hands together in prayer position; feet together. Namaste. [sp?]
YOGA CLASS: Namaste.
MAN: Namaste. [CHANTING BEGINS]
RACHEL MYROW: Go to the right class in L.A. or New York and you just might lunge into Chadaranga [sp?] a couple mats over from Christy Turlington or Shaquille O'Neal. Surveys find roughly 20 million Americans have tried yoga. A practice that big is bound to pull in some people who even if only unconsciously just want to be hip as opposed to arrived. Andrea Brook, the yoga teacher from the M&K ad admits she's seen some pretty silly stuff in the 6 and a half years she's been teaching.
ANDREA BROOK: That hipness where, you know, all-- where we're focusing on what am I going to wear to yoga - what am I going to drive to yoga - you know - people are racing down the street honking and yelling and screaming and flipping people off so that they can get to yoga. That's the part that cracks me up the most. [LAUGHS]
RACHEL MYROW: But whether they get it or they don't, Brook figures anything that exposes people to yoga is a good thing because yoga is a good thing.
ANDREA BROOK: I love the idea of using yoga in advertising because it makes people think oh, I want to do that. And I do see yoga as a lifestyle, and it profoundly affects people's life and the choices that they make and how they feel about themselves.
RACHEL MYROW: But is yoga in the service of selling products really yoga? Anne Cushman, a contributing editor for Yoga journal explains followers are clearly admonished not to fall prey to the myriad delusions of materialism and greed.
MAN: Yoga really asks us to look at what actually makes us happy, and if we really investigate, we see pretty clearly that having more things does not bring us any real lasting, sustained happiness whereas the whole premise of advertising is exactly the opposite.
RACHEL MYROW: That said, Cushman doesn't believe advertisers are using yoga as anything more than a superficial backdrop.
MAN: For instance if you see a car ad with a picture of a gorgeous young woman in Downward Facing Dog, they're actually not trying to sell the car through yoga; they're trying to sell the car the way they try and sell everything which is by associating it with a young, beautiful, fit person doing something sort of hip.
RACHEL MYROW: Proving that on Madison Avenue, certain principles hold true forever. [SHEILA CHANDRA SINGING TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS] Whereas achieving the perfect sculpted butt through yoga is an elusive and ultimately transitory state of grace. For On the Media, I'm Rachel Myrow in Los Angeles.
SHEILA CHANDRA: [SINGING] LAY DOWN ALL THOUGHTS SURRENDER TO THE VOID IT IS SHINING [MUSIC]