Countless articles about the highly lucrative and often ridiculed yoga culture begin by locating us within a spacious, candlelit studio with polished wood floors, possibly bamboo in—pick your random major metro area. On the occasion of my visit to a new studio around the block from my apartment in Harlem, I didn’t get past the reception area or the blonde waif with a face scrubbed free of character, who informed me that following an introductory series, I would be expected to pay 25 bucks for the privilege of accessing the space for a self-led practice.
In America, classes are described as sweaty, flow, and power; they’re built around endless sun salutations (yogi calisthenics) and doused with a photoshopped version of femininity. Yoga may have its roots as a practice largely for the benefit of men in India, but in this country, $20-$25 buys women an entrée into a world where hips, sacrums, and elongated necks are prized, and a woman’s body is worshipped. In exchange for 90 minutes of our time, we attain a personal encounter with our inner goddess by pushing ourselves to reach high, dig deep, and make contact with our perineum—but often as a means of peddling a stereotype of femininity, one tied to a certain aesthetic of what a woman’s body should be.