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Popular Media Images of Yoga: Limiting Perceived Access to a Beneficial Practice

Elika Razmjou, MA
School of Graduate Psychology, Pacific University

Heather Freeman, MS, MA RYT 200
School of Graduate Psychology, Pacific University

Nadezhda Vladagina, MA, RYT 200
School of Graduate Psychology, Pacific University

Jillian Freitas, PsyD
School of Graduate Psychology, Pacific University

Christiane Brems, PhD, ABPP, RYT500, C-IAYT
School of Graduate Psychology, Pacific University

 

Abstract

Yoga is an ancient practice that has been used as an effective treatment for a range of physical and mental health conditions (e.g., stress, anxiety, hypertension, chronic pain). Despite the increased utilization of yoga, the demographics represented among current US yoga practitioners remain narrow, including primarily thin, educated, young to middle aged, White women of higher socioeconomic status. Although these demographics appear congruent with images of yoga in popular print media, this exclusionary portrayal may limit access to yoga, discouraging many from trying the very practice that may benefit them, because they are not exposed to models representative of their own demographic or body type. To explore potential print media bias, the current study assessed the demographics of yoga images in a leading popular yoga magazine. Ratings of 3,129 images across eight magazine years revealed narrow demographic representation with, 74.7% being young adults, 51.8% thin, 71.0% White, and 78.3% female. This limited demographic portrayal likely contributes to multiple perceived access barriers (e.g., related to race, gender, body type) that negatively affect perceptions of yoga as relevant or attainable for non-represented individuals. Recommendations are offered for a more inclusive media portrayal of yoga.

KEY WORDS: Yoga access, complementary and alternative medicine, yoga demographics, yoga and media

  • Citation
  • Authors
Razmjou, E., Freeman, H., Vladagina, N. Freitas, J. & Brems, C. (2017). Popular Media Images of Yoga: Limiting Perceived Access to a Beneficial Practice.  Media Psychology Review. Vol. 11(2)


Elika Razmjou, MA is a doctoral candidate in the Clinical Psychology PsyD Program at the School of Graduate Psychology of Pacific University Oregon. Her primary interests are clinical health psychology, and she is particularly interested in increasing access to mind-body practices within various medical settings and for disadvantaged and vulnerable populations.

Heather

Heather Freeman, MS, MA, RYT 200 is a doctoral candidate in the Clinical Psychology PsyD Program at the School of Graduate Psychology of Pacific University Oregon. Her studies focus on the intersection of yoga therapy and clinical psychology, in working with vulnerable and disadvantaged populations. She hopes to promote yoga philosophy as means of eliciting our innate capacity to heal.  She is a certified RYT-200 yoga teacher, currently training to become a yoga therapist.

NadiaNadezhda Vladagina, MA, RYT200 is a doctoral candidate in the Clinical Psychology PsyD Program at the School of Graduate Psychology of Pacific University Oregon. She specializes in forensic psychology, with a particular interest in working in correctional environments. Her passions include utilizing yoga in correctional settings, as well as with law enforcement personnel. She is a certified RYT-200 yoga teacher, currently training to become a yoga therapist.

Jillian Freitas has a PsyD in Clinical Psychology from the School of Graduate Psychology at Pacific University Oregon. She currently is a postdoctoral fellow at Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center in Waianae, Hawaii, serving a predominantly Native Hawaiian, low-income population. She has been a yoga practitioner for more than a decade and recently dedicated herself to an Iyengar Yoga Teacher Training program in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her primary interests include adolescent psychology, gender identity, and the intersection between culture and health.

Chris Brems has a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Oklahoma State University and currently serves as Dean of the School of Graduate Psychology at Pacific University Oregon.  She specializes in yoga therapy as well as service access for vulnerable and underserved populations, with a particular passion for rural residents.  She has been a yoga practitioner for 40 years; she is a certified RYT500 yoga teacher and IAYT-certified yoga therapist.

 

Introduction

 

The practice of yoga, dating back over 3,500 years, has increasingly been demonstrated as an effective means of improving psychological and physical health conditions, including depression, anxiety, stress, coronary heart disease, chronic low-back pain, and the sequelae of cancer (Cramer, Lauche, Haller, & Dobos, 2013; Cramer, Lauche, Langhorst, & Dobos, 2013; Hagins, Selfe, & Innes, 2013; Lin, Hu, Chang, Lin & Tsauo, 2011; McCall, 2014; Ross, Friedmann, Bevans, & Thomas, 2013; Taylor et al., 2004). Yoga practitioners have reported improvements in energy, happiness, sleep, weight, and social relationships (Ross et al., 2013).  However, yoga is still somewhat underused as a referral source by healthcare providers for the many conditions that it has been shown to improve (Brems et al. 2015; Sulenes et al., 2015).

Commensurate with its numerous associated health benefits, yoga’s utilization has been steadily increasing. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of individuals practicing yoga in the United States increased by 76.5 percent. Currently, 36.7 million US residents practice yoga, contributing to the development of yoga as a large-scale business enterprise with high media visibility. In 2016, roughly $16.8 billion dollars were spent on yoga classes, clothing, equipment, and accessories (Ipsos Public Affairs, 2016).

Potential Barriers and Perceived Accessibility

Although the utilization and business of yoga continue to expand, the demographics of yoga practitioners have not broadened or been inclusive. Significant and frequently cited barriers to practice remain, and include time, high cost of yoga classes, equipment, transportation, and childcare when practicing yoga outside of the home (Atkinson & Permuth-Levine, 2009; Quilty, Saper, Goldstein, & Khalsa, 2013; Slocum-Gori, Howard, Balneaves, & Kazanjian, 2013). Women who do not identify with privileged socioeconomic identities often experience the high costs associated with yoga as the primary barrier to practice (Slocum-Gori et al., 2013).

Barriers related to perceptions of who can practice yoga are exemplified by a recent nationwide poll that evidenced the gender division across yoga practitioners, with 72% of practitioners identifying as female and 28% as male (Ipsos Public Affairs, 2016). Female-centric media portrayals of yoga fuel the misconstrued belief that yoga is an activity exclusively for women. Male practitioners are subsequently hesitant to start a yoga practice because of feeling self-conscious, intimidated by female-dominated classes, and limited in flexibility compared to the women in yoga classes (Atkinson & Permuth-Levine, 2009; Brems et al., 2015; Justice, Brems, & Jacova, 2016). Yoga Journal, a leading popular yoga magazine, which has been in circulation for 40 years with over two million readers reports that its readers are primarily women, aged 15-49, well-educated, and of high socioeconomic status (Yoga Journal, 2014). This narrow demographic representation amongst Yoga Journal’s readership is reflected in images throughout the magazine, as well as in the demographic representation of US yoga practitioners (Vinoski, Webb, Warren-Findlow, Brewer, & Kiffmeyer, 2017). Yoga users (compared to non-yoga users) are more likely to be thin, educated, young to middle aged, White, women of higher socioeconomic status (Birdee et al., 2008; Park, Braun, & Siegel, 2015; Ross et al., 2013).

Practitioner and resources barriers may serve to limit perceived access to this potentially beneficial practice, often for the very individuals who may benefit the most (Brems et al., 2015; Sulenes et al, 2015). Many researchers believe that changing media images of yoga could serve to extend its accessibility to individuals who may benefit from the practice, but have been culturally discouraged and hesitant (Justice et al., 2016; Park et al., 2015). Despite the expanding range of media platforms, the lasting presence of print media continues to influence consumer behavior, while simultaneously representing and influencing cultural norms (Berger, 2015; Biagi, 2012; Nicolas & Mateus, 2016; Perse & Lambe, 2016). This is of particular interest to yoga, a practice that is often transmitted via visual media.

Yoga and the Impact of Print Media

Research has demonstrated that more than two-thirds of adults in the US prefer reading print magazines, and more than 40% of US adults surveyed read digital magazines (Nicolas & Mateus, 2016). In general, the portrayal of yoga in American print media is generally focused on a specific demographic stereotype of who is fit to practice yoga (Vinoski et al., 2017; Webb et al., 2017).  Women and men of color have consistently been underrepresented across various forms of media (Holtzman & Sharpe, 2014; Plous & Neptune, 1997; Thomas & Treiber, 2000). This is important to consider, given the power print media images can have on readers. Research based on sociocultural theories have demonstrated that print media can be influential in communicating which social and cultural standards (i.e., including appearance-related standards) are deemed desirable and valuable, with potentially significant effects on readers (Harper & Tiggeman, 2008; Heinberg, 2001). Sociocultural theories about media consumption suggest that some women and girls are strongly influenced by print media images to which they are exposed through magazines (Thompson, Heinberg, Altabe, & Tantleff-Dunn, 1999), especially if they have preexisting body-image disturbances, low self-esteem, or internalized thin body ideals (Ferguson, 2013; Perloff, 2014; Valkenburg & Peter, 2013). Thus, the images in Yoga Journal, a publication whose readership is primarily female, may have a significant impact on its readers – both in terms of access to the practice and in terms of body image.

Impacts on Body Image. Research reflects a positive linear association between exposure to print media and likelihood of attempting to diet or lose weight due to a magazine image or article, especially in young girls. In one study, 69% of the girls stated that print media images shaped their perception of the ideal body shape (Field et al., 1999). A significant body of research demonstrates potentially detrimental effects of thin-ideal media images on women’s body image, body-satisfaction, self-esteem, self-appraisals, and mood (Engeln-Maddox, 2006; Grabe, Ward, & Hyde, 2008; Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2002; Hawkins, Richards, Granley, & Stein, 2004). When media-driven beauty ideals are internalized, women may engage in social comparison, and subsequently alter and distort their perception of what is normative and how they compare to this standard, contributing to dissatisfaction with their own bodies (Milkie, 1999; Thompson & Heinberg, 1999).  Once body image dissatisfaction has developed, mental health sequelae tend to follow (Mond, van den Berg, Boutelle, Hannan, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2011; Neumark-Sztainer, Paxton, Hannan, Haines, & Story, 2006; Paxton, Neumark-Sztainer, Hannan, & Eisenberg, 2006; Smolak & Levine, 2015). Due to potentially negative effects, especially on individuals with preexisting body-image disturbances or psychology vulnerability (Ferguson, 2013; Perloff, 2014; Valkenburg & Peter, 2013), it is important to understand implicit messages being sent through print media images of yoga, and how these messages may affect current and potential yoga practitioners.

Sexualized Images and Self-Objectification. Researchers have found that although women are generally under-represented across a range of media, when they are depicted, the portrayals often adhere to stereotypical gender roles or are hypersexualized, objectifying women’s bodies (Collins, 2011). The objectification theory posits that such media images may contribute to young girls’ objectification of their bodies, sending messages about the value of physical appearance to be perceived as beautiful, attractive, and thus valuable by others in the social environment (Hesse-Biber, Leavy, Quinn, & Zoino, 2006). Self-objectification may lead to decreased internal awareness (i.e., interoceptive awareness), which is related to disordered eating and depression (Peat & Muehlenkamp, 2011); interoception incidentally is greatly enhanced by a healthful yoga practice that is tailored to individual needs (Farb et al., 2105).

The relationship between media images and self-objectification is well-documented. For example, one study focused on female adolescents and demonstrated a positive relationship between magazine exposure and self-objectification (Slater & Tiggemann, 2014). A study evaluating weight dissatisfaction and self-objectification in a sample of undergraduate women found that exposure to objectifying images depicting women as sexually passive or sexually agentic (i.e., powerful and in control) was correlated with higher levels of weight dissatisfaction (Halliwell, Malson, & Tischner, 2011). Thus, media images and self-objectification may have significant psychosocial effects, and it is important to know whether media depictions of yoga reflect the tendency to hypersexualize women.

Emphasis on materialism and body ideals – rather than yoga’s philosophical roots (Freeman, Vladagina, Razmjou, & Brems, 2017) – inherent in media portrayals may negatively affect readers. Considering Yoga Journal’s extensive (largely female) following, the publication holds a great deal of implicit power that extends not only to perceptions of the practice but also to its likely practitioners. A narrow portrayal does not promote yoga in a holistic sense and may serve to limit access to the practice as well as undercut potential benefits for practitioners.

Aims of the Current Study

To explore potential print media bias that may serve as a deterrent to accessing yoga, the current study assessed the demographics of human images in Yoga Journal, by coding images across randomly selected issues published between 2007 and 2014. It was hypothesized that in general, images (graphics accompanying articles as well as advertisements) would consist primarily of individuals rated as young adult, female, Caucasian, and thinner than average body size, with less frequent depictions of individuals of color, pregnant women, males, and older adults. Additionally, it was hypothesized that magazine graphics (i.e., chosen by writers and editors to accompany article content) would reflect greater racial, gender, and age diversity, than images utilized in advertisements. Lastly, it was hypothesized that the number of individuals who are older adults, male, persons of color, and individuals who are of average or heavier than average body size will increase over time, between 2007 and 2014.

Methods

Materials

Monthly issues of Yoga Journal were collected (N = 170), spanning from February 2007 to December 2014. Although there are several other yoga magazines currently in publication, Yoga Journal was chosen for the current study due to its wide readership, significant revenue, and resulting influence (Yoga Journal, 2014). To create the sample, one issue was randomly selected from each season starting with Winter 2007 (i.e., Fall: September, October, November issues; Winter: December, February issues [Yoga Journal does not publish in January]; Spring: March, April, May issues; and Summer: June, July, August). With winter spanning years, we inadvertently sampled one additional winter issue, which resulted in a final sample of 33 issues of Yoga Journal. Each image served as a unit of analysis, and coders were instructed to code all images that were equal to or larger than a quarter of the page in size.

 

Codebook Survey

Coding was completed through a Qualtrics survey, in which coders answered specific questions related to variables of interest. Graphics were defined as images that deliberately accompanied and were related to magazine articles, whereas advertisements were images that deliberately marketed a product. The codebook survey consisted of up to 167 questions, the majority of which presented discrete response options, with a few questions that were open-ended. Questions evaluated demographic variables of the individual(s) portrayed in each image, including race, age, and gender. For example, the response options for gender included: male, female, ambiguous, both males and females depicted. For age, the options included: child (0-19), young adult (20-39), mature adult (40-59), and elder (60+). For race or ethnicity, the response options consisted of: white, person of color, ambiguous, and diverse group. Other questions assessed the number of individuals (i.e., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5+), shot composition (i.e., body part, bust or above, waist shot, ¾ shot, full length), body size (i.e., thinner than average, average, heavier than average, unable to determine), clothing (i.e., mostly covered, half covered, mostly uncovered, uncovered/implied nudity), the presence of muscle tone, pregnancy, or sexualized images (i.e., yes, no). Coders evaluated these variables for up to four individuals within each image. Images with 5 or more individuals were coded in a group format (e.g., “both males and females depicted”, “diverse group”) and were presented with response options that allowed for more than one response to be chosen (e.g., “Check all that apply: Child, Young Adult, Mature Adult, Elder”).

Coders

Coders were matriculated students and faculty in a school of graduate psychology at a private Northwestern US university. For purposes of a larger study (exploring graphics, advertisements, and articles in Yoga Journal), three teams of coders were established. Of relevance to this study, 10 individuals were randomly selected from the overall coding team (N = 15) to rate graphics and advertisements. Only certified yoga teachers (n=6) coded images with yoga poses; the other coders (n=4) rated images not depicting yoga contents.  The 10 coders ranged in age from 24 to 56 years; included nine women, one man, and three individuals of color; and endorsed extensive experience practicing yoga with a mean of approximately12 years and a maximum of 40.

Inter-Coder Reliability. To establish inter-coder reliability, several training sessions and coding drift checks were held. In the initial training session, codebooks were examined item-by-item and clear decision rules were established to obtain optimally standardized ratings for more subjective variables (e.g., body size anchors). Next, multiple coders individually coded a given item/image and then discussed discrepancies until a consensus rating could be established. Each coding team then rated sample items as a group until consistency was achieved. Lastly, coders were randomly assigned to images to code for the study. Subsequent drift checks were conducted, to ensure ongoing inter-coder reliability.

Data Management and Analyses

Data was managed through Microsoft Excel, and analyzed using SPSS. Data analyses included descriptive statistics (i.e., frequencies of demographic variables of interest), and Z-tests of proportion in order to explore difference between article graphics versus advertisements on all variables, and between female versus male images.  Changes across time for relevant variables were explored via trend analyses.

Results

Descriptive Analyses

A total of 3,129 human images was rated.  Tables 1 and 2 show a summary of demographics; Table 1 is separated by type of image (graphic or advertisement) and Table 2 by gender. These tables reveal that the predominant features across all graphics were white (71%); female (78.3%); not pregnant (99.5%); not muscular (59.2%); not sexualized (86.5%); thinner than average (51.8%); young adults (74.7%); mostly clothed (62.2%); and images of individuals from the general population (not famous yogis or celebrities; 90.6%). Many more images accompanied ads than graphics (n=2,011 or 65% versus n=1,118 or 35%).  Similarly, many more images depicted women than men (n=2,280 or 78.3%; n=603 or 20.7%; with 28 or 1% being gender-ambiguous).

Table 1. Images as Depicted in Article Graphics versus Advertisements

Table 2. Images as Depicting Males versus Females

 

 

Z-Tests of Proportion

Z-tests of proportion (see Table 1) revealed several significant differences between graphics and advertisements for depicted demographics and other variables of interest.  Most notably, advertisements were more likely than graphics to be sexualized (16% versus 9%), to depict women (82% versus 73%), to show young adults (76% versus 72%) and to depict thin body shapes (55% versus 46%).  Inversely, article graphics showed a greater proportion than advertisement of images reflecting muscle tone (44% versus 39%), average-sized body shapes (44% versus 35%), mature adults (24% versus 20%), men (26% versus 17%), and well-known yogis (12% versus 8%).

Z-tests of proportion (see Table 2) revealed several significant differences between male and female images for depicted demographics and other variables of interest. Images of women were more likely than images of men to be shown in advertisements (67% versus 54%), to be sexualized (15% versus 10%), to be young (80% versus 54%), to be white (72% versus 67%), to be thin (60% versus 29%), to be nude (3% versus 1.5%).  Male images, on the other hand were more likely than female images to be shown in article graphics (47% versus 33%), to be of average body size (60% versus 31%), to depict a person of color (24% versus 17%), to be a mature adult (40% versus 17%) or a child (7% versus 3%), and to be famous (20% versus 7%).

Trend Analyses

Figures 1 to 4 depict changes in demographic variables of images across time. Figure 1 reveals minimal changes in the proportion of individuals who are white, of color, or ambiguous, with a slight trend toward fewer ambiguous and more images of individuals of color.  Figure 2 reveals an increase in images of women with a commensurate decrease on images of men.  The percentage of males depicted throughout the magazine decreased from 24.7% in 2007 to 16.3% in 2014; the percentage of females portrayed increased from 74.4% in 2007 to 83.3% in 2014.

Figure 3 reveals that with regard to body size, the proportion of individuals rated as thinner than average steadily increased from 51.1% in 2007 to 60.7% in 2014.  Concurrently, the percentage of individuals rated as heavier-than-average body size steadily decreased from 2.7% in 2007 to 0.4% in 2014. The percentage of individuals rated as having average body size changed inconsistently, but decreased slightly over time, from 37.2% in 2007 to 35.6% in 2014. Another notable change, shown in Figure 4, was a steady increase of images rated as sexualized. In 2007, 6.1% of all images were rated thus, in comparison to 12.6% of all images in 2014.

Figure 1. Racial diversity across time

Figure 2. Gender representation across time

Figure 3. Depictions of body size across time

Figure 4. Percentage of sexualized images across time

Discussion and Implications

Overall, results demonstrate a media portrayal of yoga consistent with stereotypes of who practices yoga in the US. As originally hypothesized, individuals depicted were most likely white, female, young adults, of thinner-than-average body size. Males, pregnant women, and individuals with an average or heavier than average body size were depicted much less frequently than their counterparts. Although this demographic portrayal is similar to that of other popular magazines within the United States, it is problematic, as research has demonstrated the potentially detrimental effects of thin-ideal images on self-objectification, self-esteem, body satisfaction, and overall body image (Grabe et al., 2008; Groesz et al., 2002; Milkie, 1999).

A limited view of who does yoga serves to perpetuate extant stereotypes that an individual already has to be of a certain body type or group to be invited into the practice.  Overall, most of the individuals depicted were unidentifiable models (rather than renowned yogis or celebrities), which is somewhat unsurprising and typical of most media publications. However, one could argue that a leading yoga publication with a following and a prominent voice in the field could use this power to focus more on depicting well-known practitioners of all races, ages, and body sizes, as a means of providing role-models and inspiration to a more diverse readership.

Several changes across time are important to note, as it was hypothesized that the number of individuals who are older adults, male, persons of color, and individuals who are of average or heavier than average body size will increase between 2007 and 2014. First, with regard to body size, there was a steady increase in the proportion of individuals judged as thinner than average, with a commensurate decrease of individuals judged as average or heavier than average. The proportion of sexualized images also increased over time, consistent with other more generalized media portrayals. Changes in racial diversity were somewhat inconsistent. Overall, between 2007 and 2014, the proportion of persons of color increased slightly whereas the proportion of white individuals decreased. However, the changes were minimal, inconsistent, and insignificant and fell short of an indication of growing racial inclusiveness.

Gender Portrayals and Biases

As hypothesized, females were depicted much more frequently than males and this unequal portrayal grew more disproportionate over time. A steady decrease in the proportion of males may inadvertently promote myths of the exclusivity of yoga as a practice that mostly caters to or is beneficial for females. A greater proportion of men of color was depicted (23.5%) in comparison to women of color (16.5%), which is interesting given that overall more female images were portrayed and the readership is disproportionately female.  Both factors argue that increasing racial diversity of the female images will be important to increase accessibility of the content.

Adding to the problem, more male than female images were depicted as renowned yogis. This bias perpetuates a gender hierarchy wherein men are viewed as more likely to have positions of social power, including in the world of yoga. Mixed messages about sex and power in yoga may indicate to readers that although yoga is a female-dominated practice, leaders in the field continue to be male.

Not surprisingly, more women than men were shown in sexualized images, perpetuating stereotypes and sending problematic messages that undermine the notion of creating safe yoga spaces for all genders, and perhaps contributing to the self-objectification of women. Additionally, researchers have found that lack of interoceptive awareness (i.e., a primary focus of a yoga practice) mediates the relationship between self-objectification and symptoms of depression and disordered eating (Peat & Muehlenkamp, 2011).  Thus, these images may have detrimental effects on readers that are both direct and indirect (i.e., perpetuating gender biases and contributing to socially constructed beauty ideals, while preventing women’s engagement in a practice that may develop psychological protective factors such as interoceptive awareness.

Lastly, a significantly larger proportion of women (than men) were depicted with thinner than average body size, which reflects the long-standing female-centric trend of thin-ideal images across the media. Ample research has demonstrated the detrimental effects of these images, as well as the means by which thin-ideal and sexualized images promote self-objectification of young girls and women. Given Yoga Journal’s largely female readership, the publication has a strong influence and significant opportunity to help promote more realistic and attainable beauty standards that may ultimately serve to be a psychologically and physically safer alternative for women.

Comparison of Article Graphics with Advertisements

Magazine images overall disproportionately consisted of advertisements versus article graphics. This is problematic, given the extensive literature that demonstrates potentially detrimental effects of certain advertisements (specifically with thin-ideal images) on body image and satisfaction (Grabe et al., 2008; Groesz et al., 2002).

It was hypothesized that editorial graphics would reflect greater racial, gender, and age diversity than advertisement images, which was supported by the data gathered. There were clear demographic differences between graphics and advertisements across the magazine. Specifically, graphics accompanying articles demonstrated more diversity across demographics (i.e., with regard to gender, age, race) than did the advertisements. A significantly higher proportion of females were depicted in advertisements (82.2%) than males (16.8%), reflective of female-centered advertising for yoga-related products. Interestingly, males were more likely to be depicted as young adults in graphics versus mature adults in advertisements; the opposite was true for females – they were more likely to be depicted as young adults in advertisements, whereas graphics portrayed more diversity across age for females. Sexualized images of females appeared more frequently in advertisements than in article graphics.  Women of color were depicted more often in graphics than in advertisements, but the opposite was true for men of color. Clearly, advertisements continue to perpetuate many limiting stereotypes associated with the practice of yoga in the US, whereas article graphics reflect a slightly more deliberate attempt by editors to be inclusive and balanced in their portrayal.

Conclusion and Recommendations

As yoga’s utilization continues to increase, the demographics represented among practitioners continue to shift and slowly broaden. Limited or exclusionary media portrayals may discourage individuals who are not exposed to models representative of their own gender, age, race, or body type. It is problematic that diversity factors most disproportionally represented within yoga practitioners and media images of yoga (females, thinner than average body size, white) have also grown more pronounced over time. This trajectory is not aligned with our cultural progression and discourse centered on valuing diversity. Findings indicate a need for increased media representation of diverse populations – across the multiple dimensions of ethnicity, age, body shapes, gender, and role or leadership within yoga.

Thus, the following recommendations are offered to publications such as Yoga Journal. First, to counteract Western stereotype of yoga as a privileged activity for thin, physically fit, Caucasian women, media publications, including Yoga Journal, should focus on diversifying images of yoga. This could start with over-representing minority identities, and portraying a range of body sizes and shapes, ages, types of practice, genders, and races. Second, depicting images of well-known female yogis in leadership positions could help battle stereotypic gender roles that currently perpetuate the social power of males. Third, to reflect the adaptable nature of a yoga practice, it may be helpful for media images to depict models and yogis from a range of occupational backgrounds, and in varying contexts (e.g., home, work). Lastly, the practice of yoga does not necessitate expensive props, clothing, or mats. Yoga Journal can best serve their readership by depicting images of household items (e.g., tie or hand towel as a strap) that could serve as props. This may increase accessibility of the practice to individuals of a lower socioeconomic status who may misperceive yoga as an activity that requires significant financial resources.

Following these recommendations may help increase participation in yoga of more marginalized groups and broaden the current demographic representation of yoga practitioners. Promoting a more inclusive media portrayal of yoga is important in increasing access to the practice for individuals who would benefit from yoga but do not perceive themselves as fitting current practitioner stereotypes.

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