Course:HIST104/Lululemon Yoga Mats

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Lululemon Yoga Mats


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Origins of Yoga

Yoga, originating in India about 2500 years ago, is a physical and spiritual practice to attain self-actualization and to become one with the universe. It, therefore, has a long, complex history. While the exact origin of yoga is unknown, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (c. 200 BCE – 200 CE) provide some of the earliest textual evidence of its practice.[1] The text, written in verse, outlines the basic principles of yoga on which all subsequent practices and schools have been based. These principles include a guide for morality, physical postures, breathing practices, and meditative techniques. While the “classical” yoga of the Sutras, known as raja yoga, originally focussed on kaivalya, or “isolation of the self,”[2], yoga has since evolved into a plethora of practices and techniques with varying goals, from spiritual enlightenment to physical fitness. Defining yoga (from the Sanskrit word yuj, meaning “to join together”), therefore, is dependent on the socio-political and historical context that is being studied. One fundamental principle of yoga is to consistently cross cultural boundaries, however, is the idea that physical fitness is a requirement for spiritual enlightenment, which occurs when the subject realizes that the human spirit and that of the universe are one. Yoga is thus a method towards spiritual realization.


Western Evolution of Yoga

The encounter between yoga and the west, in the mid-19th century, has led to a radical transformation of traditional yoga into a postmodern cultural trend. Yoga, formerly a male-oriented religious activity, has since evolved into a globalized and largely secular phenomenon. [3]

Swami Vivekananda was the first Hindu teacher of yoga in the West. [4] His interpretation of yoga shifted its focus from esotericism to the promotion of health and freedom, two vital concepts for the West’s pursuit of “modernity” during the turn of the twentieth century.[5] Swami Vivekananda’s teachings divided the yoga tradition into four distinct practices: raja yoga, associated with Paranjali’s classical precepts of moral, physical, and mental disciple, bhakti yoga, the practice of love and devotion, jñāna yoga, the path of knowledge and intellectual learning, and karma yoga, or the practice of selfless service to others.[6] He did not invent these categories, but rather amalgamated and crystallized many difference textual traditions for simple consumption by a Western capitalist and modern audience.[7]

Shri Yogendra further popularized yoga as a healthy physical practice during the 1920’s by removing the spiritual and cultural aspects from physicality of the practice.[8] By secularizing the practice, Shri Yogendra lessened the stigma for Western, and mostly Christian, audiences towards “Eastern” practices.

Modern Yoga

Vivekananda’s focus on the aspects of health and freedom in yoga has had remarkable staying power through the twentieth and into the twenty-first century.[9] Hatha Yoga is the most popular form of Western yoga, of which asana and pranayama are the primary components. Although there a number of forms of yoga practiced in a global context, most forms are based on these two components. Asana refers to the movement of the various postures or poses, which is combined with pranayama, or deep breathing exercises. This is also referred to as Modern Postural Yoga and has become extremely popular as a form of physical exercise; again, the Western adoption of yoga, a complex religious and historical practice, has tended to focus on the health and physical exercise components of the discipline.


Implications & Ramifications of Yoga in Western Popular Culture

One of the major implications of the West’s adoption of yoga is that it has cut ties with the religious component of the practice. The Western practice of yoga has stepped away from the spiritual motivations of the practice and moved towards more scientific, empirical, and secular interpretations.[10] In terms of modern yoga, Srinivas claims that “while one face is traditional and is promoted as authentic and ancient wisdom, the other face is a (post) modern one that appeals to consumers who approach it with a utilitarian/functional perspective.”[11] In terms of this, Modern Postural Yoga has become extremely popular due to its functional purposes of exercise and increasing health benefits.

Yoga has been appropriated by various companies, such as Lululemon, as a branding tool; consumers, therefore, buy both a product to enhance their lifestyles, and a set of tacit cultural associations that reinforce their practices. Laverence claims that “lululemon branding consistently refers to vague, homogenizing and orientalist concepts of Eastern spiritualities that instrumentalize yogic practices, and reinforce Western ideologies of healthism along with personal, bodily, and market performance.”[12] The West’s perception of yoga as a primarily physical, and secular practice, has enabled the commodification of yogic practices, and spurred a large, globalized industry of yoga-related products. Arguably, the most iconic yoga accessory is the yoga mat.


History of the Yoga Mat

In ancient India, yoga practices were performed on various types of materials, such as kusha grass mats, animal skin rugs or even plainly practiced on hard earth without any covers. Different social status groups used different types of material for their yoga mats. Those who were more fortunate conducted their yoga practices on rugs that were constructed out of deer or tiger skins, as they believed yoga was a sacred meditation practice for them to connect with their gods and goddess. Thus, they believed that only the usage of sacred animal skins could express their divine respect for the gods and goddess; more importantly animal skins helped to identify their social wealth status among society. As animal skins became more and more limited and scarce, the cost for animal rugs increased in value and kusha grass mats became the more popular yoga mat choice among yoga practitioners.

As yoga traveled to the West, traditional changes to yoga were also made. Traditional kusha grass mats were replaced with towels or cotton mats to suit the hard wooden floors, where the majority of Western practitioners practiced their daily yoga rituals. However, towels and cotton mats did not live a long legacy in Western yoga practices, as they kept on slipping on the wooden floors.

In the 1980’s, a yoga teacher named Angela Farmer spotted a roll of matting at a local market in Germany; she decided to use a towel-sized carpet underlay in her yoga classes. As Angela traveled back to London with her carpet underlay matting, her father Richard Farmer, decided to contact a padding manufacturer about his yoga mat idea and became the first retailer of “sticky mats”. World-renowned yoga instructor, Angela Farmer, can be acknowledged as the true inventor of yoga-purposed rubber mats. These mats would come to be viewed as an essential accessory to the modern practice of yoga in the 1980s.

Due to export duties and international shipping costs, “sticky mats” were relatively more expensive for yoga consumers in North America. Thus, Sara Chambers, of Hugger Mugger Yoga Accessories Company began to manufacture specifically yoga-purposed rubber mats of their own in North America in the early 1990s. The Hugger Mugger yoga mats were named the “Tapas Mat” and were more durable, less expensive and available in a variety of colors than the “sticky mats.” Later versions of “sticky mats” and “Tapas Mats” were released in different levels of thicknesses, to suit different kinds of surfaces that yoga practitioners work on. Lululemon, one of the most well-known producers of yoga-related products, has, in turn, manufactured its own version of the yoga mat.

History of the Lululemon Company

Dennis “Chip” Wilson founded the Lululemon athletic company in 1998. He previously owned a business that sold athletic wear for skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding. After taking his first yoga class in Vancouver, Wilson was inspired to create clothing that was more appropriate for doing yoga than the cotton fabrics that most people wore. His passion for technical athletic fabrics led him to create yoga wear would stand up to the critiques of actual yoga instructors. Wilson used their critiques and notes to improve his designs. Wilson’s clothing thus catered to the growing demand for specialty apparel.[13]

The business grew rapidly and the first store was opened in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2000. The name Lululemon was decided by surveying 100 individuals who chose from 20 names and 20 logos. Wilson’s initial hopes for the store was that it would be a place where people involved or interested in athletics and living healthy lifestyles could discuss ideas surrounding those topics. Due to a high demand for the Lululemon products, the company changed direction and quickly expanded in order to keep up with their growing popularity.[14] Lululemon stores are now designed to be epicenters Western yogic lifestyles, with the expressed purpose to inspire and induce people to become active. “Health” appears to be a principal part of the company’s corporate and social identity.


Continued Success

As a result of their growing success in January of 2008, Lululemon opened ninety new stores across North America, Australia and Japan.[15] In 2013 they began opening showrooms all over the world in places such as New Zealand, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. Their net revenue has increased from $40.7 million in 2004 to $1,370.4 million in 2012.[16] The company’s success can be largely attributed to the cult-like following they have acquired.[17] Many claim that the loyalty of the customers is a result of the culture created by the company. The company also says that their “relationship with their employees is…a contributor to their success.”[18]

The Lululemon Yoga Mat

The two-sided non-slip yoga mat is made of three distinctive layers, the upper layer, the core and the lower layer. The upper and lower layers that surround the core are made of multiple layers of a glass fibre cloth or non-woven synthetic resin. The core is comprised of a natural rubber cushion blended with ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) copolymer resins, which are commonly used for coatings, sealants and adhesives. The two layers on top of it are coated with non-slip, highly breathable substances like silicone and polyurethane. They are also coated with an anti-microbial finish that prevents the growth of critters, such as lice, or odor-causing bacteria.[19]

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A Closer Look at Natural Rubber

Natural rubber is harvested from the latex of certain trees [Figure 2]. The main suppliers of rubber are Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. In 2013, Malaysia exported 13,569 tons of natural rubber to the United States of America. In 2012, Malaysia also exported 306,512 tons of natural rubber to China; in the same year, 34% of Lululemon’s products were manufactured in China.[20]

By tracing the journey of natural rubber, only one component in Lululemon’s yoga mats, it becomes clear that these products are, like many others today, global in terms of its manufacturing and distribution. Each yoga mat is a world traveler.


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Advertising and marketing

Lululemon uses a grassroots approach to marketing. As a company they do not make use of “traditional” advertising techniques, such as TV ads or bulletin boards, although they do advertise in 1-2 publications each month. The idea behind Lululemon’s approach is to have a strong community focus by building relationships with local athletes and fitness studios in the areas that they have stores. Before opening any store, they begin with building relationships with the key yoga and fitness studios in the area and getting all of the best athletes and yoga studios on board so that when the store opens, they already have key influential people in that area on board that are able to represent their products. Word of mouth is also the most important way that they "market" or advertise.

They use the same style of advertising for their yoga mats that they use with all the their products. One of their measures of success is having the top yoga studios in a community using their mats.[21]


Globalization and The Lululemon Yoga Mat

Yoga’s global popularity is the result of a reinterpretation of the meaning of yoga in different cultural contexts, made possible by “globalization.” Globalization, a phenomenon guided by the spread of technology and the movement of people, has many ramifications for the study of commodities. Products are now truly transnational, in that they are often produced in one country, out of materials from multiple countries, and marketed and distributed around the globe. Lululemon, for example, was founded in Vancouver, Canada, yet most of its products are made in China, and from materials with various origin points. The yoga mat, as discussed in the previous section, is a product of multiple countries. Yet, this transnational context is often down-played in lululemon advertising, where the practice of yoga is sold as a complement to a healthy, Western lifestyle.

Yoga mats are no longer commonly seen as religious objects. Rather, they have become a symbol of new age spirituality, positivity, and most notably, the pursuit of balanced health.[22] Lululemon, with over 100 locations in Canada, United States, Australia and Hong Kong now markets Yoga mats for mainstream pursuers of yoga [23]. Without globalization, yoga may have been confined to India. It is important to note, however, that globalization has shaped not only the perception of yoga as a practice, but has, rather, turned yoga into an industry.


References:

  1. Strauss, Sarah. Positioning yoga. Berg, 2005. 3
  2. Strauss, 4
  3. Strauss, 5
  4. David Gordon White, Yoga in Practice (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2012), 2
  5. Strauss, 5
  6. Strauss, 9
  7. Strauss, 10
  8. Mark Singleton, Gurus of Modern Yoga (USA, Oxford University Press, 2013), 28
  9. Singleton, 5
  10. Singleton, 2
  11. Krishna Ravi Srinivas, “Intellectual Property Rights and Traditional Knowledge: The Case of Yoga,” Economic and Political Weekly 42, no. 27 (2007): 2866, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4419783.
  12. Christine Lavrence and Kristin Lozanski, “This is not your Practice Life: Lululemon and the Neoliberal Governance of Self,” Canadian Review of Sociology 51, no.1 (2014), http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cars.12034/pdf.
  13. Lululemon Athletica, "Form 10-K Annual Report (March 17, 2011)”. http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/LULU/3059363080x0x677637/64A2CB6B0B78-41FD-A536-B99C8245F022/2012_Annual_Report.pdf (Accessed April 1, 2014.)
  14. Lululemon Athletica, "Lululemon Website." http://www.lululemon.com/about/history (Accessed March 29th, 2014.)
  15. Carlie C.Stokes, “Healthist Ideologizes: The Case of Lululemon Athletica”. (MA.diss.Queen's University, August 2008).http://hdl.handle.net/1974/1350 (Accessed March 31st, 2014)
  16. Lululemon Athletica, "Form 10-K Annual Report (March 17, 2011).”http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/LULU/3059363080x0x677637/64A2CB6B0B78-41FD-A536-B99C8245F022/2012_Annual_Report.pdf
  17. Carlie C.Stokes, “Healthist Ideologizes: The Case of Lululemon Athletica”. (MA.diss.Queen's University, August 2008).http://hdl.handle.net/1974/1350 (Accessed March 31st, 2014)
  18. Lululemon Athletica, "Form 10-K Annual Report (March 17, 2011)”. http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/LULU/3059363080x0x677637/64A2CB6B0B78-41FD-A536-B99C8245F022/2012_Annual_Report.pdf (Accessed April 1, 2014.)
  19. Sung, Mi Woo. Patent for the two-sided, non-slip yoga mat, (2010). https://www.google.com/patents/WO2010050658A1?cl=en&dq=what is the lululemon yoga mat made out of&hl=en&sa=X&ei=if46U5HiMKie2QWngIGoCw&ved=0CEoQ6AEwAw.( Accessed March 31st, 2014)
  20. “Natural Rubber Statistics (2013).”http://www.lgm.gov.my/nrstat/nrstats.pdf.( Accessed April 1, 2014.)
  21. Simkus, Lisa (Merchandise Buyer at Lululemon Athletica). Interview. 28-3-2014
  22. Braun, Tosca. (August 28, 2012). The globalization of Yoga. Yoga Basics. Retrieved from http://www.yogabasics.com/connect/the-globalization-of-yoga/
  23. Lululemon. Retrieved from http://www.lululemon.com/dealers

Other Works Cited:

"About Us: Hugger Mugger Inc." Web log post. Hugger Mugger Yoga Products, Yoga Gear, & Yoga Supplies. N.p., 2011. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

Ruiz, Fernando Pages. "Sticky Business." Yoga Journal. Cruz Bay Publishing, Inc., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.