Clash of the Philosophies: Lululemon, Yoga and Ayn Rand

Lululemon, an athletic apparel store that specializes in yoga gear and clothing, recently added the phrase “Who is John Galt?” to their holiday tote bags.

First, some background. John Galt is a character from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, who encourages the great creative leaders of the world to strike and “stop the motor of the world” to topple the hyper-socialized government and culture of mediocrity. He is a symbol of the power and capabilities of the individual. However, he also serves the purpose of undermining the suppressing effect of egalitarian societies, which is to say he represents anti-socialist sentiment. See, Ayn Rand felt that socialism in all forms undermines the creative powers of the individual by bowing to the common good.

And therein lies the rub. See, the Tea Party has embraced the question “Who is John Galt?” as a symbol of the evils of socialism and egalitarian idealism. Ironic, because Ayn Rand was also an atheist and the Tea Party is overwhelmingly Christian. However, that’s beside the point. The point is that the Tea Party is heavily anti-charity-in-any-form and they cling to the notion of “rational self-interest” as a way of running the world. Basically, it’s every man for himself, and we don’t care if that leaves you and your babies homeless because if it does, you probably deserve it.

Now Lululemon is known for their high quality yoga apparel and are one of the (if not THE) leading brands in yoga. The “Virtue of Selfishness” is not at all in line with yoga philosophy… or so people argue.

I understand that it’s a contentious piece and Ayn Rand is viewed by many as a contemptible and perhaps naive human being. However, I see where Lululemon is coming from. They’re not saying that charity is isn’t a virtue; they’re saying that loving and thinking of yourself is. It’s not about ONLY thinking of yourself- it’s about taking the time TO think of yourself.

Am I making sense?

I think the moms out there understand what I’m saying because they do it every single day. We’d LOVE to have spa day once a week, but we all know that’s not gonna happen.

See, every day, there are sacrifices that we have to make because we have responsibilities to our families, our colleagues, the people to whom we pay the bills, so on and so forth. But what about our needs? What about the SELF? I’m not talking about the facades that everyone knows you by, or what Jung would call the “persona;” I’m talking about what’s deep inside – the soul, the inside, the person you are when no one is looking. That part of us is so often neglected, our deepest passions pushed aside for the obligations we have to fulfill on an every day basis. We settle for less than what we want, less than our best.

Now I love yoga. Yoga helps me center, get back in tune with myself, and realize the greater parts of myself. I have to push myself, break free of self-imposed limitations, and elevate.

THAT is the message Lululemon was speaking to. They’re not getting political on us, at least not from what I gathered from their blog post on the matter. They’re encouraging anyone who sees or hears about those bags to break free from societal constraints and explore their own greatness.

Or at least that’s my interpretation.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in the community who refuse to see past the overlap with the Tea Party. It’s a bit ignorant, quite frankly. Just because they draw inspiration from the same piece does NOT mean they are the same in any way.

Take “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.” Some people may read a kindly, humble shepherd promising a life of love and splendor to the woman he loves. Others may read a young shepherd propositioning an unknown woman for sex by promising the sun, moon, and stars just to get her in bed.

“We will sit upon the rocks”? Come on!

Anyway, I’m just trying to make the point that two people can interpret the same work in different ways. Simple as that. To vilify Lululemon for drawing inspiration from the same place as the Tea Party is naive to say the least, and worse is imposing those philosophies on them DESPITE a statement which is clearly to the contrary.

Now from a literary perspective, I understand that this is somewhat of a shallow or at the very least narrow interpretation of the 1200 page work, but like I said, we all read things differently. Lulu CHOSE to discuss the perspective of promoting the greatness and power of the human mind.

A final note: For those of you unfamiliar with Lululemon, they host FREE yoga classes every week in their stores (by the way, that link also includes a few yoga videos for home practice). You don’t have to buy their merchandise, you don’t have to pay any fees, and in all the stores I’ve been to, they have extra yoga mats to borrow if need be. In fact, this is how I became acquainted with the brand. Yes, the clothing is VERY expensive, and frankly, I don’t feel comfortable paying $95 for a pair of yoga pants, because I’d be far too tempted to wear them in public in a NON-yoga situation, and I’m not ready to go there yet.

Anyway, they are a very successful business whose products aren’t necessarily accessible for all budgets (I know they’re not in mine), but they DO give back, not just to the community, but also to the local yoga studios (read: small businesses) who come in to teach at their stores (by way of introducing them to people who may have never heard of them otherwise). I find it terribly sad that people choose to vilify this company, which directly gives more than many do, but that’s a choice anyone is entitled to. As for me, I will certainly continue to enjoy their yoga classes and encourage anyone who wants to learn more about or try yoga to do the same.

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