Aim True Yoga

Amara Miller

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AIM TRUE YOGA TIMELINE

1982:  Kathryn Budig was born Lawrence Kansas.

2004:  Budig finished her 200-hour TeacherTraining at YogaWorks in Santa Monica, California.

2008:  Budig became involved in the ToeSox® “Body as Temple” ad campaign.

2010:  The #Nudegate controversy in yoga is associated with Budig and the ToeSox® campaign.

2011:  Budig released her first solo DVD, Kathryn Budig Aim True Yoga, which became the basis of her brand.

2012:  Budig signed a contract with Under Armour Women as a sponsored athlete for the “I Will What I Want” campaign.

2012:  The Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga by Budig was published.

2012:  Budig stopped teaching regularly at YogaWorks.

2014 (October):  Budig was featured in Yoga Journal’s controversial “Body Issue.”

2015:  Budig became embroiled in controversy regarding her cooptation of the body positivity movement in yoga.

2016:  Budig’s book Aim True was published, elaborating on her philosophy of life.

FOUNDER/GROUP HISTORY

Aim True Yoga was developed by celebrity teacher Kathryn Budig and is part of her broader personal branding strategy pursued during her rise to fame in the yoga world. Budig has described “Aim True” as her personal mantra and since 2011 has developed a branded spiritual community predicated on the phrase.

Kathryn Budig was born in 1982 and grew up in Lawrence, Kansas. Her father, Gene Budig, was active in the Air National Guard and served as the Chancellor of the University of Kansas from 1980 to 1994. From 1994 to 1999, he was the president of the American League, one of two major baseball leagues that make up the Major League Baseball (MLB) in the United States and Canada. In 1994, when her father started his new position, their family moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where Kathryn attended Princeton High School. She was deeply involved in the theater program in her school and later pursued a double major in English and Drama at the University of Virginia. After graduating from college, Budig moved to Los Angeles, hoping to make it in Hollywood. According to Rosman (2018), “she ended up finding fame on a different sort of stage—the world of Western yoga, which has become inhabited by avid, even rabid, students who look upon favored instructors as gurus and travel hundreds of miles to attend workshops as if they are rock concerts.”

In 2004, Budig began her yoga teacher training at YogaWorks with prominent ashtanga teachers Maty Ezraty and Chuck Miller. She originally pursued teaching as a “side-hustle,” hoping to find a job that she could use to support herself as she pursued an acting career. However, disillusioned from her experiences in Hollywood, she found herself hooked by the practice. Within eighteen months after she began teaching at both of the YogaWorks Santa Monica studios, her classes were in-demand and she decided to focus entirely on her teaching career in yoga, believing it to be “a kinder, though still competitive, profession that also relied on stage presence and showmanship” (Rosman 2018).

Budig rose to yoga celebrity status after her involvement in the ToeSox® “The Body As Temple” ad campaign began in 2008, which features Budig completely nude other than the ToeSox® on her feet in a variety of advanced postural poses. [Image at right] Tastefully photographed by Jasper Johal, the images rocketed her to instant stardom. In 2010, the ad campaign experienced heavy criticism from prominent teachers, feminists, and other activists in yoga who argued that images like those featured in “The Body As Temple” campaign contributed to the sexualization and exploitation of women in the yoga industry (Miller 2016). Ironically, the controversy surrounding the ToeSox® advertisements helped Budig reach wider audiences, a process facilitated by new social media forms like Facebook (which was available for public use starting in 2006) and Instagram (founded in 2010). Budig quickly gathered large numbers of followers on these platforms, becoming one of the best-known yoga teachers in the country.

She released her first solo DVD, Kathryn Budig Aim True Yoga, the following year in 2011, and has since used the phrase “Aim True” as the foundation for her personal brand. According to Budig’s social media page, “Artemis, Goddess of the Moon, inspired me to create Aim True: an all-encompassing term for how I live my life.” She always loved anything mythical, magical, or supernatural. Once when she was going through a “string of unsavory events” in her personal life, she would read a book on Greek and Roman myths (Budig 2010). She was drawn to the stories of Artemis, described by Budig as the Huntress or the Goddess of the Moon. Budig considered Artemis to be the epitome of female courage, a protector of women, and a provider of strength. Sick of failed relationships, a serendipitous shopping experience after unfortunate news about her ex-partner led her to a necklace featuring a simple gold arrow dangling next to a crescent moon. Wearing the necklace brought her an immediate sense of calm and purpose, and from that point on, Budig found herself holding the necklace in times of need and asking for Artemis for support (Budig 2010).

Budig stopped teaching regular classes in Santa Monica at YogaWorks in 2012 and transitioned to teaching workshops and retreats around the globe, as well as filming regular classes with popular online Yogaglo streaming site (Yogaglo website 2019). That same year she became a sponsored athlete by Under Armour Women for their “I Will What I Want” campaign, modeling their women’s studio line in advertisements. Budig also worked with Women’s Health during 2012 to produce her first book, the Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga: The Essential Guide to Complete Mind/Body Fitness (2012). She has since been a contributing writer for The Huffington Post, Yoga Journal, Gaiam, The Daily Love, Elephant Journal, and MindBodyGreen and has been featured on covers of numerous magazines, including Yoga Journal, Yoga International, Om Yoga and Common Ground. She is also the founder of Poses for Paws, a nonprofit organization she co-founded in 2007 that partners with organizations in the yoga industry, including ToeSox®, to raise money for animal shelters.

Since 2014, Kathryn Budig has pursued a more body positive approach to yoga teaching, an orientation that has become part of the overarching lifestyle associated with Aim True Yoga (Miller 2016). In October 2014, Budig was the cover model of Yoga Journal’s controversial “Body Issue,” which featured her article, “Cover Model Kathryn Budig on Self-Acceptance.” The issue was presented as a more body positive approach to the magazine, which had recently been under heavy fire for their lack of diverse representation in the publication. Budig and Yoga Journal engaged in a social media campaign utilizing the hashtag #loveyourbody as part of marketing efforts to promote the issue. Despite controversy regarding her increasing visibility as sole spokesperson for body positive yoga (Miller 2016), Budig continued to produce media content during 2015 about the importance of self-love and body-acceptance as a way of “aiming true.”

In 2016, she published her second book, titled Aim True: Love Your Body, Eat Without Fear, Nourish Your Spirit, Discover True Balance, which elaborates further on her philosophy. [Image at right] Budig (2017) has described it as “a lifestyle book that fuses yoga, meditation, cooking, partnership and philosophy all under the umbrella of what it means to aim true.” During promotion for the book, Budig presented Aim True Yoga as “a way to help people who struggle with their own body image” (Rice 2019). According to Budig, “by spreading the universal message of being true to yourself, she can create a community that can relate to each other and support one another” (Rice 2019).

Recently, Budig has been transitioning away from yoga teaching to focus on her work as a social media influencer on health and wellness topics and to pursue a professional shift toward food (Rosman 2018). She currently runs a podcast, Free Cookies, with her co-host and fiancé, Kate Fagan. Originally produced by espnW, Budig and Fagan now run the podcast themselves out of their hometown, Charleston, South Carolina. Budig has cut back on travel, including her postural yoga workshops and classes. What these life changes will mean for the Aim True Yoga brand and community remain to be seen. She currently has 224,000 followers on Instagram and around 230,000 on Facebook.

DOCTRINES/BELIEFS

“Aim true” is the personal mantra of the founder of Aim True Yoga, Kathryn Budig. According to Budig, the beauty and power of the phrase is that it’s universal. That is, a group of people could easily come up with a collective definition, yet each person also has their own unique understanding of the phrase, making it a personal experience as well. Aim True Yoga utilizes various yoga, meditation, and food practices to help followers realize their “own definition of what it means to aim true—a verbal tattoo that lives in your heart, showing how you want to live your life” (Budig 2016:1).

As recounted above, Budig’s use of the phrase was driven by her childhood interest in ancient Greek mythology and one goddess, Artemis, “known as the goddess of the moon and the hunt, and the protector of women” (Budig 2016:1). After Budig’s arrow necklace encounter reminded her of the myths she used to read in her youth, she dug further research on the myths surrounding Artemis and began to use the following prayer, which later served as the basis for her personal brand of yoga:

Artemis, huntress of the moon, make my aim true. Give me goals to seek and the constant determination to achieve them. Grant me communion with nature, allow me to live surrounded by plants and animals that I can grow, protect and nurture. Allow me the strength and wisdom to be my own mistress, not defined by the expectations of others. And sustain my sexuality to be as yours—wild and free as nature itself (Budig 2016:3, emphasis added).

Aim True Yoga is similar to other yoga styles and spiritual traditions that are oriented toward self-realization. However, in this branded community, this focus is removed from specific yoga lineages or spiritual beliefs and instead emphasizes and more general self-help approach to help followers discover how they want to live their “true” lives. Aiming true is thus “an opportunity to embrace your talents and find a peaceful state of self-acceptance” (Budig 2016:7). In her book, Budig describes taking aim as a “pursuit of finding what makes you come alive… [and] learning what your amazing qualities and talents are so you can share them with the people around you” (Budig 2016:13). By doing so, she believes her followers are able to go out into the world, light their fires, and inspire others to do the same (2016:14).

During workshops, Budig has described how aiming true “means every day setting an intention of being the best that you can be, making decisions that are in alignment with that intention, and not steering from the course” (Maros 2019). The philosophy of Aim True Yoga includes self-love, something particularly important to Budig considering that during the time when she began to develop her brand, she was “finishing up year seven in L.A., the city of perfect, pretty, skinny people…. Being in the health industry, it felt even more intense and cutthroat and I suffered from body image issues.” It was at this point that she decided to practice a more body positive approach in her life, which became integrated into her brand. According to Budig, by aiming true “with our physical bodies, we’re defined by how we feel, which allows energy to radiate” (Budig 2016:27). One of Budig’s students has described four main ways to think about “aiming true” as taught by Budig during one of her retreats, including setting intentions for your life, cultivating a confident and loving relationship with yourself, finding activities that are in alignment with your intentions and goals, and being of service by sharing ones talents and gifts with the world (Maros 2019). According to Budig, “a huge part of aiming true is staying true to yourself and not being ruled by the expectations and judgments of others… This realization helps people see past the stories they tell themselves of where they lack or could be better” (Rice 2019).

Although Budig trained with two teachers who practice a style of yoga based on the ashtanga system established by K. Pattabhi Jois, Aim True Yoga incorporates very little from this tradition or lineage other than an emphasis during postural practices on aerobatic postures (e.g., arm balances or hand stands) and what is commonly referred to today as vinyasa flow styles. During postural yoga practices, Budig aims to help students free themselves from any constraints or self-limiting beliefs they might hold, by facilitating a practice that is less serious and regimented than many other teachers (Rice 2019). Aim True Yoga is thus more closely connected to the styles taught through YogaWorks teacher trainings than ashtanga lineages per se. Aim True Yoga is also largely devoid of any specific teachings from yogic philosophical or spiritual traditions, instead promoting a more universalized, self-help themed philosophy of life.

RITUALS/PRACTICES

One of the first ritual practices used by Budig in the development of her brand was the prayer to Artemis described above that inspired her emphasis on the phrase “aim true.” Today, Aim True Yoga incorporates a variety of yoga, meditation, and food rituals and practices that Budig utilizes in her own personal life and then promotes to her followers, including various self-help tools like journaling that are utilized in ritualistic ways by followers (e.g., Budig 2016). These various practices are designed to uncover ones’ unique talents and use them to pursue one’s passions, thereby living one’s best life, per the philosophy promoted by Kathryn Budig. These practices also help form what Arvidsson (2005) refers to as a brand community. Budig’s teaching activities, particularly her workshops, retreats, and classes (online and in person), help to create shared emotional experiences and values among her followers and students. Budig’s teachings are overwhelmingly focused on the body and various types of body work that followers can pursue as a means of aiming true in their lives.

Budig’s teachings regularly incorporate intense postural yoga classes, including complex and aerobic sequences and poses like hand stands and arm balances. [Image at right] The specific sequence of poses varies from class to class, but similar to many vinyasa flow styles, Budig’s asana classes generally start with some sort of intention setting or theme, which sets the tone for the class and helps to generate shared emotional and physically intense experiences among participants. This is followed by some variation on sun salutations, a series of postures leading to a “peak pose,” a cool down, and finally a brief time spent in savasana, or corpse pose.

Budig’s workshops and retreats often incorporate other social activities, including eating and drinking with other attendees, storytelling, spa activities, as well as other physical exercise activities like surfing, martial arts, skydiving, hiking, horseback riding, or archery. Food is very important to Budig, especially given her recent professional shift toward culinary experiences. When food is incorporated into Aim True yoga, such as the recipes and activities included in her 2016 book, these rituals generally prioritize healthy eating of organic, whole foods as a key component to health, wellness, and self-actualization.

ORGANIZATION/LEADERSHIP

Aim True Yoga is the personal brand of founder Kathryn Budig. Budig does not train teachers in her specific style of the practice, meaning she is the only instructor of Aim True Yoga. As such, Budig retains complete ownership and control of the direction and content produced.

The organization is oriented toward selling Budig’s teaching and products to her followers, but also encompasses Budig’s role as a social media influencer in yoga and wellness spaces. Aim True Yoga thus incorporates the personal reflections and experiences of Budig in her daily life (e.g., the origin of the brand is tied to her own personal interpretation and use of the phrase “aim true” in her life and experience buying a golden arrow necklace representing Artemis). The type of leadership and organizational structure of Aim True Yoga aligns with the experiences of many other social media influencers (SMI) who utilize new digital technologies to obtain micro-celebrity status. Hearn and Schoenhoff (2016:194) describe how “the SMI works to generate a form of “celebrity” capital by cultivating as much attention as possible and crafting an authentic “personal brand” via social networks, which can subsequently be used by companies and advertisers for consumer outreach.” In this sense, “micro-celebrity is a mind-set and a set of practices that courts attention through insights into its practitioners’ private lives, and a sense of realness that renders their narratives, their branding, both accessible and intimate” to followers (Khamis, Ang, and Welling 2017:202; see also Marwick 2013). Budig’s interactions with her followers are generally personal and facilitated through regular social media posts as well as her in-person teaching events and associated products.

Although the Aim True Yoga organization is spearheaded primarily by Budig, she does partner with a variety of other organizations and individuals in the yoga industry and beyond to promote her brand and build her following. These include other celebrity yoga teachers like Seane Corn from the organization Off the Matt Into the World®, who is one of Budig’s mentors and long-time friends. She also has industry sponsorships with ToeSox®, Under Armour Women, Women’s Health, as well as partnerships with Kira Grace (a yoga clothing company), Vapour Organic Beauty products, and Asha Patel Jewelry. Budig has regularly taught Aim True Yoga at Yoga Journal events and Wanderlust yoga festivals, as well as a variety of studios and centers in the United States and internationally.

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

Budig and her brand Aim True Yoga have been embroiled in a variety of debates regarding the commodification and sexualization of yoga. In 2010, her near-nude involvement with ToeSox® became associated with the #Nudegate scandal when one of the founding members of Yoga Journal, Judith Lasater, wrote a letter to the magazine expressing her concern about the direction the publication was taking, particularly regarding the magazine’s advertising policy and the oversexualization of the practice. Although Lasater wasn’t specifically referring to the ToeSox® ad campaign featuring Budig, prominent yoga bloggers Roseanne Harvey of It’s All Yoga Baby as well as critical yoga news site Yoga Dork also covered the piece. Both of their posts featured images from the ToeSox® campaign to illustrate Lasater’s point about the trend of sexualization in yoga advertising. These posts were picked up by other prominent wellness sites like Elephant Journal, who similarly featured images from the ToeSox® campaign in their coverage of Lasater’s concerns (Yoga Dork 2010; Harvey 2010a; Harvey 2010b). As a result of #Nudegate, Budig faced numerous online attacks and a great deal of criticism for her role in commodification and sexualization of yoga, which she has spoken about on numerous occasions, including in a response featured in the Huffington Post in September of 2010 titled “Why Are We So Freakin’ Angry?” Several years later, her incorporation of body positivity into her Aim True Yoga brand caused another controversy among feminist practitioners, who felt Budig’s increasing role as sole spokesperson for body positive yoga was problematic and co-opted from work done by the Yoga and Body Image Coalition (See, Miller 2016).

Given the entwining of her personal life and her yoga brand, as well as the careful curation of authentic content that social media influencers generally pursue online, Budig’s own personal journey of coming out as sexually fluid was also contentious. Kathryn Budig originally married Bob Crossman in 2014 after they had met when he was her sky-diving instructor in 2011. Their relationship and wedding were often discussed by Budig on her social media pages. However, their partnership didn’t last. Budig met ESPN’s Kate Fagan at several work events, and in 2015 Budig and her husband decided to separate after Budig realized she had fallen in love with Fagan (Rosman 2018). According to Budig, “on social media, I did see a big drop in numbers after I told people that I left my husband and was with a woman. And I’m sure some people were pissed that I got a divorce…. If I do post a picture about us [Budig and Fagan]… it gets a ton of love and comments and likes on the actual post, but behind the scenes, people drop out” (Gonsalves 2019).

In many ways, Aim True Yoga reflects the increasingly blurred lines between spiritual followings and branded communities. It is still unclear how the ongoing shifts in founder Kathryn Budig’s career path toward more general health, wellness, and food pursuits will impact the nature of her student following or the spiritual beliefs espoused by Aim True Yoga.

IMAGES

Image #1: ToeSox “Body as Temple” advertisement featuring Budig.
Image #2: The cover of Budig’s second book, Aim True.
Image #3: Kathryn Budig teaching a postural yoga class using archery themed modifications.

REFERENCES

Arvidsson, Adam. 2005. “Brands: A Critical Perspective.” Journal of Consumer Culture 5:235-58.
Budig, Kathryn. 2016. Aim True: Love Your Body, Eat Without Fear, Nourish Your Spirit, Discover True Balance. New York: William Morrow.

Budig, Kathryn. 2012.  Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga: The Essential Guide to Complete Mind/Body Fitness. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books.

Budig, Kathryn. 2010. “Make My Aim True: A Greek Goddess Shows Me the Way.” Elephant Journal, February 11. Accessed from https://bit.ly/2WAeI2a on 20 June 2019.

 Gonsalves, Kelly. 2019. “Kathryn Budig on What Wellness Spaces Can Do To Be More LGBTQ-Friendly.” MindBodyGreen. Accessed from https://bit.ly/2Mum8nQ on 20 June 2019.

Harvey, Roseanne. 2010a. “Judith Hanson Lasater Slams Yoga Journal for ‘Sexy Ads.’” Elephant Journal, August 6. Accessed from https://bit.ly/2Rfby2I on 20 June 2019.

Harvey, Roseanne. 2010b. “Toesoxnudegate: The Feminists and Kathryn Budig Speak Up.” It’s All Yoga Baby, September 9. Accessed from https://bit.ly/2Qxa1Hu on 20 June 2019.

Khamis, Susie, Lawrence Ang, and Raymond Welling. 2017. “Self-branding, ‘micro-celebrity’ and the rise of Social Media Influencers.” Celebrity Studies 8:191-208.

Maros, Michelle. 2019. “Make Your Aim True.” Peaceful Mind, Peaceful Life. Accessed from https://bit.ly/2X7g60q on 20 June 2019.

Marwick, Alice E. 2013. Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Miller, Amara. 2016. “Eating the Other Yogi: Kathryn Budig, the Yoga Industrial Complex, and the Appropriation of Body Positivity.” Race and Yoga 1:1-22.

Rice, Andrea. 2019. “Kathryn Budig: What it Means to Aim True.” Wanderlust. Accessed from https://bit.ly/31sDfK1 on 20 June 2019.

Rosman, Katherine. 2018. “Kathryn Budig on How to Really Live Authentically.” Yoga Journal, July. Accessed from https://bit.ly/2KMkICz on 20 June 2019.

Yoga Dork. 2018. “Are Yoga Ads Too Sexy? Have Your Say on Judith Lasater vs. Yoga Journal, ToeSox Nudegate.” Yoga Dork. Accessed from https://bit.ly/2RoIFAq on 20 June 2019.

Yogaglo website. 2019. Accessed from https://www.glo.com/ on 15 June 2019.

Publication Date:
23 June 2019

 

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