What’s your intention?
That’s what this brilliant ad from lululemon athletica asks us:
It shows a yoga class in session, with a room full of people facing us and seated with crossed legs on yoga mats, hands in front of their hearts in prayer position. Everyone is meticulously dressed in lululemon-brand yoga gear, and all their spines look straight. They are all young, fit, and active. The woman in the foreground has a perfect pose also, except only one of her hands is held in prayer position, while her other hand holds a Blackberry up to her left ear. Her gaze is downward and off to her right side and she is smiling.
Other details that are done artfully in this ad are the facial expressions of each person in the class. The people seated around this woman display an array of emotions. One woman, in the back row, has her head slightly askance and one eyebrow raised, as if to say, “Is she SERIOUS?”. The woman next to her turns her head to look at the Blackberry holder with an intent gaze and pursed lips, displaying a mixture of pity and mild disbelief, as if she were trying to wish away the situation in front of her eyes. A man in the back of the class has furrowed brows, and another man on the opposite side of the “protagonist” wears the incredulous, raised-eyebrow look of the woman in the back row. The person on the phone is blissfully unaware of her effect on the people around her. In fact, she possesses all the outward accoutrements of a loyal devotee to yoga – after all, it’s printed on her eco-friendly water bottle: “I heart yoga”.
It’s thought provoking, isn’t it?
I asked three different groups of my violin students (ages 3 and up) to look at this picture today, and tell me what they saw. “They’re doing gymnastics,” said 4-year-old Jack. “I see a person talking on the phone,” said 4-year-old William. “The woman with the green top has the same color mat as her shirt,” observed 10-year-old Greer. “There is a water bottle that says, I love…something,” offered 5-year-old Ella. “Maybe it says ‘I love yogurt’,” added her father. “I see windows,” said 6-year-old Sarah.
As we shared what we saw, even if we didn’t know what “yoga” is, we could deduce that these people – all dressed similarly and assuming a similar posture – were gathered to do something together, in an enclosed space (indicated by the windows). All of the children agreed that this might be a class. One person guessed that the woman in front was the teacher. I said, “What if she is the teacher?” “No, she’s not the leader,” said 5-year-old Nina. “How do you know that?” I asked. “Because she is sitting with her back to the class,” said Ella. “That’s true, it’s hard to teach if you’re not facing the class. But what if she is the teacher? Are the students following her?”
“Who in this picture is learning?” I asked.
“Nobody,” said 8-year-old Isabela in a quiet voice.
“Great answer! Why is nobody learning?” I continued.
“Because they’re all looking at the woman talking on the phone,” she said with a smile, as if that should be obvious.
What a joy it was to see all the possibilities observed in this picture from the perspective of these fresh eyes and young minds!
To me, the picture asks us to consider the areas in our life where we think we are “showing up” and “doing all the right things”, but in reality, we are undermining our own intentions. What we look like, what we have, where spend our time, may serve as comforting symbols of our devotion to some professed higher purpose, but unless we commit to the actual practice of our intention, we aren’t living up to our promise to ourselves. And, the ad further reminds us, this lack of awareness has an effect on the people around us. They see what we are doing, even if we may remain, quite blissfully, unaware of it.
This is also an opportunity to ask, who suffers more? The person talking on the Blackberry or the people around her? And who do we identify more with – the “other” people in the class, or the person front and center? How do we feel toward each person in this photo?
I noticed another layer of meaning emerge as I looked for a longer period of time. By centering the portrait on the woman who is on the phone, the photographer places her at the center of our attention, forcing us to look at her and confront all the different ways we may relate to her. The picture also asks us to consider her with kindness and compassion. We may at first feel “superior” or “righteous” or “annoyed”, which may be reflected in the expressions of some of the others in the photo. But is it really true that we’ve never been that woman on the phone? Have we never tried to do two (or more) things at the same time, and ended up shortchanging both experiences? Have we never professed our love and devotion to something, and then given less than our full effort to it? Have we never bought all the right accessories, taken up a new hobby or sport, and found ourselves unable to engage?
It’s rare that advertising gets me thinking on all these levels. I’ve actually never been able to find anything I’d like to wear at lululemon, despite my devotion to yoga practice. The ad won’t change that. I love their manifesto, and the story of their company’s founder is inspiring.
But this ad reached the level of artwork for me. I hope it got you thinking too.