Body and Soul

It's been a hard week for Martha Stewart, busily feuding with Donald Trump over "The Apprentice." Nothing like being called a "moron" in public to make you seek a little spiritual counsel, so here's a sample of what Martha would find if she went to her magazine Body and Soul for advice: "Give of yourself from a place of genuine love, rather than obligation." Um, maybe not the best way to handle a power-hungry billionaire.

It's weird to get a lovestruck message like that from the Martha empire, but Body and Soul didn't begin there--it's the latest incarnation of the veteran pub New Age Journal, bought by Omnimedia in late '04. Not exactly like being sold to Satan, yet Martha's image as a ruthless businesswoman doesn't jive with the content of a spiritual/natural health magazine.

Born in 1974 (and renamed Body and Soul several years ago), New Age Journal took a journalistic, sometimes skeptical approach to what was then cutting-edge content, from alternative health practices now pretty much in the mainstream, to more esoteric spiritual and personal growth topics. I trusted the mag back then; I'm not so sure about it now.

One sore point is the way Body and Soul has moved from journalism to strict service book. Instead of interpreting what those self-help gurus are saying, it's channeling them directly, which can make them sound, well, sappy. Here's famed New Age guy Deeprak Chopra: "You only have to look for, and tune into, the timeless cosmic beat to recapture your vitality."

I'm a sucker for personal growth articles, but I found "Change: Make It Happen" too long and lifelessly written. Plus, it had some weird examples of risk-taking "change agents"--from a woman who asked her bosses if they would spring for lunch for staff members during their busy times (ooh, how courageous!) to Karen Berg, codirector of the celeb-favored, controversial Kabbalah Centre. (Oy. Don't get me started, but I think the Kabbalah Centre, with its Jewish holy water and red strings for sale, co-opts a legitimate mystical aspect of Judaism to line Berg's pockets.)

Covering the "body" side of the equation, the mag does an OK job when it reaches for a fresh angle on familiar material. I appreciated "Sit Less, Stand More," which reminded me that "we seriously underuse our bodies": the key to fitness is moving more throughout the day, rather than just spending half an hour on the treadmill. (I'll be writing my next "Mag Rack" sitting on a seesaw.) The article on detoxing for spring by eliminating unwholesome foods one by one recycles some well-known advice--yeah, I know I should eat more veggies and less sugar--but also helpfully debunks some myths about fasting. But sometimes writers present painfully obvious suggestions: "Eat more carrots!" they actually trumpet.

The look of the book is less attractive than it used to be. Many pages are too copy-intensive, with no graphic elements to break them up; what art there is, is often unappealing. Oddly, in the middle of all this gray type, there's an almost copy-free 3-page layout about how to enjoy your morning that is downright embarrassing, with photos of a way-too-happy couple having a staged pillow fight.

The most Martha-like article--about ecological laundry products--goes into a little too much detail about the history of traditional detergents. But that gave me an idea. To counter the pub's trend toward too much New Agey tripe and not enough substance, why not use the Martha empire's expertise in lifestyle magazines and position Body and Soul as more of a guide to the green goods and lifestyle, filling the vacuum left by the demise of Rodale's Organic Style?

And Martha, this week you might want to consult the feature "Shake Your Chakras." Bet you already practice the "foot stomp," supposedly a technique to stimulate the root chakra, when you don't get your way--see how in tune with the cosmos you are? It might also be helpful to read about the symptoms of imbalance in the heart chakra and realize the Donald is a textbook case, with his "trouble letting go of past events and relationships; difficulty connecting with others; [and] inability to trust others." Feel better now?

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