It's time to bring up the big elephant in the room...or yoga studio. The internet has made yoga more available to more people than ever before, which is amazing, but it has also made the practice vulnerable to the pressures of social media. An obvious effect is that social media feeds are flooded with photos of contortionists and athletes in extreme versions of yoga poses, which can make even the most adept teachers feel self-conscious about what they have to offer. It's difficult to escape it – even we as a company admit to featuring many bendy/flexy photos on our feeds because they tend to get the most engagement. It's a part of the online world we live in today.
More and more of our social interaction happens online where we can edit, filter, crop, and delete. We can easily frame our lives to make them seem more exciting, joyful, miserable, or spiritual than they actually are . Many of us are addicted to doing this ourselves and, at the same time, are disillusioned by seeing it from others. On the other hand, there are social yogis like Jessamyn Stanley, who uses her Instagram account @mynameisjessamyn to spread body-positive messages to the yoga community, to shed a light on the humility and humble side of the practice.
On another note, the ability to instantly take and share photos with our handheld devices has changed the way we do yoga:we practice in poses and locations we would never choose if we weren’t trying live up to unrealistic social media standards . We can become pulled out of the present moment because we are too busy trying to line up the perfect shot. It’s easy to get so lost in the online yoga zoo that you don’t realize how far you’ve deviated from your practice.
Here are 14 signs you might be sacrificing Yoga for #Yoga:
Note, this list is not meant to judge or criticize. It is to wake us up to some habits that might not serve our true intentions. We admit that we've done some of these things too. We're all human.
Sacrificing asana for #asana
- You spend longer taking photos of yourself in ardha chandrasana on your more photogenic side than you did moving through a complete, balanced asana practice . Reality check: you’re spending more time pretending to do yoga than actually doing yoga. Try showing snippets of your full, completely authentic practice, as well as a sprinkling of photos of you looking like a total yoga babe (which you are, naturally).
- To you, the true purpose of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) is to make sure you look content and serene as you press your bare hands and feet into sharp gravel to pose in urdhva danurasana on a picturesque country road . As far as I know, there are no yogic benefits to repressing pain in the name of vanity. Maybe go for a country field next time.
- You bask in “likes” and comments praising you for your abilities, but would consider “unfriending” someone for suggesting ways in which you could improve your alignment ? Your homework this week: post a photo of yourself in your favourite pose and explicitly ask your followers for tips on refining it. For bonus points, tag yoga teachers who specialize in alignment. Humility is the antidote to ego.
- You have injured yourself taking advantage of an irresistible photo-op. Many yoga teachers say the purpose of asana is to balance the body so you can sit comfortably in meditation. If you can’t sit cross-legged for a month after doing wall-to-wall splits in a slot canyon, no matter how great the photo turned out, that was not asana . A photo-op is not worth your health and well-being.
Sacrificing presence for #presence
- Your friends could piece together a complete record of your practice via check-ins at your favorite studio, photos of your pedicured toes on your yoga mat, and frequent tweets about how #blissedout you are after meditating . Sharing what you love is wonderful. However, showmanship to get attention, validation, and recognition may distract you from adhering to an authentic practice grounded in svadyaya (self-study). Consider taking a month off of sharing your practice online to reclaim it as your own.
- Your significant other rolls their eyes when you ask them to take yet another photo of you doing a balancing pose on a rock during your vacation . You and your loved one are on a lovely trip. Put away the smartphone. Swim in the ocean. Gaze into one another’s eyes as the sun sets. Stay up all night making love. Every second with your cherished one is precious.
- Your primary motivation for practicing is to get an #inspiring 15-second time-lapse video for Instagram. Self-discovery is rarely achieved through trying to please others, and this is a fundamental principle behind a lot of social media platforms. Centering your practice around creating shareable content can be spiritually hazardous. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your practice on social media, just make sure you’re sticking to your yogic roots while doing so.
- You’ve perfected the blissful gaze and Mona Lisa smile that every yoga magazine loves to feature on its cover . Try hiding or covering up all your mirrors for a day. Every time you look expectantly toward a covered mirror, take a couple moments to notice how you feel instead of sneaking a peek at your appearance.
- You dwell on how flattering or unflattering your clothes, makeup, or outfit are during your home practice . A studio practice inevitably opens you up to some social pressure, so it’s always nice when we can create a home practice that is sacred, safe, and in a protected space. If integrating a camera into your personal practice is compromising your santosa (contentment), put it away.
Sacrificing Authenticity for #authenticity
- You post photos of your yoga props neatly organized in a vignetted square frame . Granted there are probably a few yogis out there who legitimately arrange their props in this way in preparation for their practice. However, in my many years of teaching, I have yet to see a student of mine set up their props with Instagram-grade geometry in real life. Place your props where they will be helpful during your practice, even if that means they’re not-so-neatly stacked.
- Your regular practice is focused on poses that look impressive rather than ones that are therapeutic for your body . If you’re focused on appearance, you’re practicing contortion, not yoga. For the sake of your joints, consider reintegrating the types of poses into your practice that don’t draw copious numbers of likes, follows, and reshares (e.g. tadasana, viparita karani, savasana).
- There are no photos of your journeys, only your destinations . You often only see others’ successes on social media, which can be disheartening when you’re facing a challenge of your own. By only sharing your successes, you contribute to the online illusion that your life is better than everyone else’s (or vice versa). Be a part of the growing wave of yogis who post videos of themselves falling out of a challenging pose repeatedly before finally sticking it.
- Once the camera is off your practice is over . See #7 and #9. Time to do some svadyaya (self-study). What are the motivations behind your practice? What are the motivations behind sharing photos and video of your practice? How do these motivations complement and conflict with one another?
- You take selfies while meditating or in Savasana . No. Just no. This is your time to go inward and let go of distractions. Give yourself the gift of disconnection.
It might be a bit extreme to go and delete our Instagram accounts. Social media has many great benefits and can serve as a great tool for bringing people together and promoting healthy lifestyles. The important thing is that we understand our intentions behind our online behaviour and make sure that it aligns with our truest selves.
Note from the author: I poke fun with love. I’ve been guilty of many of these things at one time or another over the last ten years. The key is to have awareness and self love.