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. In recent months, several refreshing projects that highlight or satirize inauthenticity on social media have gone viral: social media sensation Sociality Barbie wryly poked fun at #pacificnorthwestlife and Instragram model Essena O’Neill recently rebranded herself to educate young women about how vapid her popular photos really were.
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 spent 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.
- To you, the true purpose of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) is to make sure you look contented 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.
- 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 favorite 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. Most 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 .
Sacrificing presence for #presence
- Your friends could piece together of a complete record your practice via check-ins at your favorite studio, photos of your pedicured toes standing 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 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 while on vacation together . You are on vacation with your beloved. 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 most social media platforms. Centering your practice around creating shareable content can be spiritually hazardous.
- You’ve perfected the blissful gaze and Mona Lisa smile that every yoga magazine ever loves to feature on its cover . Try hiding away 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, but your home practice is supposed to be a sacred, safe, 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.
- 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 intimated yogis, please let us know in your caption. 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 challenge. It seems as if everyone else’s life is better than yours. By only sharing about your successes, you contribute to this illusion. 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.
So should we go and delete our Instagram accounts? Maybe that would be a bit extreme. 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.
P.S. Inner Fire just launched an Instagram challenge (Nov 16-20) that gets us thinking about some of these issues. Click here for more info and to take part.