I have never known a life without technology. Like many 20-somethings these days, my phone is my life-line. I use it for almost every aspect of my life; banking, job searching, reading, news, entertainment, an alarm clock, and the most complex of all—a social life. Its a funny thing, really, how something so small could hold so much importance. Its a lot of information coming to you at once. With the many stresses of life, I have been lucky enough to find the practice of yoga. I love everything about it from getting in a good sweat, to facing my traumas head on, to discovering my higher self in meditation. It is a journey that never ends! I love the history of yoga dating back 5000 years and the fact that it has survived through societies, religion, and politics all around the world. Yoga has always adapted by being inclusive, from ancient sutras to what we see today in the Western World. It seems that even in the rat race of American society, yoga continues to adapt and modernize.
But are we as Westerners paying respect to this ancient practice while also welcoming it into the Digital Age? I can’t speak for everyone, but I will be the first to admit that what guided me to yoga was the ever envied “yoga butt”. And where did I discover the ever envied “yoga butt” you might ask? Oh yes, I know what you’re thinking….Instagram of course! And that is exactly what I am here to debate today.
Instagram has become a platform for yoga. We yogis have changed the game from what used to be arriving to a class led by your favorite teacher to destress and detox to mountaintop backgrounds showing off your best Dancer Pose. So are there actually benefits to flexing next to a cliff edge or is this purely the ego taking over to get those “likes”?
From personal experience, I have heard many yogis and yoga instructors claim that Instagram yoga has dumbed down the practice or that “its not real yoga”. But every time I would hear these comments something in me did not believe it. To be fair, I completely see the view point that it is not safe for someone who has never done yoga to see an Instagram post and automatically believe they can get into a headstand based on a model who is sponsored by a company to post pictures in the best leggings. I get it! Instagram is the Wild West of yoga. While we see many posts of elite athletes in arm balances we can feel intimidated and it can be easy to want to exclude them from “what yoga should be”. After all, are those athletes even real people?!
And we cannot have this discussion without mentioning the new term “yoga porn”. This is mostly described as someone in a bikini, short shorts, or sometimes completely naked posing in perfect alignment and with beautiful muscle definition. Just writing about it makes want to go eat an avocado and hold plank for 3 minutes! Its easy for us to feel like we are not good enough to even do yoga when we see those beautiful naked bodies plastered over every yoga hashtag. But who are we if we are so quick to let the ego judge those beautiful bodies? Are the “yoga porn” people excluded from this practice and made into outsiders? We should praise yoga for evolving into a body-positive, diversified practice while remembering that yoga is for EVERYbody and everyBODY.
Instagram has created an environment of judgement and competition. And sometimes even feelings of self-loathing. But everything has its opposite, right? Yoga teaches us about balance and we would not be responsible yogis if we do not see the potential that Instagram offers to the yoga community. Social media platforms have allowed yoga to reach greater numbers of practitioners than ever before. And with Western societies looking for more holistic routes for healthcare, we are acknowledging them through inspiring quotes from Pattabhi Jois and Rumi set against a pretty ocean background. These platforms have shown larger audiences that there is another way to feel good, and its actually really simple. Even yoga teachers can connect with clients and make official class announcements at no cost to advertising.
There is aesthetic to yoga photography that has turned yoga into a different type of art form. It can be very inspiring. It has become a way for people to connect. Granted, some are out to gain more followers for popularity, but real relationships can be established. Often relationships are made with people halfway around the world. Instagram can also inspire the practitioner to advance his or her practice. Often new poses are shown in every hashtag imaginable and can expose someone scrolling through to learn that new pose or breathing technique.
So while there are many safety issues to take into consideration when dealing with Instagram yoga, there also needs to be consideration that people that would have never been introduced to yoga now are! What a wonderful thing. Instagram has become a way to find your own practice. And whether or not you want to admit it, it does feel good when your yoga buddies “like” or comment on your pictures, acknowledging that you are doing your thing. I have reestablished many past relationships with people I knew in high school or college or from old cities that I thought I would never hear from again. They are interested in my passion and always reaching out for tips. And so many new business and personal relationships have been created in the process. It does feel good to have that personal connection and help others, even though the phone.
If we as yogis and yoga instructors want to bring this practice to the world then we must create space for new platforms of doing so. Tradition is good, but balance is better. So through balance we must accept progress and welcome it with open arms.
In my personal experience, while I wanted the “yoga butt” I soon discovered that I am never going to get it if I do not fix my mental perception first. Someone once told me “fix the inside and the outside will follow” I have created more curves in my brain and they are slowly beginning to show on my body. Looking back, I seemed naive to think that I needed to look like all the sponsored Instagram models (as beautiful as they are) but they will never be the type of beautiful that I am. No one can ever be! Yoga has taught me to embrace the type of beauty that I am while acknowledging other types of beauty in the world…even if they have a filter!
“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” -Zen Shin