We live in an age where everything is going virtual and social media platforms have crept in our lives. And have become a part of our being. Think back to the time when you did not have a Facebook or an Instagram profile? You can’t really remember, can you? Neither can I. I love social media but it does impact yoga in more ways than what meets the eye. Social media gives us the illusion of deeper connection and community. But in reality, we are far from the real experience and real life. And this is true for yoga too. Yoga is essentially a life long practice and a lifestyle. And yoga cannot be captured in one picture or post. Is what you perceive of yoga on social media the whole picture?
Yoga on social media has intrigued me for the past few years. As most of you already know, I was born and raised in South India and my yoga teachers never really posted yoga selfies of themselves. In fact a few of them still do not have a social media account. Neither did anyone else around me. Fast forward a couple of years later, I moved to the US. And I was blown away by the Instagram culture of yogis taking pictures every day in yoga poses and throwing out the most perfect yoga poses. It was a different world. But social media has impacted yoga. And here are my 5 observations on the impact of social media on yoga
Yoga today is Diluted
No matter what level of the yoga practitioner, yoga teacher or for however long you have been doing yoga; know that what we practice here in the West is undoubtedly a watered down form of yoga. Ancient yogis lived a much more austere, disciplined and rigorous practice oriented life. When I say practice I do not mean yoga asanas and going to 2 yoga classes a day. But other aspects of rituals, philosophy, discussions, meditation practice, chanting, contemplation, some asana, service to the community, household duties and much more… They chose to eliminate all distractions, had minimal relationships and never taught or studied yoga for monetary success. Today, when you look at social media for yoga, you will undoubtedly see perfect looking poses, slim bodies, random words of wisdom on how to live free, wild and happy. But more importantly, it’s a means to an end. Most social media accounts lead to some sort of yoga business.
You must be flexible to do Yoga
If I had a dollar for everytime someone told me this! If you look at Instagram or Facebook. It is a sea of images of bikini clad, beautiful, blonde women in amazing shape doing some advanced or contorted yoga pose or vinyasa (flow). While yes, I applaud their strength, grace, and effort to do these yoga poses. Everyone puts up their most perfect yoga pose in the prettiest clothes and sceneries. We would not be caught dead in our jammies and bed hair doing yoga, let alone falling on our faces while doing so. This has created a subtle but powerful and long- lasting impression that one needs to be elastic to be able to pretzel themselves into various yoga poses. But know that the average yoga practitioner does not fit this bikini clad, no belly fat, living on a beach stereotype.
Yoga is for white women
Honestly, I hesitated including this observation. As a person of color teaching Yoga and given the current state of political affairs of the country. I know this is a controversial and sensitive topic. Over my 4 years of being at Aham Yoga (my yoga studio), I have been blessed to have a very diverse crowd of yoga practitioners. From my understanding, this is a combination of living in Redmond which is very diverse. And the fact that my ethnicity attracts yoga students in search of an authentic Indian Yoga teacher experience. But almost all of yoga on social media, are white women (sometimes men) in yoga poses. While I do not think, the average white person is to be blamed for how yoga is packaged and sold. All influential yoga brands, yoga magazines like Lulu Lemon, Yoga Journal etc need to make a conscious effort to include people of color, different body shapes and sizes, genders and showcase the vast diversity that actually exists in yoga. I meet a lot of yoga practitioners who feel left out in the average yoga studio. And give up doing yoga for the lack of an authentic experience.
Yoga is only for the young
Rarely, do you see a 60+ yoga practitioner featured on the cover of a leading yoga magazine? Usually, it is a 20 something, attractive, smiling woman who seem to have a perfect life. And if you open a website like Yoga Journal or Yoga International, you will see a host of young yoga practitioners mostly women, in all yoga poses looking flawless. While the number of young yoga practitioners in the US is huge. Yoga is by no means a practice only for the young and able. Yoga is for everyone, irrespective of their age, color, race, gender or ethnicity. Look at yoga legends like BKS Iyengar who practiced till he was 95. I often remind my students that you are not practicing for today but for 30 years later. Young yoga teachers are a modern phenomenon due to modern yoga teacher trainings. Traditionally, yoga teachers were much older, who spent 20 to 30 years in rigorous study. This ensured that yoga was passed on correctly through the generations.
Doing yoga is fashionable
I understood the concept of yoga pants only after I moved to Seattle from India. Until then, any pant you did yoga in was yoga pants for me. In my early days here I would walk into yoga studios with my baggy loose Tshirt and pants but felt out of place with everyone being so dressed up! It is only much later that I understood the role of yoga fashion in the US. Close your eyes and think of the average yoga practitioner, the image that will mostly prop up is a skinny, lulu lemon clad, smoothie drinking, happy go lucky woman in her 20s or 30s. But here’s the deal, yoga pants have nothing to do with yoga! Just because you don’t own a $100 value yoga mats doesn’t diminish the value of your yoga practice even the slightest bit. As long as you are clean, honest and dedicated when you step on your yoga mat each time. Nothing else really matters. So if you are stressing about what to wear to a yoga class, please stop and cut yourself some slack.
How can we be mindful while using social media for yoga?
- Be clear about your intention for using social media for yoga – is it for inspiration, entertainment or knowledge?
- Set a time limit on how much time you spend on social media for yoga
- Try substituting it with other yoga related sources like podcasts, yoga books, yoga videos etc…
- Follow the right kind of people on social media. For each of us, this right person will be different. Find what speaks to you
- Understand that everyone who can do yoga poses well, are not necessarily great yoga teachers. By the same measure, everyone who cooks well is not a chef
- Do they integrate high-quality yoga philosophy or just emotional bulls*^%
- Do they always post only positive, joyful and utterly rosy content or are they authentic?
- Do they only talk about themselves and their yoga or for the community at large?
- Are they using their platform to do good or give back to the community?
- How dependent are you on social media each day for your yoga fix?