Yoga and social media

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social media iconswebWithout doubt the biggest struggle I have as a yogi is finding the balance between my practice, running a studio and small business, and teaching classes. Not only do we juggle these roles, but we deal with a new pressure – to be visible on social media.

I have teenage children and because of this, I have a good understanding of social media. I didn’t grow up with it, but I know it’s a massive part of our cultural conversation. For many people, it is the conversation.

One of the biggest growth areas of social media is what is called ‘fitspo’ or fitness inspiration. And yoga sits right at the centre of it. I mainly follow Iyengar-related studios or practitioners on Instagram and Facebook, and to a large degree they seem to steer clear of the ‘unattainable pose in a bikini on a beach’ scenario. But not always.

Does this matter? Should it matter? From my observation, the accounts with the photos and videos that feature the most difficult asanas performed in the least amount of clothing have (by far) the most followers. Is this a problem? Frankly, yes, it is.

So many of the asanas I see on social media are nothing short of gymnastics. At best they are completely unrealistic for most of us. At worst, there is no regard for energetic support (easy to see for a trained yoga eye). Often the people in these photos are naturally flexible, exploiting their overly-flexible joints, which can move beyond a safe range of support. And while they might look ‘nice’ or – on the surface – provide inspiration, I feel distraught that ‘form’ is what has become the inspiration, rather than the inner journey.

Occasionally you’ll find me posting a picture or video of someone on Facebook, usually an Iyengar practitioner I know, practicing a difficult asana. If I do this it’s because:

  1. I often know the person and can appreciate the hours and hours of personal commitment that’s gone into getting to that point.
  2. It’s frequently not perfect – there might be a moment with a slightly bent leg or a wobble here and there.
  3. There is a clear energetic support basis in the asana.
  4. They are wearing clothes!

For me, yoga is not about getting my leg behind my head. If it were, I’d have lost interest long ago and moved on. As a practitioner, it’s the way yoga has changed my life for the better. I’m far from perfect, and a work in progress, but without doubt it’s made me a more reflective and compassionate person.

As a teacher, my greatest pleasure comes from seeing the transformation in students. Yes, of course, I see their bodies change. But something else happens too. Students can become more confident in their own skin. They often become less anxious and their breath softens. An openness to instruction appears and a stillness begins to permeate Savasana. All of these are indicators of a much bigger transformation. If I could photograph these qualities and post them on Instagram, I would. But I’m not sure how many ‘likes’ these photos would get.