How the selfie damages Yoga

Today was the first time I’ve ventured onto Instagram.  I know, I know… get with the times already…

I understand (in theory) that Instagram can present a good option for brand building – so I’ve reluctantly signed on with an view as to how and if I can use it for YogaMate.

I thought it might provide me with a ready-made, inspirational image that I could on-share to YogaMate’s Facebook page.

When I nonchalantly tapped ‘Yoga’ into the search bar, a multitude of results swiftly returned that left me dumbstruck… and just a tiny bit deflated.

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Image after image of ‘beautiful’ toned, women (with a sprinkling of men) showing off terrifically difficult poses in terribly beautiful natural settings.  Screen after screen I scrolled to find the ‘same’ images, one after another.  Splits, Arms Balances,

unbelievable contortions of the body that 99% of the population will never achieve.

There were (a very modest) sprinkling of voluptuous yogis, but again, in impossibly beautiful locations performing difficult feats like headstands without hands.

Now, I’m not saying that the shots weren’t beautiful. And I’m not saying that I don’t admire the people and their amazing bodies that can bend them into those unbelievable shapes.

Nor am I saying that it’s wrong to aspire to do the same.

Certainly I aspire to advance in my physical practice. I practice stretching and strengthening in hopes that I too can progress to the more advanced postures.

However, I recognize this is my ego driving me… and I know in my heart of heart, that my life will be no better if I never achieve the full expression of King Pigeon.

What troubles me is the magnitude and disproportionate prevalence of difficult poses creating dissonance as to what Yoga actually represents.

I’ve heard too many times, from too many people, ‘I can’t do Yoga, I’m not flexible enough’.

Yoga is NOT about being flexible or bending like a pretzel. It is not even being able to sit perfectly still for hours in meditation with nary a thought.

Since it’s great surge in popularity in the west coinciding with technological advances in communication (not to mention the acceptance of the selfie), there have become a disproportionate number of individuals showing off their physical prowess on social media – and thus creating an even greater chasm between what Yoga is – and what it is not.

And thus, I’ve been compelled me to write this, my first Blog… because it is clear to me that so much of what circulates the internet these days as ‘Yoga’ is anything but…

So, if not those selfies, what is Yoga?

In it’s very essence, Yoga is the recognition that we are more than just a body and a collection of thoughts in the mind. The Yogic tools (which includes the postures, breathwork and meditation), help us transcend the physical and mental limitations to cultivate health, happiness, and a greater sense of self-awareness and higher consciousness.

It aims to create balance and union in your physical, mental and spiritual self. It is about the dissolution of competition and it most certainly is not about posing for the cameras to show off your physical skills.

I am not unrealistic in my view.  I know that there is no stopping the daily inundation of ‘yoga’ uploads to the internet; and I am not saying that there is no room for taking a picture (or video) of yourself doing Yoga (in fact, I took one just this morning and posted it to Facebook).  But its our responsibility to be mindful about our reasons for doing so.

There is an extremely delicate balance between educating and inspiring vs. narcissistic voyeurism.

Through YogaMate – and perhaps this blog, I am hoping that, as limited as my reach may be, that I may help open the eyes of some to the depth and breadth of this magnificent discipline.  To the healing and transformative powers Yoga can unlock within your being.

As Judith Hanson Lasater (a famous American yoga teacher) so wisely stated, ‘Asana is not the yoga… it is the residue the asana leaves in our mind, body and heart that is the yoga’.

So there may be some ‘selfies’ of me to come – but with them there will be a message and hopefully a touch of genuine inspiration. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to encourage you, too, to step on a mat (or bare floor) and open yourself up to the healing powers Yoga can bring into your life.

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13 thoughts on “How the selfie damages Yoga

  1. Love this! Thank you! It’s so true. Yoga on social media is more harmful than helpful in many cases. I have been teaching for a little over a year now, and been practicing for 10 or more, off and on. I will never attain some of those poses, due to injuries from previous athletic endeavors, and the simple fact that I’m not built to be a human pretzel. I too have heard from way too many people, “I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible enough.” My response is typically, yoga is not about being flexible, but about being willing. I feel that it’s about being willing to allow yourself to open to whatever your body allows, willing to allow yoga to create a flexibility in the mind, more so even than in the body.

    I don’t often respond to online posts or blogs, but felt I needed tell you ‘great job’!

    Namaste!

    • Aw, thanks Kendra – I’m chuffed (that’s Australian for humbled and proud). I really appreciate your comments.
      And I totally agree. I think ‘Being willing’ is an *excellent* response. It is absolutely about being willing to open yourself up to whatever your body and mind allows. And the more practice, the more willingness.
      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Hi,

    I learned yoga for a little while and could never do some of the poses. I’ve been yearning to start learning again. Every time I go through the social media page of any Yoga class, all that I see are these selfies of perfect poses. It’s a little overwhelming….

    Akanksha

    • It would definitely be overwhelming if this is what you think you must aspire to. Don’t be disheartened. Maybe go to a class – rather than surf on social media.. I think social media’s perspective is a bit skewed…

  3. Whilst I tend to agree with you, I also would like to add that these selfies weren’t born like this so perhaps one way to look at it, is aspiring to be able to do these poses. 2ndly have you seen kinos stuff? The woman is fantastic but needs to wear a little more clothing

    • It is true – it takes much discipline to be able to bend the body this way; however, I still don’t think it’s ‘yoga’…

  4. Wow! I have been practicing yoga for more than 30 years and teaching for almost 20 and this is my favorite yoga post ever! I couldn’t agree more! My yoga practice improved most the day I realized I wouldn’t be nicer or happier when I could accomplish the difficult postures. I look forward to your blog!

    • Thanks so much for the reply, Gina. I’m swamped at the moment – but I’ve got lots of other blogs in mind… just needing to make the time to sit down and write!

  5. Hi Anne Marie,
    Good article, but a little too late. The damage has already done. The stigma about a yoga teacher or a yoga practitioner is that they must be young, thin, flexible or else they are worthless. If you don’t “Vinyasa yoga” in your schedule, no one will even look at your profile.
    I am 58 years old and blessed with the students between 25-70 years of age. They somehow found me and stayed. But most students expecting a young teacher. They themselves also afraid to start yoga if they feel that they do not fit the “yoga picture”. Everyone goes to yoga for a work out and they expect one. Bikram yoga, Power Flow yoga, Vinyasa Power yoga – these classes are full. I, for once, called my class “Restorative yoga” – big mistake.
    We need to start to educate people in order to change anything, but it might be a long and tedious process.
    Sorry for such a passionate reply, but it is a very “hot” topic for me.
    Best Regards
    Alla
    Owner and Founder of Avirit Yoga Studio
    www. avirityoga.com.au

    • I’m hoping the tide is turning a little, Alla, and that it’s not truly too late. There is certainly a pick up of Yin and Restorative Yoga – but those new to Yoga don’t have any idea of the breadth and diversity – and vinyasa / power / bikram get a lot of press from people trying to combine their ‘workout’ with yoga. I think all styles are ok – so long as they are safe. And then it allows the student to begin to explore deeper. Don’t lose hope! I’m doing my best to open people’s eyes. Watch YogaMate.org space! I’m hoping it will be revolutionary…

  6. Hi Anne Marie,

    I really appreciate your tackling this issue because I feel these types of photos and media campaigns seriously undermine yoga as a healing art and misrepresent what yoga really is and what it can offer to many, many people in their healing process.

    You are very polite here in your criticism of the gratuitous nature of these photos. I actually do not admire what is happening in these photos because what I see, as a yoga therapist with decades of a personal practice behind me, are misalignment and lack of understanding of the principles of sukha and sthira that are essential to a good haha yoga practice. Just because someone can bend themselves into a pose does not mean they are doing yoga. I don’t see yoga anywhere in the photos you used to illustrate your discussion. What I see, particularly in those photos where the person is on a cement area, are dangerous examples of how to injure oneself and no real somatic foundation evident in terms of the proper alignment of spine, pelvis, joints, etc. I see individuals engaging in overstretching that will eventually damage their ligaments. I see a lack of awareness of the head-tail (crown to coccyx) connection, both physically and energetically. I see young women foolishly showing off without having any consideration of the example they are setting or for the practice of an age old holistic therapy. This is not yoga. This is travel promotion exploiting women’s bodies to make a profit.

    When I was in Mexico a year ago, we went to one of the Mayan ruins, Coba, where visitors can climb one of the pyramids. Having reached the top, a 138 feet climb, and having been cautioned by our guide not to do anything dangerous, a very foolish and inconsiderate young woman did a handstand inches away from the edge. If she had lost her balance, she would have plunged to her death. That’s all I see when I look at the photos you’ve posted to this article: ignorant young women exploiting and being exploited. It’s exactly the kind of egocentrism that yoga seeks to transform. Sadly, I don’t think any of the women in these photos have an inkling of what they are really expressing. It’s not pretty and it’s not yoga.

    • An impassioned rely, Melitta – thanks for sharing. Yes, it’s disheartening… I’m hoping that through launching YogaMate.org I can help to expand awareness around safe and ‘real’ yoga. A big mission!

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