Instagram, Ego & the Changing Face of Yoga. ~ Alice Nicholls

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Was in such a good mood when I came home I just had to do a one armed handstand in the garden. Yes! That's what I do.
Photo: Rachel Brathen

Want to do yoga?  Those without Instagram need not apply.

I wrote an article recently titled “10 Inspirational Yoga ‘Rockstars’ You Need to Know—One Is a Unicorn.” There was a lot of positive banter about the article on Facebook and Instagram. It was bringing people together that may not have otherwise found each other, and we’re always grateful for that.

However I did receive one “not-so-positive” comment which went like this: “This is stupid…yoga rockstar? Yoga is about self-liberation, not about becoming a rockstar yoga teacher…”

Of course, the article was from my personal viewpoint and opinion based only, but it still got me thinking about the comment, whether technology has changed the way we get our yoga “on” and the way we view yoga as an exercise.

Do we now see yoga as an elitist movement where only those capable of advanced moves and an Instagram account need apply?

Yoga is indeed a form of self-liberation and is, at its best, an extremely personal practice and journey for each individual. We shouldn’t need to look at the person on the mat next to us in a class 15 deep and compete with how quickly we can get into our postures, how deeply we can backbend or how long we can headstand for.

Now that we have social media like Instagram, however, the way we challenge ourselves with yoga has fundamentally changed.

Technology has quite literally transformed the way we practice yoga. We’ve ready access to thousands of yogis at the touch of a finger, and we can model our movements or practice against them without even leaving our lounge room, competing with strangers for the cleanest lines and deepest postures.

Some social media yoga buffs will set challenges that last the entire month, with a different posture to attempt each day. And yoga enthusiasts will be attempting to contort themselves into postures they’ve never tried before and with no guided adjustment, setting the timer on their iPhone and uploading photos for the world to see.

Is there something wrong with this? Well, yes and no.

The more people that do yoga the better; yoga has an amazing ability to de-stress, ground and calm. It has a healing and restorative effect on the human body that only a few other exercises can achieve. If a single person with a social media account can inspire one, two, or 400 people to try yoga then this is certainly a wonderful thing.

But what about when we suffer serious injury trying “day #28 crow pose” without a proper warm up or guidance?

We really need to make sure we understand and challenge our own beliefs of why we do yoga.

What is our practice for? Why did we start our practice in the first place? What is yoga?

Yoga is a generic term for the physical, mental and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India with a view to attain a state of permanent peace. One of the most detailed and thorough expositions on the subject is the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, which defines yoga as “the stilling of the changing states of the mind.” Yoga is also interpreted as the yoke that connects beings to the machine of existence.

Yoga is about ego, about ridding ourselves of the ego and its hold over what we do and how we feel. There are certainly a large amount of people who partake in this type of activity to feed their ego. Heck, I was a pusher just through the title of my article. Should I question my own beliefs around yoga? Maybe.

If we want to bust out a different pose each day and whack it up on Instagram then it’s our prerogative, and I can see a number of benefits in doing so. But while we do this, let’s remember what yoga is and understand that the true benefits of yoga do not occur because of our ability to get into a particular posture. So let’s work on our crow pose for a day. And if it feels wrong, let’s stop doing it.

We can share our journey with the masses via Facebook or Instagram, but then we must take real time to practice yoga and experience what it’s intended for: our own very personal journey. It’s then that we’ll find peace within our practice.


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Assistant Ed: Dejah Beauchamp/Ed: Sara Crolick


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About Alice Nicholls

Alice Nicholls is a health and wellness coach who helps women live healthier, happier and more mindful lives. She’s an advocate of nutritional medicine for healing, a supporter of free-range farming and quite possibly the clumsiest yogi on Earth. When Alice isn’t coaching, she’s writing for her blog The Whole Daily, wiping baby vomit from her shoulder and moonlighting for the largest professional social media company in the world. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


9 Responses to “Instagram, Ego & the Changing Face of Yoga. ~ Alice Nicholls”

  1. Lauren M. says:

    Thanks for posting this. I was really into joining and keeping up with yoga challenges this past year. However, recently I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and have come to the conclusion that I fell into the “ego trap”. I started getting a lot of followers and so I just wanted more and more and saw that posting pictures of myself in inversions and arm balances got me new followers every day, especially when my photo would get chosen to be featured on a bigger account. But as time went on I realized I hadn’t grown at all in my practice. In my postures I had seen improvement but by no means in my inner practice. It was so full of ego and pride that I would actually get upset if I didn’t get “100 likes” in under an hour. One day, when I was trying to see how long I could hold a headstand, (for a challenge of course) I hurt my neck and was in so much pain for 3 days. I couldn’t turn it without sending a sharp pain shooting throughout my whole body. So after I healed, I was so ashamed and slapped myself in the face (metaphorically). I was done with “Instagram yoga”. It wasn’t real for me anymore. Every time I saw one of my “idols” post a new photo or video, which is usually about 5 a day per person on average, I thought to myself, “they honestly must be on their iPhones all day long.” I can’t tell you how long I had to be on mine to post the 3 I would usually do a day. That’s not yoga, that’s desperately searching for one thing only, fame. I was constantly trying to be like someone else, that I forgot who I was. I was posting yoga photos (which are actually just fancy selfles when you really think about it) and underneath the photo I would write something inspirational and tell others how to live. I became obsessed with myself and I never want to go back to that again. I’m not putting any of these yoga “rock stars” down either, they obviously work hard and inspire thousands of people. I just hope they someday can conquer their ego before it consumes them. I will still every once in a while share a pose with my followers but from now on I just want to only share honesty. No more hopping out of bed and fixing my hair and make up to quickly get into a pose and get a photo for my Instagram before I head off to work and deceive my followers to make them think I just did a 90 minute class. Only truth from now on. And again, thank you so much for posting this! A lot of people need to know.

  2. Jane says:

    Yoga is about personal journeys. So yes, it is about ego. Personally, though, I believe that yoga is non-competitive. The idea of daily yoga challenges, therefore, is not appealing for me because it tends to fire up my competitive nature and increases the risk of injury. I’d like to work towards a more advanced pose over a period of time, say a month, with daily preparatory sequences. This is a great article, a manifestation of the author’s own journey of discernment. Namaste!

  3. Abi says:

    Wow! I was thinking of this matter too! Thank you for the wonderful post! I totally can relate to Lauren's comment above!! 🙂 Im a newbie in yoga about a year of practicing it.. and just like everyone else I started posting photos in Instagram as well just a few months ago. At first it was really flattering that "strangers" liking my photo and following me and I can say that it really helped me in some way in my practice as I was always eager to push myself more each day. There are days that I am really really frustrated with a pose I can't figure out, I cried out of frustration and as well as pain in my lower back of pushing myself too much but then I ask myself why am i doing this? am i doing this for myself? for my growth? for my practice? What I have learned from my yoga teachers is the body will be ready when it is ready and what I was doing is trying to injure myself just for the sake of posting a photo in Instagram, for the sake of being liked by these strangers in a pose I am not ready yet. This is not healthy anymore, this is not my practice. This is ego, ugly and destroying the true value of my practice and me. So I rest a bit from my practice and refreshed my mind. I now wake up in the morning, enjoying my daily flows and practice without the feeling of wanting to post this and post that in Instagram. Its such a relief! Of course I won't stop posting photos once in awhile with my practice but this time I wanna be true to myself. I want as well newbies like me to realize that Yoga is beyond more than asana. Its a spiritual journey of body mind and soul. And that you dont need to be the most flexible, to be upside down, to contort your body just to be a yogi. I hope that this blog of yours will reach out to thousands of yogis out there! So true and Inspiring! Love and Light to you!

  4. katyjoeee says:

    This issue has been weighing heavily on my mind a lot lately, as my Facebook and Instagram feeds are bombarded with images of beautiful, thin yogis "striking a pose." I love admiring these strong people, but I have mixed emotions on this concept because to me, yoga is a way to make myself better on the inside first, and on the outside second. This means that when I get on my mat, it is about eliminating the chitta vrtti, the negative self-talk that constantly runs through my head, and replacing it with an intention of self-love, and being unconcerned with whether or not my posture looks impressive.

    That being said, just two days ago, I decided to partake in a new Instagram challenge based on inversions (#yogaflightfest). I am taking part in this month-long challenge not because I want the world to admire my postures, but because one of my biggest yogic struggles is dealing with fear. I often back down from a challenge because I am afraid to fall, afraid to hurt myself, and afraid of failure. My natural instinct is to assume that I am not strong enough and that I will never be able to hold myself up or remain calm upside down. It is my hope that this challenge will push me to try things I already assume I cannot do. Eliminating fear and negative self talk is MY yoga. It is MY work.

    While I see this as an honorable motive for myself, during this month-long challenge, as I post photos, I have to remember that even if I am proud to face a fear I have held on to for so long, I still have to abstain from vanity and remember that yoga is not about perfecting any posture. You never "get" your Handstand, or "nail" your Pincha Mayurasana. That is Ego. Yoga is so much more than that. It is a never ending journey inward to the source of our Self, and it is about what goes on INSIDE the mind while the body practices asana.

  5. Jacq Jams says:

    Thank you for this article. Personally, I don't partake in the yoga instagram challenges because like you said… without proper guidance and alignment one could severely injure themselves by attempting a pose that a) their body is not ready for and b) an instructor is not present to help with proper alignment. However… there are challenges out there that are as follows… Day 1- post a photo of a pose that makes you feel beautiful…. These are the challenges that I feel are the most empowering for the yoga instagram community. Or how Rachel Brathen (@yoga_girl) challenges followers to do #yogaeverydamnday. The challenges that ask followers to post a photo of Scorpion, well how do you know the level of the yogis that are following the challenge and what if they get hurt? The challenges that ask followers to post a photo of a pose with a beer in their hand, or double points if you can double fist…. What!?!?!?!?!!? So bizarre! That makes me very concerned with the changing face of yoga… why is this so popular? I made a joke about it the other day to my yogi friend… "If you nail bakasana and don't capture it on your phone and upload it to instagram.. did it really happen?"

  6. Catherine Valadez says:

    One of my idolized "yoga rockstars" and contributor to EJ is Kino MacGregor, and once I started following her on Instagram, I noticed something very unique about her: only about 10% of her photos on Instagram showcase her in any poses. I thought I would follow her and end up seeing her in an endless array of impossible poses! Seeing that this was NOT the case inspired me even more, because a teacher and practitioner of her following could easily be going crazy with Instagram. Sure, she has photoshoots and books and travels the world and does publicize some of that to where she may not "need" Instagram, but I was truly reminded that an authentic yoga practice is about the inner self too, complete with a shedding (or attempt to shed) the ego. Her humble practice is a huge inspiration to me, as a teacher and a practitioner. And your article is right on the money! We need to be aware of the ego when it comes to yoga and all social media.

  7. Em says:

    Amen! Thank you too Lauren M. (First comment) I started doing these challenges for fun and definitely got the feedback from my friends that I was inspiring them but I stopped doing them too when I realized that not only was I not sending the message I wanted to, but that asana is only one of the 8 limbs of this beautiful practice and to post pictures was definitively not honoring what yoga is to me (let’s be honest, I doubt that posting a picture of alternate nostril breathing, reading from a book on my couch to learn, not in Titibasana!! or engaging uddiyana bandha would get any “likes”) but holy hannah, where would we be without the rest of this practice? A bunch of gymnasts! Asana is beautiful, but so is the rest of the practice and Instagram has taken that away from so many practitioners…and don’t even get me started on the potential injuries!!!

  8. Ellen says:

    This post and some of the comments reminds me of my desire for self reflection and feedback when I post photos of my life. People want to be seen in and for their strengths. I hope to see the people giving and receiving positive feedback online and otherwise!

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