October 2, 2013

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

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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Alice Nicholls