October 4, 2013

My Selfish Yoga Selfie. ~ Michele Bickley


For a long time I was against taking a “yoga selfie” (self portrait) and posting them on the various social media outlets.

I’ve heard some yogis describe the selfie (and also Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, for that matter) as narcissistic, ego-driven, and vain. But, this is not why I was refraining from snapping pics of myself and putting them out into the world.

In fact, I was choosing to not take yoga selfies because I was being ego-driven and vain and, yes, narcissistic.

When the social media selfie was becoming all the rage, I avoided cameras like the plague. I was in some judgment of my body and my physical yoga practice. Not so yogic, I know. I saw photo after photo of awesome bodies creating impossible shapes. There was no way in hell I was going to put my post pregnancy and out-of-practice body in a selfie. No, thank you. I will let the yoga celebs take care of that and I will keep my body and my practice to myself.

(Hmmm, maybe a bit selfish?)

Then I got a request from a friend who lived across the country to help her with some neck pain. I was parked in my car, letting my sleeping baby nap, and I decided to video myself doing some therapeutic neck exercises to send to my friend. I was tired from being up with my baby all night, par for course, and didn’t have on any make-up. For a moment I thought to wait until my thoughts were clearer and my hair wasn’t a wreck, but, let’s face it, with a three-year-old and an infant baby, that time was never going to come.

So, I made a quick video on my iPhone.

When I viewed the clip, I started to hate it, but then realized this was Yoga in Real Life.

This is what yoga looks like to most of the population. I breathed in the fact that I was using my sparse time to do a little yoga and help a friend relieve some pain. This was a good thing. An awesome thing. Without judging, I uploaded it to YouTube and sent it to my friend. I let go of the ego-based thoughts about people seeing me, the raw me, and I just put it out there.

When my friend watched the video and said it helped her neck, I took a moment to acknowledge what that meant.

She even sent it to a friend who then contacted me to say thanks and ask for help with something else. Ah, there was some connection here.

I began to think about how my practice (and body) had changed since kids—the experience I was having was not unique. We all go through phases in life where things shift. But, we rarely see photos or videos of yogis who are going through those phases, or have less than perfect bodies.

Since when did the yoga world become a scaled down version of Hollywood?

A few weeks later, a good friend and photographer came to my 8 AM class and asked to take some pics of me because the lighting looked so beautiful. Here I was again, not ready for a photo shoot, but I said yes because: this is yoga in real life.

When she sent me the pictures, the lighting did look amazing. However, I saw flaws for days with my body and my poses. When did my back bends become so shallow?  Couldn’t I straighten my leg? How much weight have I gained? Was that really my maternity underwear sticking out of my pants?

Holy ego. Holy judgment. Holy where is the yoga in this?

I took a closer look and saw…how happy I looked in the photos,  how full of life. I could almost see the prana. And, the composition was artistic. I thought about students I have taught over the years who can’t touch their toes, those who needed a wheel chair to get around, or some who were partially paralyzed. I felt humbled.

Who was I to judge this amazing facility that I move around in with ease and fill with gorgeous breath?

I decided right then to start a Facebook page for my yoga. I was determined to film, photo, and post myself online in the hopes of making some kind of connection with people to educate, inspire, and teach. And, that I wasn’t going to wait to lose 20 pounds before I did it. I would accept myself exactly the way I was.

And this all felt surprising. How was I just now accepting what I looked like? By this point in my journey, I thought I worked through all of this old-eating-disorder-self-hate-bullshit. That was yesterday’s story. I went through umpteen years of therapy and I was now an adult, a wife, a mom. I felt confident and comfortable in my body, in my world.  I experienced love and acceptance daily.

But, apparently that feeling of self-love wasn’t translating when I looked at an image of myself. I realized that when it came to my selfie, I was still attached to those photos of me when I was 18, completely unhealthy, very underweight, and about as bendy as they come.

I had set some kind of strange narcissistic bar, way high in the “unobtainable-in-real-life” category, and was having trouble being in the truth of my present moment. I was having trouble accepting the imperfections of my photographed image.

Part of this comes from the fact that my yoga practice today is more than the physical. It is more than what happens on my mat. It is a very internal process of connection that manifests itself all throughout my life.  

I was struggling to see all of that within an image, one photograph. I have seen a few yoga images that are works of art. I don’t know if they rival classic self-portraits from artists like Van Gogh, Picasso and Munch; the kind that create stirrings in your soul. But, there are some photos where the yoga pose and composition tell a story and communicate emotion—a selfie that makes you think and feel.

And, they do other things as well: they inspire and motivate. I was actually surprised at how many people are inspired by yoga pose pictures. How it plants a seed for people to explore in their own practice. Some images I’ve seen even inspire the development of some of my classes.

And, I certainly have learned how to do some poses from looking at selfies and the instructions that come with them. When I am looking for a fun and more advanced type of pose to play with, I love scrolling through Instagram. Some people are actually teaching via selfie! Now, the teaching doesn’t compare to something in person, but they can be a supplemental tool for practitioners and even teachers.

I have also experienced connection through these avenues—another testament to our shrinking world in an ever-expanding earth community.

So, now, I embrace my yoga selfies. They are an expression of what yoga in real life looks like. They are not polished and professional. They are imperfect. They are often spontaneous, as I never know when I am going to get a moment to practice. And, they are an example of how yoga can be done anywhere, anytime. My selfies try to show how yoga can be for everyone and everybody.

How yoga is a tool that can be used to find health, peace, well-being, and strength. How yoga is a way of life.


Yoga in real life.  A beautiful life.

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Asst. Ed: Melissa Petty/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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