Yoga Teachers: We Must Stop Flaunting Our Ass-ana. ~ Theresa Pauline

Via Theresa Pauline
on Oct 22, 2013
get elephant's newsletter

Handstand spilts

There are many, many, amazing yoga teachers out there who—even though they aren’t standing on their little finger on some tropical island—are inspiring in their own quiet ways.

If I had a nickel for every time I saw a posted photo of a yoga teacher in handstand, I’d be a millionaire.

There is a fine line between shining your inner spiritual light brightly so that others feel inspired to do the same…and shining the light, a little too bright, blinding the onlookers.

I follow many yoga teachers who I admire on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Lately, while scrolling through my newsfeed looking for something inspiring to share with my own students, all I see is pictures of these beautiful teachers in challenging postures, in very exotic places.

Fact: I know from my own experience that the fancy stuff gets the most attention (a plethora of “likes”). My question is: in a world where social media unintentionally has an influence on participants’ emotional well being, who are these posts really serving and how?

The Economist reported:

 …in February, 584 users of Facebook aged mostly in their 20s were surveyed. They found that the most common emotion aroused by using Facebook is envy. Endlessly comparing themselves with peers….this leaves Facebook’s users more than a little green-eyed. Real-life encounters, by contrast, are more WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get)…

Let’s be honest: social media is where many young budding people of the modern world turn to for news updates, inspiration and to stay connected. This is having some serious negative unintended consequences in many realms.

The realm of yoga should be safe, right?

Wrong. It is driving the definition of “yoga” more and more towards fancy postures. With teachers playing to the audience and posting themselves in the most difficult “asana” postures, they draw the most likes, the most attention, and the most number of vulnerable yoga students feeling inadequate and oh so far away from ever being “good at yoga”.

One could go so far as to say that the overuse of the difficult posture posts might even deter some new or inconsistent yogis from diving deeper into their own practice.

Leah, a yogi who is looking to get re-started said, “There is a teacher who I really like who does yoga in the park near my house, all of a sudden I started noticing that she was constantly posting all these photos of her in all these crazy poses…it really intimidated me and made me scared to go because I could never do any of that.”

When teachers constantly post photos of themselves in difficult postures, this gives a totally erroneous impression of what yoga is about. Social media gives yoga teachers the perfect opportunity to positively impact the health and minds of their students and instead they all too often increase anxiety levels and feelings of inadequacy.

After starting this article I took a gander at the sites I follow and saw of course, many photos of teachers in advanced handstands and arm balances. Just as I was starting to feel the frustration emerge, I saw this:

This is What a Real Yoga Body Looks Like, an article written from the heart from a real live yoga teacher, Rachel Priest.

This inspired me, it gave me hope and I was reminded that there are many, many, amazing yoga teachers out there who, because they aren’t standing on their little finger on some tropical island, perhaps aren’t as visible.

But they are out there inspiring in their own quiet ways.

I must recognize that obviously there are some positive impacts of teachers posting photos of advanced yoga postures. They are beautiful and they are inspiring for mid-level to advanced asana practitioners who already understand the foundational elements of yoga. They understand that their asana practice is a moving meditation using breath work and postures to focus the mind.

“The Study of asana is not about mastering the posture. It’s about using the posture to understand and transform yourself.” ~ Gary Kraftsow

As we progress in our whole practice over time, perhaps a desire will spark to push the boundaries of self, to get rid of old ideas of what we thought was possible for our bodies and then we dive deeper into our asana practice with more advanced postures.

My goal for my 30th birthday coming up in a couple of weeks is…guess what!?

After eight years of practicing, getting into handstand! It hasn’t been about the posture itself but about my own belief system and understanding how my practice creates results. It has been about the journey.

If it happens, I will share with my students that it happened for me and the reason I share is because, if it is possible for moi  to stand on my hands, then so can they…eventually.

No one steps onto their mat for the first time and nails an advanced posture, nor should they try, the posture is not the goal.

The first step is to get on the mat and to breath, get the journey started. New students are not going to want to get onto the mat in the first place if they think yoga is about advanced postures, and this is exactly what is happening.

Our job as yoga teachers is to inspire, not to intimidate. Let’s stop flaunting our ass-ana.

Once in a while let’s show them handstand, crane, bird of paradise, whatever, but we should make sure they understand it is about the journey.


Like elephant journal on Facebook.

Assistant Ed: Paige Vignola/Ed: Sara Crolick


About Theresa Pauline

Theresa or (Taozi/桃子 to her Chinese students) is a yoga teacher/student, world traveler, artist, natural food enthusiast and a writer from the heart. She always over uses the smiley face emoticon. 😉  She lives day to day, moment to moment and goes wherever it is the universe calls her to be of service, which is always a mystery. This way of life has taken her all around the world for nearly a decade, going with a smile. Her motto is, “the seeds we water are the seeds that grow”.  Find Theresa on Facebook or read more from her on her blog, Taozi Tree Yoga.



86 Responses to “Yoga Teachers: We Must Stop Flaunting Our Ass-ana. ~ Theresa Pauline”

  1. taozirae says:

    🙂 Love this.

  2. taozirae says:

    This is a great comment. As I understand it, Krishnamacharya was the messenger to get the asana out of the mountains and into the hands of people. The purpose? To draw attention to yoga through asana in order to shed light onto the ancient yogic tradition as a whole. Pattabhi Jois, at the time, was a skinny, flexible Indian teenager. Asana is still the primary attraction in modern yoga, however, we live in a different world. As a large percentage of westerners are obese, sedentary, socially withdrawn, depressed and insecure… it's a different and vulnerable audience.

  3. Speak for yourself(ves): one could also be skinny, rapidly aging, diseased, overscheduled, hypercommuting and weak!

  4. So show every body!

  5. Who IS fooled: rank beginners with time and money to burn. The occasional triathlete or marathoner. The young. Parkour traceurs. Have I gotten to 5% of the population yet??!!?

  6. taozirae says:

    I meant to say OR insecure and add infinitum… You are right, these are all issues people face today as well. Albeit, there are many who are happy, joyous, free, healthy, and full of life— I'm not saying every one is sick (obviously)…just a large enough body of people that it deserves some more foresight when teachers decide how to attract/draw back potential/inconsistent students to yoga.

  7. kait says:

    her doing her advanced poses should be done at home? and private? I don't agree. Her journey is her journey, she should be free to express herself. While I agree with the article, this right here…. doesn't make much sense.

  8. Julia says:

    Why are we focusing on making other people NOT celebrate success instead of focusing on not comparing ourselves to others in a negative way? Why are we promoting bringing down others instead of enjoying their success with them? Even if it's just to say "good job" or to use for inspiration? I am very new in yoga and after six months finally got into crow pose, what helped me get there was seeing my teachers and classmates get into it effortlessly. I had a goal based on watching others and it motivated me. Anything anyone does in class I could let intimidate me, but why would I?
    I read this and thought, "Hey, please don't be great in public, make sure no one sees you and your hard work because I have insecurities and I'm allowing you to bring them out in me. If you are mediocre I can compare myself better and not feel as bad."

  9. melissa says:

    Thank you. thank you.

  10. Because some people don't get into crow pose (and hold it with sukha and sthira) even if they've been practicing yoga regularly for 6 YEARS (and, yes, I are one) … I want the selfies that show the struggle … just like in a regular yoga class!

  11. Boodiba says:

    It's funny but I read the blurb of one of my Instagram yogis yesterday, and she was going on about how yoga is not about touching her foot to her head or doing fancy poses, but is about inner stillness. The little video clip showed her in handstand, touching her foot to her head. A shot of her sitting serenely in lotus, eyes closed, would've been more appropriate!

    I wonder if she realized she was being funny 🙂

  12. onedowndog says:

    love this article. wrote a poem on the topic a bit ago, check it out – I think you might like it:)

  13. taozirae says:

    Beautiful poem… 🙂 What are we doing for others? This is the bottom line isn't it?

  14. I, at least OWN my feelings and don't paint a false airy-fairy-it's all good patina over it … call me non-advanced as a yogi or anything you wish. It rolls off my back and back at YOU!!!

    I have lived too long on this Earth for nonsense!

    Anyway, I did stop taking YOGA from her, but for another reason–not SO unrelated, though; she changed style possibly in trying to appeal to the burgeoning market for restorative styles of yoga that are not quite sleepytime (and underrepresented in my wannabe area). I don't take live classes in yoga right now.

  15. As I have said many times before, most of those types of yoga teachers are not mature enough (even if they are chronologically older than the current hot patooties) to appreciate existential irony … even if they teach using it!

  16. Boodiba says:

    Even unknowingly! 🙂 It doesn't really matter. This woman looks to be anywhere from 28 to 34 or so, but it's hard to tell. I think we can all get what we need out of it though, "it" being the collective yoga experience out there.

  17. As a yoga teacher of many years now, it grieves me to see the asanas separated from the true purpose of Hatha yoga, to connect with Source in meditation. We live in a country that glorifies the body, and also exploits it. Hatha yoga offers profound benefits. Not only the fitness and health of the physical body is improved, but Hatha is a segeway into the higher realms. Why sell ourselves short by simply focusing on how well we do in a pose, when the real value lies in how well we can sit in silence, losing awareness of the body and diving deep into Divine Bliss? May all yoga teachers find the true path of Raja Yoga and carry it forth to all their students. Namaste.

  18. …And if not now, then When?

  19. kate says:

    This NEEDED to be said!!!! Good work lady!

  20. Erin McGuire says:

    I agree that teachers should pay attention to the intention behind what we post and why we are demonstrating a pose in class or our reason for introducing it to the class in the first place. As you said so well- for inspiration rather than to blind, it shouldn't be coming from the ego. When it comes from the ego it's not so shiny and I personally feel that comes across in photos and in person. I think the viewer has a similar responsibility to recognize from what part of themselves they are viewing. When I see someone doing what they do well and it brings me down or makes me feel incompetent that's coming from my ego. I don't want that for myself or for others. I don't want my ego to make others feel like they need to stifle their light if it's truly coming from their spirit expression. We're all connected right? If others can do what they do well than that means that potential is within me too. I want to look at any pose and anything that someone does well and tell them "You are amazing! Thank you for showing me what is possible for you, it makes me want to explore what is possible for me!" So if you're mindfully shining out in handstand or dandasana – I love it and want to see it! By the way, dandasana was for me for a long time an "advanced pose."

  21. Thank you so much for writing this!!!!! I agree with everything you have said 100%!

  22. taylor says:

    each person's practice should be their own, with no judgement. if someone is not inspired by a teacher, don't follow them… find someone that resonates with you. personally, i love teachers that show challenging poses, it gives me something to work towards. more power to you, yoga godesses!

  23. Yes – I agree – Thank you for this article…..It is not just students who get intimidated by these kinds of posts – as a yoga instructor who tends to NOT post things like this I often wonder, "Am I doing enough, Am I good enough, I can't do that should I be able to?" Thank you for this reminder….that yes, I too am enough…..

  24. HeatherM says:

    Many thanks for using my pic as the leading image.

    There are a lot of issues that come up with using pics for marketing and/or media, etc. I agree with your points, but I also feel it works both ways. A student may feel intimidated but does it mean a teacher who is capable of doing the postures, who has worked hard at practice over many years and studies, etc…..should they hide them? Deliberately not show their postures? Does this help the other person not face where and what they ultimately need to work on? And/or clear their lens in that it is not about intimidation as it is about practice, training, inner development and the asanas are 'some' of those fruits.

    If teachers are made to feel bad about themselves for their work then it really doesn't help anyone. It doesn't allow for those who need to build up their practice and/or to get over being jealous to experience a growth spurt. And at the same time, it hinders teachers from showing their postures, .because they have meet with students feeling low about never being able to do 'that' pose.

    I have personally faced these issues. And overall, everyone has to take responsibility for themselves. Students for what they see and for the teachers they choose to study with. And teachers need to own how they present their postures and what is behind it. For myself, I use many postures to show people the possibilities. And I stress where I started (not where I landed) and how far there is still to go.

    Instead of saying that teachers should not flaunt their stuff, it is more a case of being responsible and to some extent being honest and direct about the real journey of yoga, which ultimately is not an asana.

  25. From your pen to my closed wallet, my dear …

  26. Liz says:

    And then you judging the judgmental, and me judging you for judging them… Where/when will it end?

  27. bestofbw says:

    But that's just it, the point of yoga is detachment from being proud or feeling accomplishment in a pose. It's rather, just being there and being present in that pose. Snapping and posing for a picture is not yoga and defeats the purpose.

  28. Kristel Villalobos says:

    I don't think the path of yoga is one way or the other.
    There is a path for everyone and everyone sees the world their own way, and expresses themselves their own way.
    If your way of expressing what you know inspires people why to stop?

    I get what you mean about the stereotype yogis feel forced to have due to social media, but we should not shame it, we should just follow our path and show it works to inspire people in our own way, we know it's not the only way, it's one way.
    I feel full when I see elder people gaining flexibility after so many years of being inactive.

    "Walker there's no path, you do your path as you walk"
    Let's unite ❤️ let's be united ❤️ Let's inspire ❤️ Let's share ❤️ Let's love ❤️

  29. chris mayhew says:

    I’m going to give you the other side of the story. Why do yoga teachers and the new yoga industry insist on copying and “stealing” acrobatic skills and techniques developed over hundreds of years (thousands if you include Chinese acrobats and kungfu and Arabian practitioners) and generations of circus performers, dancers and variety artists who have spent lifetimes mastering their Art. We have quasi yoga groups renaming fundamental acrobatic skills into Sanskrit names as some sort of new age marketing ploy? When these skills have been practised and perfected well beyond any yogi’s reach and is in fact a disciplined practise form of the human body and a very highly skilled Art developed across many cultures celebrating physical health, youth and vitality and expression and leads the practitioner to a level of physical and self mastery unattainable via yoga practise new age or otherwise. I have been and benefited from my own personal yoga practise for over 30 years now but seeing the steady creep of “rebranding” what is an Art Form very much separate from yoga and then “re teaching” in a yogic way really does my head in! People can benefit and learn much from both but please don’t diminish one because it is not “spiritual” or does not have a multi million dollar industry behind it in the form of new age sales- hype, accreditations, schools, fashionistas – clothing labels, equipment-brands, health resorts, conferences etc etc etc!! To master a handstand the Chinese students who literally live from 6 or 7 years of age in a school dorm training every day up to ten years! upon waking up before they are allowed to even wash their face must do a 2 to 3 hour session before breakfast then followed by another 7 or 8 hours of brutally hard training and this is only the fundamental initial foundations of their art…After this “schooling” of many years if they have not dropped out then they can be selected for specialist training….a handstand student spends 5 hours a day at least for five years and only then is considered a beginner in the art of handstands. These children who can perform utterly incomprehensible feats are not trained monkeys as I’ve heard people call them in jealous disrespect but examples of the thousands of years of knowledge, technique and human mastery put into practise. I would like the International Yoga community to start showing Acrobatic Arts the respect it deserves.

  30. taozirae says:


  31. otiliapasca says:

    I immediately hated this article title. Stop being awesome?!!? What a sad conclusion to arrive at and symptomatic of this widespread desire to dim your light and the light of others but that is a discussion for another time. I mean I wanted to say what a stupid conclusion to arrive at but when I calmed down I realized the call for anyone to dim their light scared me and made me sad. We must never ever ever never try to not be the best we can be for the perceived sake of other’s needs. If you love what you do and you put in tireless hours to hone and perfect your art and people hate then it's absolutely the hater’s issues and depending on your desired outcome needs to be addressed but never by diminishing yourself or asking other to diminish themselves. If your light is “blinding the onlookers” they should get some fucking sunglasses, look away or figure out their own shit. You cannot extinguish the sun, it would be stupid to try. Use your energy for something constructive.

    If your desire is to invite people to yoga put in effort expressing the good of yoga or share how you overcome your fear of yoga but do not tell people that are sharing their love of yoga to stop being good at yoga. I get that the point of yoga is not to be an acrobat. If it was then tween gymnasts would be the most advanced revered yogis of the land and they are not. They are flexible and disciplined but that is not what yoga is.

    Without going into the already defined eight limbs of yoga the basic asana practice is about arriving to that space in yourself where you become aware that there is a space between stimulus and response and realizing that you have the power to make a choice in that moment. Yoga is about empowering you to identify your own crazy and to break free from it and to deal with the crazy of people around you and life without getting crazier.

    The asana practice is like relearning life, like basic stuff: as if you are relearning to crawl, walk, tie your shoes again. It's about being on that mat for 60-90 minutes and arriving to that place where you realize you are not your sweat, you are not your discomfort, you are not your thirst, you are not your stiff body, you are not your embarrassment, you are not your ill-fitting clothes, you are not the argument you had earlier in your day, you are not a comparison to the seemingly perfect yogi on the mat next to you, you are not your job, you are not your perception of how you should be, YOU JUST ARE, you are good, you are whole, you are perfect, you are love. And every person in that room just is. Everyone is the same. We are all one. That is the core of what brings people back to yoga. That is yoga.

    What should be shared is if people have been doing yoga and keep going back to yoga they have probably had that inevitable experience of oneness. Your yoga teacher has had that experience and it's probably part of why they want to teach, and the yogi next to you that is doing crazy acrobatic shit and making you feel uncomfortable or jealous they have had that experience, and once you have that experience of connection, of oneness, of love there is no judgement, there is no going back from that, you don’t unlearn that feeling of connection, that feeling of compassion. There is just a wish to share the experience. To awake everyone to the feeling of one, to the feeling of belonging. You are always welcome to a yoga studio, to a yoga class. Yoga is home. That is what we should share about yoga. You are not your doubt, you are not your fear, you are perfect, you are perfect right now, in this moment, exactly as you are even in baggy sweats, a crumpled towel, a red face and a puddle of sweat.

  32. otiliapasca says:

    As to asana and fancy pictures. Are you kidding!!?!? Why the f*#k not??! Especially coming to yoga as an adult after many years of the routine of the breakfast chair, to the office chair, to the bar chair, to the dinner chair, to the couch chair and repeat ad infinitum. It feels fucking awesome to move your body. And little by little as if by magic you touch your toes, and then you are in bridge and then wheel and dancer pose and then lo and behold maybe with an assist or against a wall you are in headstand and you are a child again and you are full of joy and wonder and look what this body I have can do. You find freedom. I am free and it's awesome and fun. I don’t have the best practice in the world, not by far and I choose to do many things that are not in pursuit of yoga and so I will never have that insane, bendy, twisty balancing on my pinky upside down and sideways type of yoga practice but I love seeing the possibility of the human body in those that do pursue that type of practice. It is admirable.

    It’s like this: If I see a flower blooming I don’t think I hate you flower you are perfect, I am ashamed flower you are more beautiful than me, I am not going to try today flower because I will never reach the effortless ease of your perfection. No, I think ha  look at me stopping to smell the roses, smile and go about my day with, my step a little lighter. I encourage everyone and anyone no matter where you are in your practice to take a yoga selfie, post and share that shit if you use social media. It’s just you saying, hey me too, I love yoga  I post because I love yoga and I see progress and growth in myself and it’s exciting. And ultimately it is you and your journey and your life. You are here now, have fun, be brave. I know the only regrets I have are the chances I didn't take!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Namaste 🙂

  33. taozirae says:

    This article is about the harm incessant acrobatics poses in social media has on the new yogi-the unenlightened one. In my experience working as a yoga teacher.

    "I will share with my students that it happened for me and the reason I share is because, if it is possible for moi to stand on my hands, then so can they…eventually.

    No one steps onto their mat for the first time and nails an advanced posture, nor should they try, the posture is not the goal.

    The first step is to get on the mat and to breath, get the journey started. New students are not going to want to get onto the mat in the first place if they think yoga is about advanced postures, and this is exactly what is happening.

    Our job as yoga teachers is to inspire, not to intimidate. Let’s stop flaunting our ass-ana.

    Once in a while let’s show them handstand, crane, bird of paradise, whatever, but we should make sure they understand it is about the journey."

    Im happy it had such a powerful impact on you and appreciate your thoughts, I think its possible you misunderstand the point. If not I am happy we can agree to disagree. 🙂

  34. Halley says:

    Interesting Article! The article itself really brings the practice of yoga to the forefront. How we respond to images can be powerful. The thoughts can be empowering or disempowering. Yoga teaches us to go inside…inside is only good. Yoga is not an external practice. Yet what we thinking and how we respond to the external world, that is the yoga. Can we return back to our natural state of mind? It is not an easy practice but choosing to embrace the beauty in what I see, it internally makes me feel better. We are so lucky to have the practice of yoga!!!! The ability to take a moment/breath and recognize the journey this man or woman has had to accomplish whatever pose. The article made think about a personal story. I practiced crow for a couple years. It was early on in my practice and then just one day decided to give up. It’s easier to take goddess squat I thought. My teacher called me out (not by name but I knew she was talking to me) by saying, “not goddess squat”. I had never experience so much fear in a yoga pose as I held crow for half a beat. But i I also experience this idea of possibility all in the same breath. I realize crow is just a silly pose but what else was possible for me? Where else what I showing up small? What else had I sworn off? There will come a time when my body may no longer allow me to practice these postures but as long as I have my mind, I will do my best to use it in a positive way. When I can no longer use my body, I will still have other gifts. When I look at a young fit woman on the beach, wearing all white in what one might perceive as a perfect handstand, I will do my best to see inspiration, to see ease, to see love of one’s body. My dark friend (envy) may try and rear it’s little head in there but I know envy will not make me happy. I choose happy.

  35. shana says:

    (I’m a libra) So on the one hand (as they say) I totally get this, but then again why take on the role of dictating what people choose to share/teach by image/example. The only real way to quiet the noise that you don’t wish to hear, is to stop looking. I try to take notice of the way I feel when I look at certain posts from certain people across all platforms, and if the feeling is not one I’d like to keep having, I unfriend, unfollow, or just unlook. I take responsibility for all that I take in. And I do not wish to take on the responsibility of what other people post. Let people be as they are, post as they will, and use your own free will by unfollowing.

  36. laura says:

    i would call this trend ‘yoga porn’. The narcissists play to the voyeurists.