November 12, 2013

Stop! Don’t Post That Perfect Yoga Photo: Read This First.

As Theresa Pauline wrote, we yoga teachers must stop flaunting our Ass-ana in the images we use to promote yoga, and ourselves.

But what does that mean? How can we be more mindful as yoga teachers when we contemplate which yoga images to use of ourselves in social media and marketing?

Here’s how that awareness is working for me right now. I’m a Kiwi, and I’m super-excited because Wanderlust is coming to New Zealand and Australia next year—first with one-day city-based events, and then in 2015 with the whole four day festival she-bang.

I’m one yoga teacher who’s been selected as a Wanderlust Wayfarer. Wayfarers are a network of teachers who spread the word about Wanderlust to their local communities. As part of my role, I had to send in my bio and a photo.

Should be easy right? I’m all over the internet, and there are hundreds of photos of me on The Yoga Lunchbox alone (and quite a few on Elephant Journal). Yet, I found myself procrastinating and resisting.

As always, I noticed the procrastination and resistance and wondered, what’s going on here?

I also noticed that I was internally dismissive of some of the other bios and photos going up—my mind was poo-ing this and poo-ing that.

A-ha! This is sure sign of an inferiority/I’m not good enough dialogue going on. See it’s one thing to put myself out there through my modest little website, it’s another thing to be prominently associated with the brand-shebang that is Wanderlust.

Ok, I thought, I need to just get over myself, and do it.

So I did. I wrote a bio, and I hummed and ha’ed over the right photo to send in.

See, many of the other other photos I’d see of Wayfarers were gorgeous young women executing challenging postures in stunning locations. I have a couple of those kind of photos. Maybe not as gorgeous, not as challenging and not as stunning, but still something that fit the general template of Wayfarer photos I thought I saw emerging.

But I hesitated. One of the issues we’ve been exploring on The Yoga Lunchbox this year is the impact that yoga media images have on the yoga community and those outside the yoga community. I didn’t want to feed into the whole young-beautiful-flexible machine that predominantly represents yoga in the public eye.

It’s an issue that’s also exploded on Elephant Journal, with articles about body and yoga proliferating in the last month or so. What’s a real yoga body? What’s an unreal yoga body? What’s a yoga body full-stop?

Conscious of all this dialogue and dynamic, instead of a typical gorgeous, challenging posture, stunning location photo I choose a modest photo of myself wearing regular clothes, sitting on a chair and practicing yoga.

At least, when the photo was taken, I was in the process of practicing yoga—feeling into my body with my breath and allowing myself to be moved in a way that organically opened me up in the moment.

But still, I was nervous submitting both the bio and the photo. I knew I was choosing a photo that didn’t fit the template—or at least the template as I perceived it.

Later, I saw my bio and photo had been posted on the Wanderlust New Zealand Facebook page, and someone had left a comment.

Interesting posture there…

I read it, and something in my belly turned off and dropped out. I instantly felt the need to defend or explain myself.

And in the moment of all this happening…I noticed this happening. This was my ego at work—anytime you feel the need to defend or explain—it’s ego.

Plus, I noticed how I interpreted the comment. Three small words…and I’d interpreted them in a negative and sarcastic manner. The author could equally have meant them in a Wow! Interesting Posture! How Cool! kind of way.

The meaning or filter I’d put on the comment was creating my internal reality.

Later, in meditation, my mind kept going back to the photo, and the comment, and it kept composing responses. All the while, I’m meant to be meditating. Yep, I’d definitely been triggered. I cared what people thought. I was afraid of what people thought.

That’s ok, though. It’s all ok—it’s just process.

A day later, another comment was left:


Of course, I barely noticed that comment and didn’t allow it to seep into my being.

That comment I just brushed off. Fascinating, to observe all of this going on inside of me. Obviously, I have some inner work to do around being enough as a yoga teacher. Especially as a yoga teacher in the public eye.

This entire incident has made me aware of the subtle pressure I feel to be a certain way in the public arena—to fit in, to show up as a certain way, to project a certain image. This is good. I can deal with this. It’s my area of expertise—dealing with the subtle layers of ego that reveal themselves in our day to day life.

But what about all the other yoga teachers, yoga students and people who aren’t yet into yoga who are bombarded with images of gorgeous young women executing challenging postures in stunning locations?

Those photos are all over Facebook, Instagram and the ‘net in general.

Before we ponder that, remember, there’s nothing wrong with being young, or gorgeous, or in a challenging posture photographed in a stunning location. Beauty is a wondrous thing.

But these photos are not the whole story of yoga. They’re not even a large percentage of the whole story.

Many kinds of people practice yoga. And yoga is many kinds of things—including asana, but also meditation, pranayama, kirtan and karma yoga. Yes, these things are much harder to photograph. And yes, a photo of child’s pose has a completely different feeling than a photo of wheel pose.

I get all that. I so get all that. Yet yoga has a certain beauty all of it’s own—and I mean yoga as a state of presence, yoga as stillness, yoga as just being. Yoga as the formless, not the form. It’s bloody hard to photograph. It means taking the time to bring yourself into a state of yoga—the formless—while assuming some kind of form—the posture—and allowing a photo to be taken of you.

It’s much easier to assume the form—posture—and take the photo and say, that’s yoga.

That photo I submitted as a Wanderlust Wayfarer, that’s yoga as the formless becoming yoga as the form. I love that photo for that reason. I see the moment that’s been captured.

Best of all, it’s an accessible photo and I like to think that anybody could look at that photo, feel the yoga in it, and think, I could do that.

Yes, I could have chosen a photo of myself as a gorgeous young woman executing a challenging posture in a stunning location—and that would have lead to all kinds of likes and comments that would have fed my ego and made me feel good about myself.

Instead, I deliberately choose something that broadens the images we see of yoga, because as a yoga teacher in the public eye, that’s more important to me. And hey, doing that challenged me, and illuminated some areas inside of me that needs work. Even better!

The photo I choose to use didn’t make me feel good but it made me feel the truth of myself.

That’s how I’ve taken on board what Theresa wrote about. When I need to use a photo of myself to promote yoga, I check in and ask myself, what’s my motivation for choosing this particular photo? Is it because it makes me feel good about being me? Or is it because the image is appropriate for the use?

And that’s my challenge to other yoga teachers and students in the public eye is to start getting creative about how you photograph yoga.

Don’t go for the easy grab of a difficult pose in a stunning location. Go for the more difficult challenge of capturing the formlessly—capture a feeling sense, a quiet internal moment, a perfectly present simple pose, a moment of calm and peace.

Yes, seeing challenging postures can be inspiring and uplifting, but they can also be intimidating and inaccessible. Does your yoga marketing need images of you in handstand variations? Yes, if you’re teaching a handstand workshop, or an inversions series. No if you’re launching a beginner’s course or yoga for people with bad backs.

Ask yourself:

Am I using this photo because it makes me feel good? Or am I using this photo because it’s a suitable expression of yoga for this context?

Collectively, yoga teachers and students with a social media presence could then broaden the range of yoga images used. Yes, we’d still have all those gorgeous photos of young women difficult postures in stunning locations. But we’d also have more beautiful images of middle-aged women and older women and older-still women and men of every age group and people of all colours and abilities sharing many varied expressions of yoga, in all it’s manifestations.

Now that would be a beautiful sight to behold. And it starts with you and the choices you make.

What’s your take on this?

If you’re a yoga student, are you inspired or intimidated by the proliferation of images of challenging postures gracing the internet? I

f you’re a teacher, how do you decide what kind of images to use of yourself in media and social media? If you post photos of yourself practicing postures on social media, what motivates you to post and choose the photos you do?


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

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