The Yoga Selfie. ~ Genny Wilkinson-Priest

Via Genny Wilkinson-Priest
on Jan 26, 2014
get elephant's newsletter

seated pose

The yoga selfie.

It’s a right of passage for every yogi living in the digital age.

Yoga selfies are found everywhere, proliferating across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

There are reams of articles that instruct us on how to take the best ones (make sure you point the camera from a low position) to what to wear (bikinis are best) and where to take them (a dock on a beach is great, but on top of a mountain works too.)

I don’t have a problem with yoga selfies per se. They’re pretty to look at. They can serve to inspire people to start yoga, or to develop an existing practice with trickier postures. (Though as any serious student of yoga knows, the ability to put both legs behind your head does not an advanced yogi make.)

But yoga selfies—and the ones with the most views and likes are invariably gravity-defying arm balances or jaw-dropping backbends—can also make aspiring, or even long-time practitioners, feel dejected and unworthy. I should know—I’m in my second decade of a daily Ashtanga practice yet can still feel not-good-enough when my Facebook feed clutters up with yogis pressing effortlessly up into handstand after handstand. (I get it. You’re good at handstands.)

They make it look easy.

And this is my issue—yoga isn’t easy.

Not even when you are practicing day-in, day-out for years at a time. In yoga, you hit lows just as much, if not more, than you hit the highs.  Why aren’t there more yogis documenting the struggles of practice? (The only one I can think of is Arthur, the vet who couldn’t walk before yoga, which helped him run.)

The Bhagavad Gita tells us there is no failure when we put in effort. Effort never goes to waste. This ancient scripture tells us not to become attached to the fruits of our actions.

Is it possible that extreme yoga selfies are a sign of engaging in action for the sake of reward? (Look at me! Look at what I can do!)

I believe we do our practice a disservice when we make our lifestyle choice look beautiful and easy. Practice isn’t normally on a sunny beach in Goa with palm trees swaying gently in the background. It’s normally done after struggling to get out of bed at 5 am (sleep interrupted by a cranky toddler, natch) on a bitterly cold morning.

Oftentimes the reality of yoga practice that’s rarely captured in a selfie is SI joint pain and hamstrings seemingly made of steel.  Nobody photographs themselves on the days they lack energy but still unroll the mat. Nobody documents the attempts to work through stubbornly tight shoulders and bind in Pasasana. Nobody “likes” the YouTube of the yogi who falls heavily on their ass in Bujda Pidasana every time they try it.

Some people cannot, and will never do advanced yoga postures. For many, the shape and angle of their bones make it physically impossible to wrap their legs behind their head. And yet they come back to the mat time and time again, working a simple Warrior II with a wide stance.

There isn’t a lot of wow factor in that. But that’s yoga. It can be that simple and still curative and beautiful.

I’m not saying that those who have strong practices haven’t worked hard and come up against obstacles. I have no doubt they have struggled. Everyone does. They will have put in years of determined effort. They are prolific disciples of the practice, igniting interest in it around the world.

But for every Ashtavakrasana selfie, I’d like to see a Dandasana photo (with bent knees) championed with 5000 likes on Instagram.

There are yoga heroes to be found not only in the yogi who does Tittibhasana press-ups. My yoga hero is the guy who broke his shoulder, and came back to the mat eight weeks later doing half sun salutations. My yoga hero is the new mother whose practice consists solely of shoulderstand and Savasana for 10 minutes a day. My yoga hero is my teacher, who in the past nine years I’ve known him has demonstrated exactly two postures. I have no idea what his Viparita Dandasana looks like.

These are the people we should celebrate.


Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!

Assistant Editor: Zenna James/Editor: Cat Beekmans

Photo: elephant archives, Flickr/Synergy By Jasmine


About Genny Wilkinson-Priest

Genny Wilkinson-Priest has been practicing yoga since 2000, and started teaching it when the births of four boys in six years side-swiped her career as a journalist for the likes of Reuters and Time Magazine. She teaches Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow, and recently started the charity “CalmaKid” which brings yoga to children in underprivileged London schools.


8 Responses to “The Yoga Selfie. ~ Genny Wilkinson-Priest”

  1. Kat says:

    Thanks for the article! I would love to see real moments in practice captured on film and “liked” 5000 times on Instagram or whatever. I’m a yoga teacher as well and do not follow any yogi on Instagram that posts 10 handstands photos per day. Just not my thing.

  2. Jay says:

    Deepen your yoga practice; dispense with "social media".

  3. Beautiful article.

  4. Ingrid says:

    How do you do yoga and a selfie at the same time?

  5. Bryant says:

    I understand that yoga has become little more than a trendy exercise routine for most western practitioners lately but if I’m not mistaken, yoga was traditionally intended to prepare the body for meditation. And meditation is generally regarded as a path to an awakening or enlightenment if you will. One of the most fundamental steps in this progression is to move away from the ego and vanity. Taking a “yoga selfie” seems to me to be a clear sign that you lack this basic understanding of what yoga is intended for. That being said, we are all at different points along our own unique journeys and as contradictory as yoga and selfies are towards one another, I can understand the trend. But it’s still weird.

  6. sabine says:

    Great article. I agree with the other comments above 100%. Yoga is an internal practice. It's what is happening on the inside that's "yoga". Selfies, instagram, etc etc are pretty to look at but they are external. Do Yoga for yourself; grow, challenge yourself and keep some things to yourself. I believe that Yoga in social media is just another external extension of our society's obsession with consumerism and selfishness. But hey, that's just me?!

  7. Jessica says:

    I like looking at yoga selfies. They encourage me on some days while it also make me envious on other days.

  8. I also like yoga selfies! Here's another perspective on yoga selfies, fresh from my blog today: