January 26, 2014

The Yoga Selfie. ~ Genny Wilkinson-Priest

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.


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Photo: elephant archives, Flickr/Synergy By Jasmine

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