April 9, 2014

Is Social Media Ruining Yoga? ~ Juliet Glassroth


Sometimes I fear that Facebook, YouTube and Instagram may bring about the downfall of yoga.

Every day, I see videos and pictures posted online of people getting their yoga on and it’s inspirational and beautiful.

But I rarely, if ever, see someone proudly displaying mountain pose, triangle or a simple yet elegant forward fold. It’s more likely back-bend-to-bow-with-one-arm-tied-behind-the-back-asana. Or handstand balanced on a pinky while holding a pitcher of water on the toes.

I exaggerate, but you get the point.

It seems as though there’s a glorification of yoga as gymnastics—Cirque du Soleil, really—on social media and it’s giving me anxiety.

I worry that all these fancy online asanas may have some unintended consequences.

It could alienate those who are newer to yoga. It may discourage those who can’t, don’t or shouldn’t practice the more advanced postures. In particular, I am concerned that those who might be greatly served by the practice—but intimidated by what they see on social media—may walk away from it altogether.

Pink Pretzel GirlThese images may also reinforce the misperception that yoga is little more than wrapping oneself into a pretzel or flying up into handstand.

I’ve never been what you might call athletic.

When everyone else wanted to play kickball at recess, I was hiding out somewhere in the shade, never wanting to work up a sweat. But yoga has always been different for me. From the very first time I stepped into a studio—and, almost without fail, every time since—I’ve left feeling not only endorphins from the physical practice but also a sense of calm and well-being that I never experienced after a run or 40 minutes on the elliptical.

Despite my lack of physical prowess, I can generally hold my own in asana practice.

Lucky for me, when I was starting out, I never felt judged or demoralized if I modified poses. At first, watching others do crow or camel made me laugh and think, “As if!” With time, gentle coaching from excellent teachers and, frankly, a great deal of surprise on my part, I have mastered some of the postures I thought would always be unavailable to me.

However, after nearly 15 years, there are still more poses than I can count that my body doesn’t want to or is not able to do. Most arm balances, for example, or binds of any kind.

Thankfully, I’ve learned that whether or not one ever does a handstand matters very little.

Actually, it matters not at all in terms of the benefits of the practice.

Many people may never be able to touch the floor in a forward fold or get both sets of toes lifted off the ground in crow. Those aren’t the goals of the practice, anyway.

Asana is only one in an eight part bag of tricks.

Mountain pose on mount Bromo

Think about it—the Yoga Sutras reference asana in only three out of 196 verses. There’s a lot more to yoga than one’s ability to do flying crow.

But, nowadays, at least in fast-paced urban areas like Washington, D.C. where I live, yoga classes can resemble a type-A competition to see who can do the most “advanced” postures. I am concerned that the many well-intended yogis posting videos or photos of themselves performing acrobatic postures may be inadvertently fueling this trend.

Certainly, there is room for all types of yoga to be represented on social media.

No doubt, there are many who are eager to see the athleticism and beauty in the physical achievement of advanced postures.

I want to be sure we’re also reaching people who would benefit from yoga, but don’t yet know how to incorporate it into their lives today.

As a community, I want yoga to help people—all people—realize the power of simple movement aligned with breathing; of going inward to expand.

I just haven’t quite figured out how to post that on Facebook in the form of a video. As soon as I do, I’ll let you know.

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Photo: elephant journal archives

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Juliet Glassroth