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Yoga Teachers & Selfies: Do They Harm or Inspire? ~ Jennifer Ginsberg

Yoga Sexy

The debate about yoga selfies has dominated the blogosphere as of late, and passionate opinions prevail on both sides.

On the one hand, there are the instructors who claim it’s not only their right to post model-esque pictures of themselves looking effortless in some complicated inversion that most practitioners will never come close to achieving (even after decades of practice). They also claim it’s a marketing tool (they need to make a living after all), plus an expression of their love for the asana.

Then, on the other side, harsh judgments reign supreme as senior teachers bemoan that posting such pictures is only fueled by narcissism and ego, leading to the question:

“What’s yogic about inundating every social media site with semi-pornographic photos of oneself?”

As a 20 year yoga practitioner and a psychotherapist, my concern about the constant barrage of airbrushed yoga images are whether they serve to exacerbate or heal the body image issues and disordered eating patterns of the very students these instructors are claiming to inspire.

Over the past decade, eating disorders have taken on epidemic numbers.

When I first began practicing yoga two decades ago, I was in the throes of my own eating disorder. Having just graduated from NYU, I was an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. After spending years performing the classics and dichotomizing Shakespeare, I suddenly found myself in cattle call auditions for Miracle Bras.

It didn’t matter that I had been accepted with a merit scholarship into one of the most competitive drama programs in the country. I was a pretty, shiny object held up against other pretty, shiny objects.

I walked away from those auditions feeling empty, broken and defective. When I faced rejection, I knew in my core that it was very personal and very, very physical. I wasn’t rejected because my Lady Macbeth monologue fell flat. I was rejected because I wasn’t pretty enough or thin enough or had the right hair or clear enough skin.

My problems, I believed, could be overcome if I could only summon the will to exercise, starve and barf myself into perfection.

Unlike the Shakespeare plays I studied, my entry into yoga was totally non-dramatic.

I wish I could report that I was bathed in self-acceptance and relieved of all this crap from the moment I stepped foot into my first Gentle Flow class in Hermosa Beach in 1994.

Quite the contrary.

But I do remember my first instructors as kind, approachable, regular looking men and women who had a genuine love for the principles of yoga. Nothing magical happened in those classes, I simply brought myself and all my perceived physical imperfections onto the mat, and if I was lucky, I’d experience a few moments of freedom from the bondage of self.

There were days I puked before class. There were days I rushed out of class before savasana to smoke a cigarette. But for some reason, I kept returning to that mat, day after day, year after year.

After time, I found that my usual self-loathing and discomfort could be relieved when I stepped onto my mat. For brief moments, my self-imposed slavery of perfection was replaced with freedom as my body opened up in a triangle pose.

For once, I didn’t feel judged, inadequate or less than. I learned the true value of my mat, my experience, my yoga.

Over the years, my relationship to my classes, other practitioners in the room and instructors has gone through many growing pains. “Get skinnier” is no longer the intention I set in the beginning of class (however, it was for more years than I’d like to admit).

I finally have no problem modifying a pose or taking a break in child’s pose, when in the past my ego would win the asana battle and leave me with casualties of strained wrists, sore knees and pulled hamstrings.

I’ve finally learned to keep my driste’ centered within the perimeter of my mat so I can’t compare poses, body parts, Lululemon leggings and boob jobs while I’m attempting to salute the sun.

So how do I, as an everyday, long-term practitioner, feel when I look at impossibly perfect, airbrushed, yoga selfies of instructors who I’m certain preach the values of self-love and acceptance during their classes?

Inspired?

Drawn to them and their classes?

Do I see their barely clad bodies, washboard abs and airbrushed faces as an expression of their love for yoga?

Hell no.

I feel like it’s a disease, and it promotes disease.

When I look at these selfies, I feel about as inspired as I did when I was 18 and looking at pictures of Kate Moss in Vogue during the “heroin chic” phase of modeling. I feel like these instructors never spiritually evolved beyond the intention of “get thin.”

As harsh as this seems, I do feel compassion for female yoga instructors who are struggling with how to stay relevant and make a profit in an over-saturated and highly competitive market.

But please know that the very women you claim to inspire with your impossibly perfect images are left feeling insecure, diminished and not good enough.

Studios are filled with women like me who are longing for a safe space to escape the competitive, objectifying jungle in which we live. It’s disheartening that with all the strides in feminism, women still seek and gain power and control with their faces and bodies.

If I were a yoga instructor, I’d bow out of this sick game quickly because it’s a miserable path to nowhere.

As I learned as an aspiring actress, when we skate by on our appearance we better make sure the ice isn’t cracked, because there is always someone prettier, younger and thinner right around the corner.

In short, I’d avoid any instructor that feels the need to “promote” or “express” herself with yoga selfies like the fucking plague.

And, I believe I’m not alone.

 

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Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Travis May

Photo: Chris Mare/Pixoto

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Nadia Hasbi Jun 26, 2014 10:02am

Interesting. Well, if it wasn't for yogis promoting themselves, I would have never found out about Liquido leggings, which have been the best leggings to practice in so far! They are soft, stretchy and feel like second skin! (www.liquido.com.my)

John Jun 22, 2014 1:38pm

"In short, I’d avoid any instructor that feels the need to “promote” or “express” herself with yoga selfies"

So… Dharma Mittra's out, Iyengar is out, Swenson is out, Rusty Wells it out, Kino is out, the list goes on and on, where are you going to find a teacher who's never stuck a photo of themselves in a yoga pose on a flyer or in a book? Let us know when you're going to tell Ana Forrest that the photos she's had taken of herself doing yoga poses are "a disease" I reckon you could sell tickets to that one.

Me, I find these photos very useful and video much more so. When a teacher is selling their asana workshop based on their practice I at least expect them to have better form, or be able to do more poses, than I can, or what's the point? Even where the practice is superb (which is rare) it says nothing about the ability to teach. Outside of yoga a few of these people are awake enough to know that what interests the smart punter is how well the teacher understands something, or how much a typical student progresses, guys like Ido Portal putting up progress reports for a whole group of students, whatever their level, however far they progressed is telling people much more about what he can offer than yoga teachers showing the world they've failed to understand handstand.

What I find interesting about this whole debate is that there are a number of people determined to make sure they control the definition of what yoga is, to make sure it doesn't get too democratic, and to ensure that any one who posts a picture that they decide they don't like is suitably chastised.

Marianne Baum Jun 22, 2014 1:01pm

when we find ourselves getting upset by looking at pictures of other women, "yoga selfies" or not, we need to realize that we are labeling and judging others based on our own insecurities. The true practice of yoga teaches us to let go of the judgments all together and to go within to investigate where our judgments come from. Often we discover that it is our own insecurity that makes us project onto others and blame and judge because of that. No need to blame someone else for showing a perfect pose or beautiful body, instead, be happy for them where they are and be happy for yourself where you are. Cultivate understanding and cultivate peace, and dare to sit with your discomfort about it, wonder where it comes from, and start healing, that is practicing yoga. Namaste.

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Jennifer Ginsberg

Jennifer Ginsberg is a Los Angeles mother, writer and clinical social worker (on hiatus). After receiving her MSW from the USC School of Social Work and MAJCS from Hebrew Union College, Jennifer served as clinical director of Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish drug and alcohol treatment facility. After having children, she threw herself into the pursuit of a career that has absolutely nothing to do with her highly specialized, massively expensive education, and everything to do with not missing a moment with her children. She currently works as a private organic foods chef, freelance writer, and is completing her first novel while balancing single motherhood.