November 24, 2015

Picture Perfect: Do Yoga Teachers have a Bigger Responsibility to use Social Media Wisely?

Robert Bejil/Flickr

As yoga teachers, how do we silence our ego when 100,000 followers are feeding it?

Let’s face it—yoga is a booming. Images of yoga poses are appearing on television and magazine covers. Yoga has taken social media by storm and yoga teacher “celebrities” who post daily on platforms like Instagram, have become the norm.

I have always been on the fence about the mingling of social media and yoga, so when I was recently asked to be a model for a yoga ad campaign, I was initially reticent. I’m not a model and I thought that I would feel silly in front of all those cameras. I eventually convinced myself that it would be a good opportunity for exposure and it could connect me with other teaching opportunities in the future. So I thought, why not? I was going to be in a national campaign, someone was going to do my hair and make-up and of course I was doing it because I was supporting something I love, right?

It was everything I expected a NYC photo shoot to look like: a warehouse complete with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Manhattan, a painted white back drop and a bearded photographer who probably lived in Brooklyn. The rest of the shoot was also exactly what I imagined it to be; I was asked to smile, or at least not to look so serious and concentrated while I performed various advanced yoga poses.

The photos turned out beautifully (the bearded Brooklyn guy did an excellent job), my friend’s clients were happy and I was officially a yoga model. So was I helping to shed light on yoga practice or was I only helping myself?

I am proud of my body and the strength that my dedicated yoga practice has unlocked but I am by no means a yoga video girl, a name one of my older students gives to those skinny yoga models with insane flexibility and strength. I have limited flexibility, shaky handstands and I can’t yet do a split.

Normally I am okay with this, but when the camera started rolling, I felt the desire to perform, to create picture perfect poses for the camera. During the shoot people kept walking in and out and I could hear oooohs and ahhs. It took me a moment to realize that they were for me. I could hear whispers of people in the room saying, “I wish I could do that” or “Look how fit she looks.”

As soon as the ad campaign hit the internet, I received messages from complete strangers telling me how beautiful the poses looked and how much they wanted to be able to do them. I think my head must have swelled up to twice its size and yet I felt phoney.

I am a yoga teacher and I take my personal practice and my teaching very seriously. I see it as a gift and a process—a long process that is often arduous, mostly beautiful, and sometimes painful. As I cultivate silence in my practice I begin to see clearly how much ego effects my behavior and cutting the ties to vanity and pride can be quite jarring but it ultimately brings me a sense of relief.

So this brings me back to my question: how do we silence our ego when 100,000 followers are feeding it?

I spend my days telling students to watch their thoughts go by without paying too much attention to any one in particular, both positive and negative thoughts can lead you farther away from silence.  But here I was, with thousands of voices like a chorus in my head telling me how great I am and one voice (mine) telling me that I shouldn’t pay too much attention to the others. It was exhausting.

This is the part where I could talk about how materialistic the yoga industry has become and how social media is to blame—but I won’t. Partly because it’s already been said but mostly because nothing is black and white.

We don’t need to demonize social media because, when used properly, it can be a powerful tool that connects like-minded communities and the world around. The question is: Do we as yoga teachers have a bigger responsibility to use social media wisely, and if so, what exactly does that mean? Should we follow the trend?

Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers.

I struggle constantly as a yoga teacher who wants to commit herself to an authentic practice and as a yoga professional who needs to promote herself to put food on the table. Perhaps there is a middle way, between blasting the internet selling yoga paraphernalia with our faces on it and twiddling our thumbs in a classroom with no students.

What is clear is that nothing is clear.

But I am convinced that every yoga teacher needs to ask themselves: If I look deeply into my desire to show a polished version of my practice to others, what will I see?

If you are like me, you will see your own ego looking back at you, a perfectly coiffed version of yourself smiling into the camera, waiting for someone in the virtual cloud to find you and press “like.”



The Yoga Industry is not Yoga.


Author: Andrea Chong-Bras

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

Photo: Rober Bejil/Flickr

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Andrea Chong-Bras