August 1, 2016

Behind the Curtain of the Social Media Yogi.

There are many traits that people unconsciously associate with yoga teachers or devoted students.

At times, I fit the bill: a vegetarian, environmentalist, who follows the phases of the moon and might be caught wearing a mala wrapped tightly around her wrist.

But there’s another pile of associations that get sucked up into this stereotypic vortex, that don’t apply to me: naturally thin build, detox-obsessed, teetotaler, with a perfect handstand, perfectly peaceful life and a “let it flow, let it go” mentality.

Facebook and Instagram, while offering fun diversions, really serve to exacerbate this misconception of my life and the lives of many other yogis who put their thoughts and pictures out into the world.

So, here’s the thing—it’s not an earth-shattering revelation, but it’s worth the reminder all the same—social media is a place where the good stuff in our lives makes it to print.

Despite a quote I may share on Facebook about “finding balance,” “developing patience,” and riding big “waves of change” like a surfer, in my own life I can be a floundering mess.

I can be controlling and highly resistant to change. I ruminate and overthink, and I sometimes suffer from anxiety and a melancholy that can be extremely hard to deal with. Also—waves freak me out. I share posts, quotes and ideas that inspire me, that make me want to do better. But, I am hardly a master of these ideals. It’s like patience, vulnerability and non-attachment are more words on my radar than qualities I embody in my daily life.

Despite the Instagram evidence of a successful handstand/backbend/arm balance, it might have taken me 10 “timer camera” attempts to get that shot. I find the yoga selfie process a humbling and eye-opening one. Sometimes I can’t believe how wide the gap really is between what I feel like and what I look like in a pose, so the photographs can offer me visual feedback on my form and help me see where there is more work to do.

And sometimes they stand as proof of a moment of success, and I feel good about them. But rarely are they shots of ease and effortlessness, magical floating and endless holding. On the cutting room floor there is sweating…and falling, and ugly faces and muffin tops. It never hurts to pull back the curtain and show that just because I can capture a moment in a pose doesn’t mean the work is over, or that it didn’t take multiple attempts to get there. Or that after 16 years of practice, I can still churn out seemingly endless photos that are just way too embarrassing to upload.

Despite the posts I share promoting my great yoga gigs (teaching at beautiful studios, in parks, at festivals), I still have a lot of insecurity about my place in yoga education in this city. I still worry, “Was that class any good?” “Will anyone come?”

I wonder how I stack up against others who have been teaching as long as I have, if I’ll ever be able to host a retreat or take part in leading a teacher training. “Do I really have anything special to offer?” I felt this imposter syndrome when I was an academic and I continue to struggle with it now. I don’t feel as if I “made it,” and I also realize that I probably won’t ever feel this way, no matter what I’m doing. The sure-footedness I put forth online is really another virtual goal post: I want to be as confident as I am able to imply that I am.

I catch myself lurking on other people’s profile pages, wistfully imagining that my life might someday be that calm, creative, spontaneous, inspired and important. I fall into the trap of believing that the persona is the person all the time. Sometimes when people comment on my posts I can see that there has been a misreading and I know it’s because I’ve been misleading.

Yes, I am lucky. Yes, I have a lot to be grateful for. But just because I don’t promote posts about my deeper struggles, sadness, self-doubt or shame doesn’t mean they don’t dog me too. And just because my asana fails don’t flood my feed doesn’t mean they aren’t as ubiquitous (or more so) than the ones that do. We need to stop buying into this “they’ve really got it together-ness” where we find ourselves comparing our very real and complex lives to half-revealed truths. One of the yogic virtues, satya, calls us to live in truth, to restrain from falsehood. Maybe our work is not only to stop buying into this illusion of persona perfection, but also to stop propagating it.

Here’s some subtext next time you’re looking at a filtered photograph of a lithe body rocking pincha at the beach, or next time you come across a reblogged “Rumi” quote:

Yogi—just as messed up as everyone else.




Author: Lisa Veronese

Image: KinoYoga

Apprentice Editor: Elyse Sinclair; Editor: Travis May

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