“Like us on Facebook!” “Tweet About Us!” “Click here to Stay Connected!” “Join our Instagram Challenge and Win a Prize!”
All these requests jump off my computer screen and into my brain as I’m trying to look up the class schedule for a local yoga studio.
The website is geared toward an attention-challenged population of cyber-viewers that needs bright, scrolling images, clever captions, and insane graphics that make me enthusiastic, but, honestly, a bit frustrated because I can’t figure out how to slow down the slideshow that is racing by to process the information at my own pace.
There’s a woman doing an arm balance on a paddleboard in the water; a juice bar that everyone loves; so many studios in town that I have to go to maps and figure out which one is closest to me before I can even look at the schedules; teacher trainings, retreats, challenges, pages of teacher bios, new student specials, an event celebrating the opening of yet another studio; a personal revolution I “must join”; a retreat; workshops; pop-up tweets like: “Pre-dawn hot yoga got me off to an awesome start…now, I’m ready for work!”
A running yoga club…wait, a what?
This webpage is like standing in the middle of Times Square, just without the noise. Energizing and exciting, but quickly becoming overwhelming and overstimulating. Now I really do need a good yoga practice just to soothe the mental agitation that I’ve developed since I logged on.
Let me back up and say that I love yoga.
I love the clarity I find as I observe my breathing. Feeling the physical and emotional connection between my breath and body. Finding the present moment within the space defined by my mat. Appreciating the days when I am strong and balanced, and, even more, the challenging days when I am not. The solitude that allows me to feel all this.
The chance to really practice pratyahara.
Pratyahara, as defined by the dictionary, is the yogic practice of turning the mind to introspection by voluntarily shutting out distractions provided by the senses. It is the fifth limb of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, and its practice is necessary in order to achieve the state of inner relaxation and harmony of mind, body, and spirit that we seek.
It isn’t the “not noticing” of the external stimulation around us, but the practice of not reacting emotionally to that stimulus. Being aware of the stuffiness or the chill in the room while you practice and simply noticing it and not wishing it were otherwise. Being aware that some people in class are more flexible than you but not attaching emotion or judgment to that.
That said, pratyahara is often the most overlooked of the Eight Limbs.
In a rush to achieve quick results, the “juiciest” workout, and a plethora of really cool arm balances (that I admit would look insane on Instagram), pratyahara is often discarded by the side of the mat in an effort to streamline yoga into something that doesn’t require too much introspection.
Leave out pratyahara, and you are simply doing yoga-flavored exercise.
My yoga teacher training was a life-changing experience for me. Every lesson inspiring and moving, the 11-day immersion left me feeling reborn, impatient to get out there and teach everything I’d learned to others. I had a realization that being a yoga teacher was just another way for me to practice nursing. To be a caregiver. And it taught me I had so much to share and so many with whom to share it. But, with time, I found such inconsistency between everything I had studied, read, and been taught, and how yoga is being practiced by many studios and teachers today.
And, a lot of this has to do with marketing and social media.
I don’t think it’s possible to withdraw from the external world and turn the senses inward while you are tweeting about it. Likewise, I don’t think you can be present while posting pictures to an Instagram Challenge. And, I am pretty sure that going on yoga pages and viewing what everyone else liked, posted, tweeted, and commented on is not the best way to practice not worrying about what other people think. I’m pretty sure the two sides can’t cordially coexist.
It’s just not possible.
Social media can create a sort of, “Hey, look at me” attitude in those who post and a resulting feeling of missing out in those who view, which prompts them to turn around and post, which causes more to feel left out, which causes everyone to post more, and everyone to feel even more left out, and the perpetual cycle of not feeling noticed enough and then seeking attention and validation through posting is born.
But, here’s the thing: others can never fill that void we feel in ourselves. There aren’t enough likes and comments to make us truly feel enough love or acceptance. We can never have enough followers to feel content with who we are. No matter how large our community of yoga friends and acquaintances, ultimately, each of us sits alone on our mats. In solitude. With pratyahara.
And we can’t do that together.
Pratyahara is a solo journey that we take unaccompanied, and without a camera or Wi-Fi connection. Pratyahara can’t and won’t happen on Facebook or Instagram. In fact, the more we post, the more we undermine our own introspection and diminish all the work we’ve done.
Putting down social media can be scary. And, maybe going cold turkey isn’t the way for you to be successful—nor is it necessary. I’m not saying dump your Facebook account or stop being connected. I’m challenging you to limit just this one aspect of your posting. Tweet all you want about the movie you just saw, but please don’t tweet updates about the yoga class you literally just left. Post pictures of your friends and family, pets and kids on Instagram, but not the latest arm balance you finally nailed.
Let yoga be a private relationship between you and, well…you.
Because that is what pratyahara is and what yoga is truly all about.
Author: Amy Bradley
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Danielle Beutell