September 26, 2017

Ladies, Enjoy your Sexy Self on Instagram… But Call it What it Is: Yoga Porn

If you’ve been on Instagram in the last, well—ever—you’re probably aware of a growing phenomenon: yoga porn. Here’s what I think about it.

Pictures of long-haired, sun-kissed, (typically) white women in bikinis doing impressive looking yoga postures somewhere beautiful: on a beach, mountain, or in a modern, urban apartment. Often, the photo is captioned with a yoga quote, Rumi poetry, or a New Age self-help affirmation about “loving yourself and letting your inner light shine.”

Sometimes, the post isn’t a still picture, but a video sequence. Likewise, these typically feature a young white woman with a dancer’s body doing dramatic postures, but the video is sped up, so she looks like one of those inflatable air dancers blowing in the wind. There is no instruction or guidance, just lots of bending and spreading.

I don’t mind what these images stand for.

I am all for health and fitness and fully support empowered, embodied women. There is nothing more beautiful than a woman who glows from within and has the confidence let her sexy self shine.

Yoga Porn: Why It Bugs Me When People Post Sexy Yoga Images on Instagram

Where things go south for me is when they relate these images to yoga. Because yoga is about transcending the ego, not reinforcing it. And I can see absolutely no purpose for these images that is not ego-based. Every time I see one, I have to fight myself not to type the same comment, “Please stop misappropriating an ancient spiritual practice to gratify your ego.”

Do you ever see Catholic nuns posting images of themselves reciting Hail Marys on a Malibu beach wearing a thong? Has a Buddhist nun ever hashtagged her post #meditationissexy? No one ever seems to post selfies where they’re practicing brahmacharya. 

Many of the images I am talking about are sponsored (in other words: bought), which is one more way they work counter to yoga. By playing on our desire for what is pictured, the advertiser establishes a sense that if we just buy their product, we can have it.

Youth? Beauty? A tight ass and extraordinary bendiness? Just buy these yoga pants! It works on the id—the unconscious—precisely what we’re trying to transcend through our dedicated practice.

It’s possible these images bother me because I am harboring some subconscious resentment that I wasn’t born blonde but brunette and am built more like a biker than a ballerina. I admit these images do tweak my insecurities. And this is yet another reason I am opposed to them.

I’m not saying those pictures make me feel insecure—I am responsible for my reaction to them. But they do perpetuate unrealistic standards and reinforce stereotypes that are unfavorable to women. Turning ourselves into objects (what we look like) instead of people (what we think, do, and feel) does nothing to advance our position in the world.

All those mantras and quotes and New Age affirmations seem banal and idiotic when they’re juxtaposed with a bare ass. Do you want to be a bathing suit model…or a yoga teacher?

It’s bad enough that women face so many media images outside the yoga sphere that feed insecurity and perpetuate fears of inadequacy. Yoga should be a safe haven from all of that. A place, a practice, a lifestyle, and yes—even an industry that authentically validates, affirms, and honors not women’s bodies, but our ideas. Our service. Our caring and intelligence and commitment to justice.

The practice of yoga should unite, not divide.

Ladies: enjoy your sexy self. Just stop calling it yoga. And when you’re ready to transcend your ego, or ready at least to try—actual yoga will always be here.


Relephant Read: 

The Instagram Picture I Almost Didn’t Post. ~ Kino MacGregor


Author: Melinda Lane
Image:  Aral Tasher / Unsplash
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social editor: Emily Bartran 

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Tammy Acevedo Trincilla Oct 4, 2018 1:27pm

I'm disappointed in this article. Yoga porn. This disgusts me. We already have a huge percentage of males ogling our bodies as nothing more than sex toys to be used. Having a female be catty and insecure enough to degrade it into porn simply because SHE assumes the poser is being provocative and masking it (to herself and others) as anything BUT provocative bothers the shit out of me. The author even cleanses her guilt by hinting that it just MIGHT be insecurity. I don't follow yoga pictures on Instagram. I don't practice it... but if yoga is supposed to detach you from your ego and unify you with everything... why is the author displaying ego here? No one's perfect. The author comes across as bashing. My suggestion is this... every time you feel that swell of sanctimonious judgement when looking at these images, stop. Keep looking until that feeling subsides then ask yourself WHY you felt that way. Is it because she's what you've always wanted to be? Is it the use of sex in marketing? Are you projecting sexuality into yoga in general? Use it for SELF GROWTH. Not the looking down of and at others. That isn't what you should be teaching and people are listening. Out there there's some other insecure woman who just found justification at the judgement of her sisters. Way to perpetuate misogyny, Sister. sarcasm

Madison Wilson Jun 28, 2018 4:25pm

Please take this down. This is truly disheartening how so many of you will take such a beautiful practice and generate such negative thoughts and assumptions. You have hurt many beautiful souls by this hurtful post. Yoga is open to all and you are nowhere in the position to give people titles or assume you know them from a simple photo. You have done nothing but the opposite of the belief and practice of yoga in this post which is far much worse than what you believe you see to begin with. I see nothing but a strong woman in a beautiful pose in her bathing suit, like anyone would be, on a peaceful beach. A great capture of the atmosphere and a dedicated yogi holding a rather difficult pose. Not to mention many people practice yoga fully by connecting deeply without any clothing at all and it is not supposed to be sexual at all... You are sexualizing the person/photo yourself in your mind by your statement and creating the comfort to yourself of believing they are driven by their ego. Why would you want to hurt those who share a love for the practice? Do you know the meaning behind the photos? Do you know the people? Do you know the hardships and struggles some woman went through to feel strong and perfect these poses through there daily practice? Do you know the hours they spend studying and are openly loving to others and the practice and beliefs? This photo is not supposed to be interpreted in the way some of you have. This post is disrespectful and disgraceful in many ways. If this was just a discussion without targeting a womans photo I wouldn't take time out of my day to comment on this post but you have and I can't "scroll past it" knowing a fellow yogi is targeting and hurting other fellow yogis. When you say you have been "triggered" that is nothing but your own hate reacting. Choose love. Maybe you are triggered because you are jealous of a youthful woman who is also beautiful that has a strong relationship with yoga and her practice and who is also appropriately covered for the beach. The fact that you are triggered by that and not a man only covering half his body... you have conditioned yourself to discriminate. Open your mind. Let the love in. I wish I took a minute to do some deep breathing before this post but I'm so heartbroken that this post is still up. Shame on you for using any young womans photo to discriminate. Social media can hurt just as much as it can spread love. So if you are a yogi why would you choose to partake in the hate? Try and reflect if someone did the same using YOUR photo. I hope you find peace in whatever it is that made feel like you had to take the time out of your day to do this. If you have any bit of respect and love for yoga and your to your fellow yogis/humans like you claim you do, you would apologize and take this post down. Namaste.

Mark LaPorta Apr 6, 2018 1:13am

It's not porn it they are doing it for love; almost all of the yoga photos are done for ego. Clothes or not.

Hailey Shastid Mar 12, 2018 2:34am

Hello I find it troubling that you say that yoga is about forgetting your ego and these posts reinforce, yet this entire post seems to be you reinforcing your ego with a know all attitude. Maybe don’t make these women feel like garbage because you want to vent. For some social media is an outlet of experience so things such as the discovery of a new pose and a new mantra. If someone wishes to share that via social media it’s not your place to judge intention.

Elephant Journal Nov 26, 2017 5:37pm

Hi Alana, Thanks for your comment! Elephant Journal is reader-created. We publish many points of view as long as it offers something mindful, something of benefit to the reader. We don't all agree with each other on everything, of course, and welcome mindful disagreement. If you are interested in writing on the topic, we'd definitely be interested! You can submit here: elephantjournal.com/submit

alana Kazam Nov 26, 2017 2:33pm

Cultural appropriation is a pretty serious problem everywhere in the white world, including modern American yoga, but I find myself more and more disappointed in the severely misogynistic undertones in Elephant Journal's writing. "Yoga porn" is problematic in plenty of ways and certainly lands far away from the true spiritual practice of yoga but condescending and judging women against what nuns would do isn't advancing us in society either (see literally every reproductive health bill that's been discussed this year). You talk about wanting women to transcend the ego and be valued for our ideas and our infinite contributions to society, but most of Elephant Journal's articles are about what women are doing wrong (like this one) or what women need to do to find love, as if that's our sole purpose in life. If you're concerned about the appropriative dynamics in American yoga that do nothing to advance women in the modern world, write a feature on the men who join a studio or become teachers and teacher trainers for the ulterior motive of having sex with as many "yoga chicks" as possible. Write a feature about why women are transcendent goddesses, write a feature about how strong women are, write a feature about white feminism or cultural appropriation and what it is and why it's harmful without the word "spreading."

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Melinda Lane

Melinda Lane is the Owner and Creator of Eat Like a Yogi, an online community that supports yogis in taking their practice off the mat—from what they eat to how they live. Her favorite pose is Yes!