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

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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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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!

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."

Arun Eden-Lewis Nov 26, 2017 3:38am

Kirill Burtsev You've tied yourself in knots. However it is not my knot to untie, it is your own. Your basic premise is, "who can say what is right or wrong" then "everything is inherently right." But of course "nothing is really happening" You are confusing recognising distinctions as the cause of divisions. It is not. There is no ego? I think you mean, the ego is not seperate from the Absolute. That is something different. Yoga is not the journey to union, it is the journey to recognise existing union. I have met many Advaita Absolutists like yourself over the years that offer little or nothing and simultaneously suffer the pretense of having the ultimate wisdom. The intellectual acrobatics are predictable and boring and hardly worthy of debate, why? Because "nothing really is happening." Yawn

Arun Eden-Lewis Nov 26, 2017 3:19am

Kirill Burtsev Laughter yoga is true yoga but doesn't fit traditional narrative? Talking from learned knowledge not from realized truth? Tears in my eyes from laughter! "I dont want to make assumptions but..." Priceless.

Kirill Burtsev Nov 22, 2017 7:14pm

Arun Eden-Lewis Hey, "laughter yoga" is actually true yoga! It doesn't fit very traditional narrative, but could be quite effective nevertheless. I don't want to make assumptions, but it appears that you are talking from perspective of learned knowledge, not from perspective of realized truth.

Kirill Burtsev Nov 22, 2017 6:02pm

Arun Eden-Lewis Interesting discussion. :) The curious thing that I cannot disagree with anyone here. It is true, that yoga was born as a path to self-realization (that is realization that there is no self :) ), and doing nice bodily images and call it 'yoga' is not really correct... but on the other hand everything appears in the eyes of perciver - there no separate thing as Yoga, aparat from the one who percives it (your own practice is also percived by you). You can as easy escape into your "being a true yogi" ego identity as justifying your desire for perfect body image with "everything is perfect" and "it is all about me". But who can say, that justifying your desires for body image or you identifying as "true spiritual seeker" is not what is needed right now? Saying that some of it is not right implies the very division you want to get away from as nothing can happen apart from the One, meaning that everything that happens is inherently right as there is no other way it can happen. But it is also rigth to say sometimes that something is not right. Mind can use any ideas to justify it is 'individual', separated mode of functioning and it could be the time to point out that it is what is happening. Ultimately, nothing is really happening. Spiritual path back to unity is also an illusion as there is no division in the first place. There is no ego and no re-union in reality - it is all mere playful dream of the Absolute. But be carefull not to let mind to use those ideas to justify itself, if what you are seeking for truth. ;)

Lee Sucasas Jr Nov 20, 2017 6:40pm

First of all nude is not porn. Second, I think you hit it on the head when you say you have hangups about this. Woudn't it be better to just admit these people have more courage, freedom, detachment, whaterver to be able to do yoga in the nude? Your opinion is your opinion, not fact. To compare yogis with nuns is absurd and ignorant. Yoga is not a religion that preaches dogma (funny movie by the way) and shame for the body. It is first of all a means to keep the body healthy and strong. Being able to be nude in this case can be empowering and liberating. We all get your hang-ups but until you understand what yoga is and why doing it naked is only natural, it might be a good idea to remember that opinions should actually be backed by knowledge, and not the other way around. We need to be very careful not to project our own hang-ups when opining on something that makes us uncomfortable, mainly when it has the potential to reach so many people like an article here.

Monta Vilumsone Nov 16, 2017 7:16pm

And how is article uniting us more? How is it 'practicing' yoga? With non-judgement? I do post pictures doing yoga asanas wearing my bikinini, and yes, I was born blonde and you know what, I totally enjoy it all. I'm not doing it for likes and comments, and if you perceive it that way, well, think again. I've actually encouraged so many people to try, to turn to healthy lifestyle and to practice mindfulness and that is what it counts. For me yoga is a lifestyle, it's my intentions behind every action and I'm not gonna build it around fear of what others think or how it should be, or how do I look. If you dig deep, you will find that people used to go to Shiva temples naked, so what we are doing now would be totally unacceptable then. It's not all black and white ;) I'd totally love to meet you for a cup of tea to discuss more, if you are interested :)

Deb Crotteau Billiet Nov 8, 2017 3:35pm

I’ve stopped following many accounts where there is constant posting of “self” images, yoga poses included. We seem to be becoming a very vain society...

Sali Musica Siva Nov 8, 2017 11:49am

so it is against the principles of yoga to wear skimpy outfits and practice yoga on the beach? er..... I think you should find out about surya namaskar.

Deb Porte Bobier Nov 1, 2017 3:21pm

Totally agree with this.

Marita Renkin Nov 1, 2017 6:45am

Unlike all the ashrams in India ?

Marita Renkin Nov 1, 2017 6:39am

To the Author of this piece Don't know why you are restricting your remonstrations to women the same could be said of many famous male internationally renowned yoga teachers/ gurus who use pictures of themselves In these same postures as advertising material for their workshops courses etc. I personally am no fan of 'asana exhibits' on Instagram or whatever social media but men are just as guilty of it as women. Check your prejudices. Would you remonstrate with men doing the same? Is it you who is constructing sexy self images of these photos ? Perhaps they are just taking photos of difficult poses to express their commitment to the practice of Asana ? Dare you to question Simon Borg Olivier renowned for his pictures of difficult poses. Culture including the culture of yoga is dynamic and always has been - we dont practice on animal skins anymore ? Buddhism and Hinduism are religions Yoga isn't

Deb Porte Bobier Oct 31, 2017 12:52pm

I have been practicing, studying, and teaching for decades. Along with Metaphysics, World Religion and other Spiritual studies decades before that. This article is well written, and expresses my thoughts and feelings about the direction Yoga is going. To me a teacher of anything must be a reflection of the teachings and Philosophies. The Yoga Principles extend far beyond the physical Asanas. This is why it is only the first. Very first baby step to a much deeper and more profound journey of self-discovery. Transformation. And connection to the Divine. One that continues to humble as you go deeper. Leaving you awed by the Grace and magnificence of it all. For those that feel this article is judgemental, WHY? In this physical world, everyone has a right to their own opinion. Including you. If it triggers something in you it just shows the work you continue to need to do. Because as a society, it is rare you are agreed with. So you simply agree to disagree. When next on your mat do your Asana practice. Breath. Meditate, Reflect, Learn, Grow, absorb the Yama’s and Niyama’s, Yoga’s ethical guidelines. Which are covered in the very first of the 8 limbs . They’re like a map written to guide you on your life’s journey. Simply put, the yama’s are things not to do, or restraints, while the niyama’s are things to do, or observances. Together, they form a moral code of conduct. After all, Yoga is also about acceptance, love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, honesty, etc. To ourselves, and others. Elevation beyond our own personal feelings to a place of truth. There is a lesson in every message so don’t shoot the messenger. This article isn’t about judgement as much as it is trying to preserve the true essence of the practice.

Leslie Morrell Oct 26, 2017 5:24pm

Adam Blanch Good point...ego trips are ego trips, with or without many clothes!

Adam Blanch Oct 26, 2017 1:22pm

It isn't necessary, it's fun. A physical ego trip instead of a spiritual ego trip. Same same, but different.

Adam Blanch Oct 26, 2017 1:19pm

Ego vs ego vs ego (the last one is mine). The ego is what defines us and bonds us to this body. It doesnt need transcending, it's doing its job perfectly. It keeps us from remembering we are God so that we can have a human adventure in limitation. It will naturally dissolve with age if it is realised and fight for more time if it isn't. Trying to transcend ego is like buying a movie ticket and spending the whole movie reminding yourself that it isn't real. Why come here if you spend all your time trying not to be here? Transcendence comes naturally when we perfect ego, when we allow it to become the best version of itself. First, be the most expressed and realised human you can be. immerse yourself completely in the human experience. Resist nothing, avoid nothing, reject no part of yourself. Then transcendence will occur organically. The ego's ultimate goal is its own destruction, but first it must build something to destroy. We are God pretending to be not God, for the fun of it. A big 4 dimensional fully immersive video game. So play already.

Ozde Sueslue Oct 22, 2017 3:13pm

A true yogi or at least a beginner practioner of yogi will know that it's not your business and you don't have to right to judge people's pics or captions. I will post my pics as the way i want without your approval, with captions that i want to write. My social media my freedom, none of your business. If you don't like what i share please look to somewhere else.

Belén Arellano Manríquez Oct 15, 2017 11:03pm

I think this is just wrong. You are judging people, more precisely, women, who practice a tipe of yoga you are not ok with. But look at your argumments. They are about their cloth and what they say. How is this diferent from what some man do when they also judge and abuse us? Well, is not. Your article is based on criticising women who practice yoga and have the courage to post it on line and inspire others. Yoga is also about feeling happy. If these women are happy with their bodies and practice and style, then why judge them? Instead, I invite you to focus on empowering women in what make their souls full. And stop comparing it with sex. Not everything a women does has a sexual meaning behind. Ps: English is my second language, so I apologize for any mistake

Kirby Jacobson Oct 15, 2017 8:05am

Many are the ways of entry. Long is the path. I look to results.

Alana Smith-Grove Oct 14, 2017 7:11am

"The practice of yoga should unite, not divide".....like your article, right? A woman moving in any way she wants to move, wearing anything she wants to wear, is a deeply inspiring and beautiful thing. I bow to that, no matter what it looks like. Each person's practice is deeply personal to them. Who are you to call one thing yoga and another not? Isn't that just the same division you spoke against?