I’m fond of saying no one can show you the inside of yoga.
You have to experience it yourself.
When I see someone practice, I can only guess how a student feels or where their mind is during practice. The outside doesn’t tell us much about what is going on inside. And that’s the shame of social media—it’s one-dimensional.
An increasingly common issue among yogis (and people who are interested but haven’t taken the leap yet) is the question of Instagram versus reality. We’re inundated all the time both with messages from social media and messages about its effects on us. This is just as true in yoga as anywhere else.
The question of “Instagram yoga” versus “real yoga” is a challenging one, mostly because they’re kind of false terms. Yoga is, first and foremost, the practice of each individual who engages in it. It’s not something that can be captured in a single photo, and it’s not something that can ever truly be observed from the outside.
Because I use social media for my own work, I’ve seen a lot of guides for yogis and yoga teachers trying to enhance their Instagram presence, and they all ultimately focus on curating an image of this impossible “perfect” practice. Instagram yoga is much more often the product of a careful photo shoot than an enriching morning on the mat.
The truth is, it’s difficult to define “real” yoga in contrast to “Instagram yoga,” because everyone’s practice is unique to them. However, we can see pretty clearly from this fact that no photo on Instagram can provide a one-size-fits-all image of what your yoga practice should be. Despite being so grounded in the asanas, yoga is ultimately an internal practice and a deeply personal one. It’s impossible to see into the heart of someone else’s practice, even when you’ve been working with them for years, so how could you see it from a split-second image cultivated from a photo shoot?
At its best, I think social media can be a great way of communicating with people who share your interests and who you could learn from (and vice versa). I think it can be a great venue for community, support, and the sharing of information. So when I’m looking at other yogis on Instagram, I ask myself one simple question: Am I communicating or comparing? If it feels like the answer is that I’m comparing, I mute or unfollow the person. We’re in this practice to lift ourselves up, and to lift others up by extension. If social media is dragging you down, whether through what you’re consuming or what you’re trying to create, just ask yourself if it feels like it’s benefiting your practice.
Yoga can be beautiful. But usually, it’s much more of a beautiful mess.
Embrace what you want more of in your life, and leave behind what makes you feel like not enough. It can be a challenging distinction at first, but it’s worth the practice. And your own practice will thank you for it.