What are the ripple effects of the photos we drop into the social media pond? It's the question I'm pondering this morning while finishing my raspberry ripple buckwheat porridge from My New Roots.
If you're reading this post, your newsfeed probably looks like mine - inspirational quotations, beautiful lunches, smoothies, and yoga pose photos. The hashtags I've noticed accompanying the yoga pose multi-platform posts are dominantly "stop drop and yoga" and "yoga every damn day". These labels accompany images of smiling yogis striking a pose (voga?) anywhere from the grocery store to the golf course. While I may sound like a complete drag by questioning the practice, I'm going to take it, because I think you may need permission to brag about yourself. More on that later.
Do I adore many of the smiling faces that crop up in my feed and know that they are kindhearted yogis? Yes! They are deeply enthused by their practice, and I love their energy and vibrancy. I will be proud when I see that vibrancy develop into a more philosophical ambassadorship of yoga.
Two years ago, J over at J. Brown Yoga, wrote an excellent, concise writeup on why there should be "No More Dancers Doing Yoga on YouTube". In short, he shares the belief that while these postural flows are beautiful, they are made possible by a life of training other than yoga, and it plays directly into the impression that yoga is for already fit, flexible people. As a yoga teacher, my goal is to help everyone do yoga - especially if they're round, stiff people. As yogis, I believe we can be ambassadors for the many awesome effects of yoga that elude the camera - non-reactivity, clarity, compassion, and mindfulness. If our yoga life is represented solely by our sweet tushies in leggings, it presents a one-dimensional picture of yoga that is already rampant in the industry and needs no viral support. From a more self-focused perspective, what will be the Instagram of 2050, and will be allowed to participate in a meaningful way if we're not young and beautiful?
These hashtags are often dreamed up by clever marketers from fitness clothing companies. If shopping for yoga pants is a gateway legging to someone trying yoga, that is fantastic; however, the slogans dominantly imply that yoga is yoga poses. The challenging, marvelous thing about yoga is that while it's not a religion, it's the closest thing some of us have - it's a system for navigating the world that I get to participate in and co-create with everyone else so that we all elevate this experience. Physical healthfulness for mental wellness is a piece of the puzzle, but to borrow from another Ottawa yoga teacher, "it's the greatest bait and switch. Show up for your hamstrings, leave with inner peace". I do yoga every damn day, in fact, I try to yoga every damn moment.
There's a shift away from Facebook use to Instagram and Twitter amidst youth - away from the writing, toward the imaging. (Or maybe away from parents who use Facebook?) Visual records of your postural feats are worth having, but if you want to spread yoga, they may not be the most inspiring way to do so. Many people find such seemingly impossible tasks confirmation that yoga is not for them.
Yoga studios in the west are dominantly staffed and populated with women, which should make us particularly cognizant of the creep of our visually stimulated culture that rewards and praises beauty in women above all. If we perpetuate it, do we fade into obscurity when we are decades into our practice? There will be many of us by that time, the articles on grandmas doing yoga will not be a unique phenomenon. The practice, particularly if presented without any context of the progress toward the pose, may alienate those whose poses and practice are huge personal accomplishments. Everyone has yoga goals - they just look different.
As yogis, we can share our yoga every day and demonstrate how it really is for everyone.
What if we were to...
... create a hashtag, #ahimsaeveryday? Write about how you took a deep breath and that simple act alone helped you stay compassionate in a challenging moment.
... on the anniversary of our yoga epiphanies, share the truth about what yoga has done for us? It's been 3 years since I found yoga, and two and a half years since my depression made daily life an uphill battle.
... brought a few words of truth to our yoga photos. "Been working on this one for four years!" or "Dancer background extremely useful if you wish to stretch your leg over your head."
... encouraged our friends and relatives to practice with us. Interested in trying yoga? I'd love to take you to a class sometime! We can go to a great teacher I know, perfect for people who have never done yoga before!
... expressed gratitude for our yoga communities. My yoga teachers and friends are amidst the most important relationships I have! I'm so grateful for people who share my passion for kindness, wellness, and community.
Go ahead and brag about how wonderful it is. Yoga can always use more good PR, and you never know who's reading that may be inspired to take that extra step. Keep your yoga photos to celebrate your practice, and also sprinkle amidst them some of the gems of wisdom those poses helped you discover.