I think it is safe to say that the majority of people – yours truly included – don’t turn to yoga to learn about its philosophy. Among the top reasons to join in on the yogic fun, you’ll find mine: exam stresses and a desire to release both physical and mental tension. Over time, the initial draw turns into a hunger for knowledge; and although the length of this process can vary depending on each individual, it is my belief (and hope) that every yogi is eventually drawn to the connection part of yoga (it’s in the name, really) and everything it encompasses.
Worry not, dear reader, if you’re beginning at the bottom of the learning curve, you’ll find plenty of resources in our modern, wirelessly connected world. You guessed it, I’m referring to social media. I, for one, first practiced yoga in my beloved student room with the thoughtful Sarah Beth Yoga on YouTube. I liked that it was easily accessible, respected my student budget and of course, invited me to build presence on my mat and in my room.
‘If you get rid of the unwanted,’ Sarah Beth said in one of her classes, ‘you make space for what is needed.’
It stuck with me. I needed more yoga, and before heading to the spirituality section of my bookstore, I started exploring on other online platforms, too.
When learning about something new, our first reflex is to grab our phones and open our social media apps – it is the easiest way to learn about something. Need some inspiration to make your first ever kitchari? Pinterest. Wondering if that yoga teacher friend you made on vacation has recommendations for yoga teacher trainings? Facebook. Have a random question about a pose? Twitter. But the first place you go to for all things yoga is probably Instagram.
On there, the learning possibilities are endless. All you need to do is look up a hashtag, and you’ll find a plethora of posts and inspirational quotes, poetry, crazy poses, yoga clothes, you name it. In fact, it’s become hard to find a yogini who’s not active on Instagram.
Sometimes, it scares me, because everyone and anyone can become a renowned guru with beautifully edited pictures, Gandhi quotes and tips to get into that impressive flying pigeon pose (I had to look the name up).
Whether you’re a good teacher or not (whatever that means), whether you have the experience to give advice on yoga or not, whether you understand what yoga is or not, you can become a well-known yogini and spread whatever messages and teachings you like.
One day, someone told me her story of traveling through Asia and insisted that no one over there cared about Instagram. And why would they? They taught yoga and practiced it every day. That’s what mattered.
It got me thinking, of course; these days it can feel like you’re not a yogi until you share yoga pictures on your feed, and like and comment all kinds of asanas that pop up in yours.
And (can you feel where this is going?) there’s a big problem with that. Think of the last time you posted a picture of yourself in a pose. Can you honestly say you weren’t thinking about the camera? Can you assure that all you were focused on was your breath, noticing what was happening in your body, what thoughts were coming up? Can you say you didn’t feel a rush of adrenaline watching the likes and reading the wows in the comment section?
Even if you don’t post these pictures on your feed, mindless scrolling will most definitely get the best of you; you follow people because it feels necessary – you’re into yoga! Take the famous Rachel Brathen (@yoga_girl), Kerri Verna (@beachyogagirl) or Kino MacGregor (@kinoyoga), to name but 3. Your yogi friends most likely follow them, too. But like deciding whether friendships and love relationships fit in your life, you have the right to question whether world-acclaimed teachers have the right to make it to your feed.
Do you identify with them? Do you care about what they advocate for? Do they help you with your yoga and meditation practices? Or do they trigger things in you?
Yoga doesn’t have to be Gandhi quotes, challenging inversion poses, and stories that start with ‘I used to and now thanks to yoga I am’. Yogic captions and photos don’t have to look nice or beautiful or impressive or anything else.
Yoga is not – and never will be – about how poses look or how captions sound. And if you think it is, then you are missing out on the secrets and wonders waiting to be discovered when you take your practice deeper.
Yoga is made up of 8 limbs, 8 areas to incorporate into your life. Asana, the physical practice, is just one of them. At its core, yoga is about union of the mind and the body. When you focus on looks, you forget about how you feel – you’re disconnecting your body from your mind, and using your mind-colored glasses to determine whether a pose is good enough to be posted on social media.
I’d like to invite you to think about who you follow on social media. Are you learning with & through them? Are they actually being social, building a sense of community off the mat? Or is their presence just about sharing small squares and strutting around to get impressed followers?
Social media is meant to be just that – a way for us to be social, to connect to ourselves and the people around us, to have conversations and learn from each other, to find the crowd of people we can identify with, the same way we’d do it in real life. Let’s use the potential of social media to find people we relate to, those we actually want to talk to and be associated with.
So start by asking yourself what resonates with you. Think deeper. Meditate on this. Journal. And eventually, with time and the necessary inner work, you’ll know how to get rid of the unwanted to make space for what is needed.
Illustration by Ksenia Sapunkova
Edited by Jaimee Hoefert, the Scientist Yogini