The dangers of yoga on social media

I have a confession to make, I love to scroll through look up yoga on social media sites like Instagram. My favourite thing to look up are progress photographs related to yoga poses. I love seeing people who have worked hard and achieved their goals. I can feel their accomplishment through the screen, and I feel inspired to keep working on my own yoga postures. Yet, some of the images highlight the dangers of yoga and social media.

I’ve studied yoga long enough to know that the postures are not the full story, but they are, in fact, about 1/8 of the full experience. (Check this blog post out for more info.) When I teach and even when I practice yoga, I go for the full experience. For me it’s a bit like going out to a lovely restaurant for dinner and only having a main meal. If I’m going to a Michelin starred restaurant, you can bet I will be having the fullest experience, trying new dishes, enjoying a three course meal, and eating as many desserts as I can manage! It’s the same with yoga – the postures are the main meal, but their enjoyment is heightened by adding in a starter and dessert. These come in the form of breathing practices and meditation. Together this makes for a lovely and complete yoga experience.

A picture paints a thousand words

On one of my recent inspiration finding scrolling sessions, I came across an account chronicling a woman’s yoga journey. She had started yoga a month prior and was aiming for 100 days of practice. I immediately admired her resolve and decided to have a look at her insta-grid.

Erm! It wasn’t exactly what I expected to see. One of the more memorable posts was a comparison showing her progress in a particular pose. The videos showed her prior attempts to jump into a handstand, and the current video showed a beautifully controlled entry. This was all learned in a matter of weeks.

My curiosity was piqued and as I looked at the yoga journey of this young woman, I saw plenty of advanced poses – inversions mainly. The poses were all executed beautifully. However they were not poses I would have recommended for someone at the start of their yoga journey. ‘Each to their own,’ I thought and logged out. Something about the pictures kept me thinking.

Am I a failure?

I’ve been yogaing for 20 years now, teaching for 4 and a handstand is a pipe dream at this stage. It’s a goal I would love to achieve, but I am not actively working on it and to be honest I’m not too bothered whether I ever balance on my hands or not.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a mental list of poses I would like to work on. These are personal goals, and I am treating them as opportunities to learn and grow. I’m ok if I never achieve a perfectly aligned upwards bow pose, however I’m not ok if I skip meditation practice. This is the difference between my yoga and that of my latest insta-discovery. The yoga she is putting out there is based on the physical postures (with Sanskrit names!) Whereas my yoga is more than a bit different.

Honesty is the best policy

I don’t think my inability to execute a handstand makes me a failure a bofad yoga teacher. I think it makes me honest because this is not, currently, part of my practice. That’s not to say I may not choose to begin a handstand journey in the future; and for right now I’m content where I am.

Yoga and social media have a modern and complex relationship. While, social media has promoted many of the amazing benefits of yoga, however the not so photogenic side of the practice is sadly missed out. There are not many cool pictures of yogis meditating on beaches in their bikinis! I chose to share my real yoga; how I see it, with all the nuances and parts that don’t make for good insta-worthy images. There is nothing wrong with the images posted by the insta-yogi I mentioned above. By claiming that this is all yoga is about is putting the wrong idea out there. And it’s an idea that could prevent some from taking those first steps on their own yogic journey.

The moral of the story is that experiencing yoga on social media only is not giving the full impression. Yoga is so much more than poses and fancy pictures in beautiful surroundings. It’s breathing, and meditation and teaching the mind to accept the reality of things. While the fancy poses can and should be inspirational and cool, they’re just part of the story. Let’s not forget what yoga is all about, and sadly it’s not handstands no the beach in a bikini.

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