Am I alone in feeling inundated by Instagram yoga photo contests? From a marketing standpoint, I understand that people are drawn to visual stimuli and that pictures are a way of drawing more attention a business, but what are we actually doing? Recently, one of my local studios sponsored an Instagram contest. I found myself completely frustrated with contest poses and the lack of emphasis on healthy strength. Each pose only emphasized what looked good on the model or what would get the biggest ‘wow’ reaction. How is it that in this world of technology and innovation, imagination in how yoga can be expressed for the individual is still lacking?
Around the same time, I was reading Carl Paoli’s book, Free+Style, and within the first chapter he told his story of limitation. While growing up, he jumped from sport to sport because he felt limited by duplication. After he mastered a skill set, he quickly became bored and would find something new to throw his energy into. If imitation is limitation that causes students to eventually walk away from a yoga practice, what is the purpose of a contest that celebrates our copycat abilities?
The pictures I see of ultra skinny, overly flexible people and their potentially injurious poses on my Instagram feed make me feel inadequate, and I’m sure that I’m not alone. I can’t touch the sole of my foot to the crown of my head (not that I’m saying I actually want to do this), but when it’s hawked online like something to attain and strive for, I can’t help but wonder who else feels inadequate or too embarrassed to come to a yoga class. In a world that already creates feelings of inadequacy, we should be retreating into our healthy, personalized yoga practice to learn self-acceptance and self-love – not to beat up on and break ourselves striving for the ‘goal’ of a pose. I don’t want my students hurting themselves or walking away from the practice all together because their imitation of a pose felt like a limitation to their practice.
I use my personal practice and teaching to express who I am as an individual; it is my art. The times that I have ‘borrowed’ sequences or cues from another teacher have felt restrictive to my own voice and I feel the same constraint when mimicking a posture.
In Yoga Tune Up®, we learn to discover blind spots and how they can be exposed within our own movement patterns and tissue abuse/misuse. But what are the blinds spots that are created from showing only the “pretty poses”? Are we also creating “blind thoughts” by only showing yoga as a bendy, super skinny practice? I think that these “blind thoughts” can lead students to believe that there is only one yoga, one goal, and one path.
Using social media to communicate with your students is one thing, but pictures of poses that are not appropriate can alienate potential yogis. Yoga is not one size fits all and I completely understand that not every teacher is appropriate for every student. I also know that some students will be drawn to teachers because of what they think they can achieve if they practice with them. But isn’t the purpose of yoga to increase the longevity and vitality of life? If the Western “go-get-‘em” spin on yoga is leading to injuries, how does this lead to that longevity and agility? All too often I see social media announcements and proclamations that if you just practice hard enough and with the ‘right’ teacher, you too will be nailing headstands, soaring in crow, and folding into a blissful lotus. But practice isn’t the whole story – your bone structure and your tissues have a story to tell as well and perhaps they’re telling you that a complicated pose isn’t right for you.
I teach my students to live better in their bodies. I feel that living better in your body does not mean living with pain in the sacroiliac joint from overdoing a twist, tearing a biceps tendon from too many chaturangas, or straining the hamstring tendons because it’s necessary to stick your foot behind your head, all in the name of imitation. Living better in your body means embodying the practice individually; it means assessing the poses and using the practice to create healthy habits for everyday living.
Come back Friday for my tips on how I blend asana with YTU poses!