We’ve all seen them. Our friend makes it to the top of a mountain with a beautiful view: cue tree pose. Our other friend visits a beach, hence the headstand next to a candidly timed sunset. Or perhaps a pretty background with some crazy method of wrapping their legs behind their head. In any form, this method of sharing what was once a spiritual and sacred practice.
More than 15 millions Americans practice yoga; an ancient Indian discipline that has been linked to society’s culture of wellness. While the practice itself is different for everyone as some use it to destress and others as sport, it attracts and connects different people from all different walks of life. i started practicing yoga over two years ago and knowing nothing more than downward dog and shavasana (another word for the moment you get to almost sleep in yoga) I was totally incompetent when being led to different poses.
Similar to many wellness trends, social media sharing and posting of workouts and studios has increased significantly on people’s personal platforms. It is trendy to post images from soul cycle, equinox or barry’s bootcamp, but it is a lot more difficult to show your progress from these classes as it is to show off your new skills from yoga. Showing how fast you can cycle isn’t nearly as exciting or engage as showing off your new ability to hold crow pose or a headstand on a rock.
When searching for #yoga on Instagram, more than 31 million posts are associated with this term. You will find a stream of photographs of mostly young, beautiful, fit women in almost contortion-like poses. While each post is different, some more natural, others more altered and edited, there does seem to be a stereotypical person associated with yogis. In addition to pictures of strange poses, you will find healthy meals, lots of traveling and people that appear to be living “colorful” lives. As all social media platforms are ways to manipulate and formulate one’s personal brand, this intertwining of health/wellness with typical lives creates a dangerous connotation to this discipline. By showing how a yogi is “supposed” to live, average practicers may become intimidated to start practicing yoga. These complex poses lead some to believe that if they are not flexible enough or skilled enough they can’t do yoga. Additionally, by posting pictures of intense and difficult poses, amateur yogis and even people who have never practiced before will try poses that can actually lead to injury.
This association with social media is limiting Yoga to the ability to pose for 10 seconds in a headstand or standing in tree pose with a nice background. This 5,000 year old practice has been dumbed down to a science that will produce the most likes. The biggest problem, as with much of social media, is that these pictures show what is too perfect, images that are too unrealistic, and in fact unachievable to the average person. These images aren’t representative of how people actually practice yoga or achieve these poses. This reflection of yoga is the reason why so many people are reluctant to try it as the most common reason people don’t try yoga is that they see it as an exclusive practice: one for young women who are already skilled.
With all of these images starting to flood my social media feeds, I can’t help but imagine this is helping the yoga industry in general. In the past four years, the number of Americans doing yoga has grown over 50%. So while there was no research I could find that directly linked the increase of social media usage surround yoga to the increase in yoga. I have to imagine it is a perfect combination of the increasing of stressed out Americans and the new outlet of stress moderation found in Yoga.
I have to admit there is something incredibly ascetically pleasing about yoga poses. I’m not sure if it is the calming nature of the practice, or the strong lines in each of the poses, I can’t help but feel a little centered when flipping through these photos even if these perfectly uncapped photos are constructed just in order to get more likes.