sometimes it’s difficult not to feel bored or disillusioned by the tedium of my own online activity let alone other people’s. Posting another photo of my gluten-free raw lunch or my scorpion pose or a quote from the buddha about being happy… is all just so, yawn.
despite the fact that I can justify my online presence on social media because a) it supports my business as a yoga teacher and b) it develops my yoga practice (see blog article on the latter here), I do still have to admit that I sometimes cringe and find it difficult to not come across like a total yogi cliche.
spot the yogi instagram profile formula…
you only need to look at my tammysyoga instagram – oh and go on then, give me a follow 😉 to see what I mean. Quite frankly, it’s not just me, there appears to be formulaic ways in which yoga practitioners build their profiles and attract followers and likes. You’ll see the same formulas within profiles again and again. Content becomes standardised, normalised, reproduced and reinforced.
here are some of the formulas:
- endless repertoire of postures, demonstrating technical skill, great strength and flexibility
- pouring out heart and soul and sharing intimate details about personal lives including details of personal dramas and tragedies so you may ‘follow’ their journey into self-enquiry
- beautiful and enviable backdrops of exotic locations
- motivational inspirational quotes as bite-size memes
- name-dropping sponsored outfits and endorsed products, demonstrating their commercial success
- delicious nutritious vegan raw gluten-free organic macrobiotic meals
- then there are the profiles that build an audience with thanks to their beauty, attractiveness or sexuality
more often than not, the most popular yoga practitioner profiles use a combination of all of the above formulas.
no instagram profile can reflect a ‘true self’
that is not to say that I, or any other yoga practitioner on social media don’t have the genuine intention of being authentic but according to Bonanno (2015) there are actually constraints placed upon the social media user which make it difficult, if not impossible to present an original and authentic profile that represents a true version of yourself.
based on the theories of prominent social theorists Faucault and Butler, Bonanno presents an interesting argument on how a social media user is totally constrained within the parameters of the design of the platform so that the version of themselves that they present is restricted to the ‘profile’. By the very design of the platform, the user is kept under the illusion that they can act freely and that their profile can represent their ‘true self’ but given that a profile is partial frame, it cannot.
instagram profile is a means of artistic expression
so if we are not our profile, what does our profile represent? I would argue that our profile is a means of artistic expression because we have the artistic licence to create and present a ‘best-version’ or ideal version of ourself and our life.
According to Oscar Wilde, art is important because it satisfies the human condition to “find expression”. Doesn’t instagram also provides this? Thus, Instagram profiles could be likened more to art than to real life. As you add images, the profile builds like a patchwork blanket depicting a visual story of a version of self. The regular interaction keeps the instagram user intwined with the process of adding content to the profile, so that the profile becomes a ‘living’ art.
However, to understand a persons’ profile as their art-form, quickly moves us into tricky territory. Can we ever distinguish between where the artist ends and the art begins? Any artist could testify that their artwork is an extension of their self-identity. The concept of ‘losing oneself’ during the flows of creativity is not new. Nor is it new to yoga. To become absorbed into the creative potential is to experience yoga itself.
and life imitates art…
the idea that your profile is a separate ‘version’ of self is challenged by Bonanno (2015). Her argument extends beyond the simple notion that your profile cannot capture your ‘True Self’, she goes on to state that based on Butler’s theory of performativity, there is no true-self that is distinct from one’s social media activity. “being and doing” are one in the same. I find that I can’t disagree with that. I can see how your actions determine who you are…
then there is the question of the chicken and the egg. What is the order of the creative process? Do events in real life inspire a person to upload images to the profile or does having a profile inspire a person’s real life actions?
Oscar Wilde stated “life imitates art more than art imitates life” in his theory that opposed artistotle’s theory of mimisca (art imitating life). He argued that art affects our life and our perception because it makes us notice things that we wouldn’t notice before.
“what is found in life and nature is not what is really there but is that which artists have taught people to find there, through art”. Oscar Wilde
the implication is that instagram users end up creating their offline self-identity as a direct result of creating their online identity!
so if life imitates art, maybe yoga practice imitates instagram…
so if we accept that ‘being and doing’ are the same, then the act of building our instagram profile can create a feedback loop into our own self-identity. The process becomes circular and self–fulfilling.
this is BIG. It suggests that instagram can influence our self-identity and yoga practice. This is clearly a bold statement. I’m not sure if it’s really true but it’s certainly interesting to think about. Certainly #yoga offers inundated depictions of ‘yoga’ which could shape the many aspects and attributes of the practice and what it is to be a #yogi. However, it is difficult to ascertain causality.
if I think about my own practice, as much as I esteem myself on my yoga self-practice and self-refferal, indeed I do also look outward into the ‘yoga’ world, including the virtual yoga world for some frame of reference. I have certainly felt inspired to try out postures that I’ve seen posted other yogi’s instagram.
I started my enquiry by considering whether it is possible to offer an original and authentic instagram profile. I noticed formulaic patterns within yoga practitioners profile. I found social theorist Bonnano 2015’s research shed light on the connection between social media and self-identity. She claims that social media is constrained by design and without us realising, we are restricted in what we can offer, thus it’s not possible to present our ‘true self’ via our profile. Her argument lead me to the idea that the creation of an instagram profile is our artistic expression rather than a ‘true self’. But then I query; Can our art be distinct from our self-identity? Bonnano thinks not. She claims that there is no ‘true self’ distinct and separate from our created profile because ‘doing and being’ are the same. This lead me to wonder about the order of the process, does real-life activity inspire our profile or does creating a profile inspire our real-life activity? Insight based on Oscar Wilde’s non-mimimsca -‘life imitates art more than art imitates life’ would suggest the latter, so I conclude by raising the question; Do instagram profiles inform and influence our yoga practice?
Is is impossible to prove causality but as the prevalence of instagram grows, it is worthwhile being aware of it’s insidious influence on our lives. Being a yoga practitioner requires a thorough and continuous level of self-enquiry to ascertain the source of ‘self’. A lifelong path some might say! So it is interesting to contemplate whether our yoga is becoming the yoga cliche of a yoga cliche!
bonanno 2015 article
The Social Media Paradox: An Examination of the – Illusion Versus the Reality of Social Media Emma Bonanno