yoga selfies & self practice

Posted on June 2nd, 2014 by

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I read an interesting article today written by a yoga teacher in ‘abouttimemagazine’. The article criticises  the  ‘out of control’ rise of the Yoga Selfie and how ‘skinny girls doing crazy, picture perfect yoga postures’ performed in stunning exotic or cool locations can actually have the effect of making people feel like crap about themselves rather than acting as an incentive or inspiration to deepen one’s own practice.

The author Genny Wilkinson-Priest raises some interesting points about how this trend on Instagram and Facebook etc could trivialise the tradition of yoga and feed the ego rather than squash it and I agree with Genny’s final points about how a two-dimentional Selfie cannot show quality of technique, including the vital breath-work nor can it reveal the energetics, poise and focus required to make a posture yoga as opposed to posing. 

The ancient Yogic Scipture by Patanjali is often referenced when considering what constitutes a yoga pose, Sutra 2-46 reads “Sthiram-Sukham-Asanam”– which can be translated as Yoga postures (Asana)  should be both – structurally stable (Stiram) as well as comfortable, joyful and  non-resistance (Sukham). Sutra 2-47 elaborates slightly as “Prayatna-Shaithilya Anantya-Samaapattibhyaam” which can be translated basically as posture is (made steady and comfortable) through relaxing the effort and allowing for total absorption in the endless. ‘Samapatti’ is a key term which implies that the mind is so deeply engrossed in the experience of the posture that there is single-pointed focus and no other thoughts arise and thus in this experience one merges with the universal cosmos. Now, who is to say that this is or is not taking place for the ‘skinny girls doing crazy, picture poses’, but I can certainly admit to having my photo taken in a posture and being like, “hurry up and take the bloody photo!”

For example in this instance here below I’m clearly totally bored at the photoshoot and it looks like my bandhas have switched off. 😉

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As renowned Ashtangi David Svenson remarks, “if it was just flexibility and strength which determined a yogi, then gymnasts would be the best yogi’s”.  Indeed as Genny point out, the real yoga hero’s to aspire to are the stiff, weak or ill practitioners that overcome their challenges through focused dedication to their practice.

A point I would have liked to add to the comment section of Genny’s article had there been one, is that the Selfie isn’t a phenomena exclusive to yoga, indeed Selfies run rampant across the board in our culture.

The interesting irony is that Yoga was originally a counter-culture movement and yoga practitioners lay low on the margins of society. Which is quite different to the contemporary manifestation of yoga. Yoga has exploded in popularity, it has effectively been engulfed by culture and paraded, sold and touted in every which way possible. Invariably, whether you like it or not, yoga is mainstream. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that in our culture, Yoga, like everything else from mobile phones to chocolate bars, is presented within (social) media as cool and sexy.

Do Yogi’s get a say as to how ‘their’ yoga is represented?

I’ve had this discussion with other yoga practitioners and the general sentiment is that of frustration. Personally I have  often felt overwhelmed and confused by the portrayal of ‘yoga’ and where I fit within the media circus of it. I consider myself serious about my commitment to learning and practising and teaching yoga, however I also happen to fit the stereotypical demographic of the (fairly) young, fashionable and fit ‘YogaGirl’.  I’ve often been faced with the conflict, of which side of the fence do I sit… Do I renounce the image of the ‘yoga world’ and abstain from the yoga Selfie and quietly live/teach/practice on the sidelines, or do I embrace this Yoga Selfie movement and get stuck in. Yoga bum on show and striking my most flashy party trick?

I’ve tousled with both options and over the years and mindfully experimented with what images I put out on show.  My boundaries are bikinis OK , knickers and bra not OK… but then again,  I really love this video and am totally inspired rather than upset about it:

But then again, as much as I respect and admire Kino MacGregors’ outstanding dedication to the Ashtanga practice and her solid teaching, I do personally find her trademark hot pants as showing a little bit too much crotch for my prudish boundaries…

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Her clothing (or lack there of) has no bearing on her seriousness as a practitioner so really, me feeling disturbed towards her clothing (or lack there of) is totally nonsensical!

Interestingly, I gained my most rewarding teaching jobs, whereby I was offered opportunities to teach yoga to students on a deeper level as a direct result of having put out Yoga Selfies on facebook. I have come to learn that in London, making it as a yoga teacher inevitably requires some soul searching of this kind and like it or not, your public profile effectively acts as your CV and social media is a bit of a necessary evil.

I guess the trick is to continually remember to never compare yourself to others, for there is always greater and lesser, instead take pleasure in seeing the diversity of form and expression we are presented with. Or alternatively, if it’s really making you feel like shit, unfollow, unlike,  go offline or switch off, you have the power!

As a yoga teacher and practitioner I do feel responsibility in my representation of postural work and feel inspired to present the footage of me falling out of postures or comically and ungracefully wriggling into them! Here is for example, my mornings practice, mistakes and all,  (just sped up cos otherwise it’d be a bit long).

There is nothing perfect about my postures this morning, in fact far from it! If you bother to watch the video below you may notice that I’m just prancing around, with no true form, structure or attention to alignment, I stumble about and don’t hold many (if any) of my handstands and there are some inconsistencies in the sequencing. However, my intention this morning was to wake up and feel my energetic body and fuel my body with breath and feel my state of being and mind. The yoga is not the perfection of posture, but the perfection of process – which is not captured in the Selfie. Yoga is the feeling of embodiment, it’s the movement within the stillness and the stillness within the movement.

So celebrate your life-force during your yoga practice, celebrate your life-force authentically, however you feel fit.

Practice yoga and of most of all, let it guide you to express your innate gratitude and love. This is the real Yoga, this acknowledgement and dedication of your life-force to the divinity that unites us all.  If for you that culminates in a Yoga Selfie when you feel good then why the hell not?!