Dedicated Ashtangi and Meadowlark teacher, Jenn Usher, reflects on what it means to be present online as a 21st-century yogi
I am of an age where I can just about remember a time before the internet. I remember moving continents as a ten-year-old and carefully collating all of my friends home addresses and home telephone numbers so that we could write letters to each other, or have a sacred ten minutes speaking on the landline before our parents started yelling about international phone bills. My little sister, who came five years later, is part of the younger generation for whom the pre-internet age just evaded. For these millennials, the crackly sound of dial-up broadband is an ancient myth, and Facebook accounts were created even before puberty hit.
There is much to say about the rise of the internet and the effects of social media, both positive and negative, but I will limit myself here to a yoga context. Yoga is everywhere on social media. Type #yoga into Instagram and you will be presented with 51,997,022 posts (at the time of writing – this figure will rapidly increase). There are yoga influencers who have built entire careers around app-based yoga classes or even just from having enough followers to promote everything from yoga clothes to coconut water. Needless to say, the internet is a bottomless pit of yoga-related images and content.
There is undoubtedly value in promoting oneself online. Being digital-savvy is pretty much an essential part of any job these days and I have a certain amount of admiration for the yogis I see online who use social media to its maximum potential and have thousands of followers – and therefore have an enormous reach for their online teachings and musings. Creating a name for yourself as a yoga teacher is extremely difficult, it is a competitive field, and so kudos to those who can do it online with panache.
However, I also have misgivings. We all should know that what we see on social media is not usually an accurate representation of what has actually happened. It is an edited, filtered version of a perceived reality; but this can be difficult to remember when you are confronted with endless images of perfection. When this applies to yoga, there can be an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy when that inevitable #yoga search comes up. A huge proportion of what we see is beautiful men and women against stunning backdrops in very advanced asanas. Is this helpful and educational to those who would like to begin yoga, or is this pure narcissism?
I am certainly not above some level of narcissism with my own social media accounts. I have posted videos or photos of myself doing asana that I am proud of. We are constantly told as yoga practitioners that we should not be attached to asanas, that we should not have an ego, and this is certainly an important part of cultivating an authentic and long-term practice. However we are also human beings and I do think it is okay to work hard towards something, and then enjoy the sense of achievement when that hard work pays off and you find yourself being capable of something you were not capable of before. So if you want to post a picture of yourself in an awesome handstand that is a symbol of the time, dedication and consistent effort you have put into your practice, then go for it, I say.
The issue that I sometimes have with these images is that I wonder how much time and effort these people have put into an actual authentic practice that day; a practice that has not been filmed, pictured and posted. I wonder if all their practice time went into getting the right shot.
When I see Instagram yoga challenges, which encourage participants to post a picture a day of them in a certain asana, I wonder if people are just fixating on getting one perfect picture of one perfect asana, rather than doing an entire well-rounded practice. I wonder also about the risk of injury for people going into an asana when they are not fully warmed up, or beginners attempting very advanced asanas without proper instruction. And I worry for the people who already feel insecure about their bodies or believe that they are not flexible enough or “good” enough to practice yoga. Seeing these images can only exacerbate these misconceptions.
That is why, no matter whether you have 10 Instagram followers or 10,000, it is important to maintain some sort of perspective as to WHY we are ultimately doing this practice. To paraphrase one of my senior teachers, David Garrigues, we do not practice because it is fun (if, like me, you mainly practice Mysore-style Ashtanga, you will know it is rarely fun anyways!). We do not practice to be fit or healthy or to change our bodies. And last but not least, we do not practice to increase our online following or project a certain image of ourselves on social media. All of these things might happen through practice, but they should not be our main motivation. Ultimately, we practice because we come to realise that there is a slow but inevitable improvement in the quality of our lives when we commit ourselves to self-improvement, daily dedication, and physical and mental alertness. And ultimately, these things will not come through yoga on Instagram. They will come through time and effort spent alone on your mat, with full concentration, and your phone turned off in the next room. That is where the real yoga happens, and there’s no hashtag that can express it.
Interested in attending one of Jenn’s classes? Jenn is now teaching two Power Vinyasa Masterclasses in September and October 2018! Find more information here. For Jenn’s regular teaching schedule, click here.