There is a vibrant and growing yoga community on Instagram. Search #yogaeverydamnday and millions of posts pop up. This is good news for the yoga community as more and more people are going Down Dog.
What isn't such good news is that although yoga makes for beautiful Instagram posts, it also makes the practice of yoga unapproachable to some. Beginners see these photos and think, "I can't do that," and won't then walk into a class or studio to give yoga a try. A perfect example is Dancer's Pose, the yoga darling of Instagram. It's the expression of asana itself -- one of grace and strength. And it is plastered all over Instagram (I now even call it the Instagram Pose in classes). How many students, however, let alone teachers, can come into the full pose, and more importantly, is that even the point of yoga?
This dark side of Instagram brings up another question: What is an accurate portrayal of the female yoga body? Naturally, this has been an ongoing debate since the early days of the Tantric yoginis. Yes, some bodies are lithe from a regular yoga practice, while others bend to their own tune. Both are beautiful, but the latter needs more attention (and is finally getting it from yoga leaders such as Gaiam), as it does throughout our society. Health should not judged by how skinny a body is, but rather by the strength of the body and the mind.
The yoga community needs to find balance in social media (and naturally, in the quest for more followers to support the burgeoning yoga industry, we are all guilty of the above). But in the "who follows who" competition of Instagram, we need to ensure we don't alienate those who most need yoga in their lives. Those include people who dream of one day touching their toes; those who face stress at work and home that could benefit from a regular practice; those who are dealing with an illness or injury, where yoga can aid in pain management. Or maybe they are just like the rest of us, searching for a few moments of peace in Pigeon Pose.
To find help find that balance, here are three easy ways to make Instagram yoga more accessible:
- If you are a teacher, provide a description of the pose and offer any modifications available to beginners in the post. It might take more time (please, Instagram, allow us to type from a computer!), but it's worth it. Tag the post with #Yoga4Everyone.
- Be proud of your body -- we are all a work in progress. But be sure to also show your practice. This is so much more than the physical posture and is usually more inspiring that nailing that Pincha Mayurasana.
- Try to post the boring poses in addition to the fun ones (yes, we're looking at you Upward Facing Dog, Tree, and Tadasana). These poses are the transitions to making great things happen in yoga and should not be overlooked or forgotten.
Of course, for every dark side, there is a bright side, and so too on Instagram. Trolling, thankfully, is mainly confined to public figures and others. True to yogic ideals, comments on yoga poses, regardless of size, shape, or level, tend to the positive. More often than not, the prayer symbol can be found in one or more comments, a universal yogic "job well done."
Yoga truly is a practice is for everyone and every body. And we, the yogis of Instagram, have an obligation to pass along that knowledge through our posts so we might help others discover the benefits of yoga.
It is the small steps we take in our practice, and the humility it brings that often lead us to a yogic life. And that is the message we need to spread -- accessibility over exclusiveness, acceptance over rejection, delight in the ordinary over mastery of the rare. Yoga is all this and more. But it's not just another pretty pose.