Instagram and “Real” Yoga

Recently, I’ve read quite a few articles on various sites like Yogadork and Yoganonymous, among others, about Instagram and yoga. The intention of these articles, in my opinion, seems mostly to be to get people fired up over a contentious topic and to generate clicks (which is why I won’t link to them). I don’t see the intention being to bridge or to heal people and opinions. One article went so far as to indicate that women that post IG asana photos in bikinis aren’t practicing “real” yoga, and aren’t even “real” people!? There is, of course, no mention of the multitudes of men who post asana photos in just wee little shorts (search #menofyoga on IG to see what I mean); oh no!! As usual, it’s only women’s bodies that are offensive and shameful when scantily clad. This all just makes me so sad, and honestly, so tired.

I thought that “real” yoga was cessation of judgement. Of acceptance of the world around us and letting go of a need to control outcome (both within ourselves and externally). I thought “real” yoga was acknowledgement that we are all on our own path (“we all” including the bikini clad asana people one author is so offended by) – and as yogis, knowing that we are on our own path is, itself, a beautiful, lovely thing. AKA, the knowledge that we are on our own paths, is, maybe, the point (I really don’t mean that in a snarky way).

What I would love to see more of, instead of articles like the ones I mention above, rather, are articles encouraging people who are offended by Insta-yoga to practice mindfulness with their words and opinions. Do these authors, these arbiters of “real” yoga, ask themselves before they publish their articles: are my words helpful? Are they kind? Are they intended to heal or hurt? And if not, why not? I am cool with the idea that the authors of the articles are on their own yogic paths, too.  Lets all spend more time asking ourselves, though, why we are so quick to tell others that their yoga isn’t “real.”

As someone with my own very conflicted feelings about Instagram yoga, I’ve remained mostly silent on the topic, primarily because there are enough people speaking on this debate, and it’s my own battle to fight internally.

I can share that my own conflict comes mostly from questioning my own intentions in posting – and wondering if I talk too much about the injuries I face, etc… (do I seem too negative, or does speaking about my health help people to see that you can continue to practice through chronic pain, disease, etc…?). When I get overwhelmed by IG, I take a break for a few days or weeks. UPDATE: I’ve taken almost half a year off, not because I am offended by “fake”yoga on Instagram, but because it felt right to take a break!

When  I started posting about yoga on Instagram, it was because I was looking for yogis who had shoulder surgery like what I had, who might have good tips for me; or, to find people who had a very physical practice who also had degenerative joint disease (like me). No one in my local studio was dealing with what I was, that I knew of, so I looked to IG. Eventually, I found people like Carson Calhoun (@carsonclaycalhoun), Shannon Ryan (@rock3tshan), and Jill Pedroza (@yoginicolorado), and made great friends with these awesome teachers and yogis, and through them made other friends. IG doesn’t have to be about always “inspiring” people or getting more followers or marketing. It can be about friendship, learning, trying new things in a safe way, expanding your community, finding support through an injury, etc…

What keeps me on Instagram (albeit not posting recently) is that I know that I, and only I, have the power to control how Instagram affects me. I choose who I follow; I choose what hashtags to search. When someone’s feed starts to trend to something that doesn’t serve my purpose on being on IG, I unfollow them (not because they aren’t a REAL yogi- gah, what hubris to think that). I have made great friends on IG, learned so many awesome transitions and tips and tricks; I had so much encouragement while I was in the hospital from my IG community… there is positive where you seek the positive. Where you find the negative, it’s on YOU to walk away from it- without judgement.

Honestly, I am trying not to judge these authors, even. I get that IG can be totally annoying- and they have a right to be annoyed. I just wish articles like these trended toward helping to heal, not to divide people into pro-IG/anti-IG. It doesn’t have to be zero-sum, there is room for grey. Finally, I just don’t want to be part of a yoga world where there’s a set of people who deem themselves to be the final judges of what is real yoga and what is not. Who is a real yogi and who is not. I like yoga precisely because it welcomes everyone and every body- thin, not thin; white, not white (BTW, there are lots of IG yoga people of color, some of these authors who think it’s all thin white women are letting their own lack of diversity in their communities and lives show- all they have to do is look #curyyoga #blackyogis etc…); spiritually awakened, not so spiritually awakened; abled, disabled – everyone is welcome.

So, for the folks who like IG, rock on. For those that don’t, that’s totally ok. For the conflicted folks, keep on working through it, just like you do with every other thing in life. But let’s stop with the “real” yogi and “real” yoga judgement- both about IG and elsewhere. It isn’t helpful, and it doesn’t heal or make anyone happy and joyful. I’m all for articles that generate conversation, but I’m just not sure articles that begin with body-shaming thin people, shaming people the authors don’t view as “real” yogis, serves to generate a healthy, inclusive conversation.


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