CONFESSION OF A YOGI…
Instagram and the Gymnastics of Yoga: Please join me in a conversation…
Now I know that human beings are human beings. And one of the truths of being human is that we like to be wowed. We love tricks. We even teach them to our dogs. And a one-handed scorpion is certainly impressive and most likely the result of a lot of physical discipline and practice. But if we get stuck there, we miss what yoga is really about…
I was very recently introduced to the world of Instagram yoga: courageous fun-loving super-flexy yogis posting pictures of themselves in extreme contortions from all corners of the globe. My friend told me some of these yogis have thousands upon thousands of followers, and have veritably built their yoga ‘career’ through instagram.. My mind boggled at the concept, my eyes boggled as I perused some of the poses, my friend exhorted to me that I needed to get with the Instagram program (which, incidentally and amusingly to me, I did), and I wondered cheekily whether I could build up a following of thousands by posting pictures of myself in serene meditation somewhere new and ‘daring’ every day.
Because the question it brought up for me is: why are people so drawn to the ‘gymnastics’ of yoga? And is the ‘wow’ factor actually leading us astray?
The physical practice of yoga – ‘asana’ – is a foundational practice in the path of raja yoga – it creates a strong and healthy body, a strong nervous system, and if practiced properly, a deep embodied awareness. It prepares the body and mind for the deeper practices of pranayama and meditation. It has innumerable benefits. But if practiced solely for fitness, without proper intention, awareness, and breathing, it is what I recently heard Yogrishi Vishvketu laughingly call ‘jumping pumping’ (imagine this in your best Indian accent). It is not yoga, and will never take you deeper…
But for many, the allure of being fit, strong, and capable of impressive tricks, is what draws people to take the first steps on the path of yoga. It is only a matter of time, as they discover its deeper benefits, before they start to gain more of an interest in the path as a spiritual practice and as a way of life. Bingo! Everyone wins.
However, as I thought more about this, about the merits of inspiring people through mad handstands, and as I started to contemplate my own foray into the world of instayoga, a more interesting question arose for me – why are the ‘successful’ yoga teachers mostly ones who can do crazy gymnastics? Is that what it takes to have credibility as a yogi or a yoga teacher now? And what is the message that ‘modern yoga’ is conveying: “Real yogis do scorpion on one hand while drinking a raw smoothie”?
Now I know that human beings are human beings. And one of the truths of being human is that we like to be wowed. We love tricks. We even teach them to our dogs. And a one-handed scorpion is certainly impressive and most likely the result of a lot of physical discipline and practice. But if we get stuck there, we miss what yoga is really about. Does it matter if I can do a one-handed scorpion, or does it matter more that I have a practice and the tools to cleanse and calm the mind, open the heart, transform the spirit, shatter the ego, and develop immense insight and compassion.
And we may also miss the importance of the journey of the practice… because most of us do not embark upon a practice of yoga with a ‘perfect’ body.
Which leads me to my own confession: I have moments when I am confronted by others’ superior physical abilities, and in those moments of weakness I have even wondered about my own credibility. Have I not put in enough dedication and hard work? Have I not been doing the practice properly? Am I a ‘fraud’?
Well actually, the answer is pretty simple: we all have different bodies, we all have different histories, and we all have different journeys. The point is to honour the one we are on. I am not one of those super-flexy crazy pretzel yogis. I was not a gymnast or a dancer, or even into sports at all, and I am not ‘naturally’ flexible. I couldn’t touch my toes as a teenager. I never even kicked up into a handstand as a child. I’ve had injury after injury (from life, not from yoga) that have compromised by neck and left shoulder, my lower back, both of my ankles, my right wrist, and hip and pelvis problems that no amount of asana practice seems to resolve. BUT, as a result, I have been on – and am still on – a journey with my body, my mind, and my heart that has taught me patience, love, and awareness – for myself, and now for my students who arrive in class with ‘less-than-perfect’ bodies. I have also derived an immense and particular satisfaction from this long and difficult journey, which I would never have had if I had arrived at my yoga practice already strong, flexible and physically capable.
But most importantly, this ‘struggle’ with my body has constantly reminded me and kept me dedicated to the deeper journey of mind, heart and spirit that is the true path of yoga. This is the journey that should take us towards selflessness, wisdom, authenticity, liberation, compassion and love. If we get to a one-handed scorpion and never make it to these other qualities, we have not been practicing yoga… we have just been doing gymnastics.
I would love for this to be a conversation – please share your comments, your thoughts, your own journey… yoga for every body…
Now, off to Instagram my meditation… <3
xo Mei Lai
Great post 🙂 I personally love yoga for the deeper flexibility and inner control. That other element is vital for me
Tis true tis true this ‘jumping pumping’ phenomena we find ourselves immersed in! I for one, living in Byron Bay and also playing on the likes of Instagram and Pinterest see this wow factor most often take the stage. The shame of it all is just how you say, that it leads people to strive for these extreme yogi achievements in order to feel as though they have arrived, which in turn discounts the practice. Yay for unveiling and disillusionment. Although yes we are human and yes I will still post radical photos and ‘Like’ yours in return. Meow xx
An alternative view; as a new mumma, my body not as ‘tip top’ as prenatally; I found that by viewing the pix of your asana Mei Lei, I could feel the effects as if having done them myself; so perhaps there is a potential altruistic stance that can be taken; you amazing yogis and yoginis are doing the asana, and allowing other to benefit vicariously. With little time between bubs needs and keeping the mundane aspect of life running I find myself sitting and telling my body that I have just completed a wonderful session of asana, and it works! I feel immediately more open and alive. Not sure if prior experience is neccessary here…. possibly. But anyway, keep at it; I’m enjoying them.
Thanks Alex! That’s definitely a perspective I hadn’t thought of before, and a very warming one. I agree, when I look at other’s asana pictures, there is a felt sense in my own body… thank you for your insight and inspiration!
I value the post.Much thanks again. Cool.
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