Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Yoga Selfie Debate: to selfie or not to selfie?

Ah the Yoga Selfie. Such problems you pose me with! To preface this post, I am going to ruin my conclusion and let you know that I am in two-minds about the Yoga Selfie (this would have got me zero marks at Uni; "never sit on the fence" our lecturers would say). But before you click away, now knowing the conclusion, you may want to read my reasons why...and then maybe enter the debate yourself...this is one I really would love to hear your opinions on, because a) everyone loves a good debate, and b) one day I may be able to topple off the fence and actually make a decision.

I confess that I am guilty of posting the odd Yoga Selfie. On quite a regular basis. Okay, fine, on almost a daily basis. [Insert gritted-teeth-kind-of-smiling emoji]. But it's still something that completely divides my opinion. On the one hand the whole premises of yoga is based on letting go of your ego, on going on your own private journey; the Bhagavad Gita tells us that "Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self", and most definitely not "posing for the Yoga Selfie, posting the Yoga Selfie, to get likes of the Yoga Selfie". Sorry, terrible comparison, but you get my point! It really does seem like it's all a vanity game. And I know I play it all too often. Not necessarily because I'm vain, but more because I feel that if I didn't I would be losing out on potential exposure (something which is becoming increasingly important as more and more yoga teachers graduate from their teacher trainings).

It seems as though the yoga world has created this twisted merry-go-round that one feels they have to ride on, but equally riding on it makes you feel nauseous with the feeling that you might be compromising your integrity as a true yogini, but if you don't ride it you will miss out on opportunities and exposure and potential clients, but if you weren't active on social media clients and studios might not take you on because you don't have enough exposure...and so on. Phew. I feel sick just thinking about it. I think we need to break this down into two very simple categories: Pros & Cons.

Pros of the Yoga Selfie
  • It's a quick way to connect with your students. Many of them are now on social channels and actively use them on a regular basis. If they see you posting Yoga Selfies they may be reminded about your class that evening, or may show your pictures to a friend, who may then also become a student.
  • Yoga Selfies help to attract relevant business opportunities. Businesses love social media, and many of them are constantly on the look out for professionals in their field to help promote their brand to their own followers. I have had a couple of relevant business opportunities as a direct result of my Yoga Selfies, mainly being given free yoga clothes and being asked to write two articles for an online health magazine. And the more "insta-famous" (terrible phrase) you become, the greater and more significant these opportunities become. 
  • It's a good way to promote your classes and events. A striking Yoga Selfie will potentially encourage people to sign up for your classes and events - if you catch their attention with a visually appealing photo then they are much more likely to read the blurb below. I've had a few people sign up to my retreats in this way, and also to some of my classes. 
  • They can promote diversity within the yoga community. I will make the counter argument to this in the Con arguments, but there are a few wonderful Instagram accounts with many a Yoga Selfie promoting diversity within the community. Boys of Yoga are doing a great job in showing that yoga is most definitely not just for girls, and the gorgeous Dana Falsetti and Valerie Sagun AKA @nolatrees and @biggalyoga are showing that curvy ladies can have a damn impressive asana practice too. 
  • Yoga Selfies can help to inspire people. If done in the right way (i.e. safe alignment, not putting your life in danger for the photo etc) Yoga Selfies can be super inspiring. They can sometimes be like artwork, such as Nude Yoga Girl's incredible photos, which is a fantastic example of Yoga Selfies done right. They can also inspire people to keep progressing with their practice, to see what they might also be able to achieve one day with hard work and dedication to their yoga practice. 

From the @nude_yogagirl Instagram page 

Cons of the Yoga Selfie
  • As I touched on in the introduction to this post, yoga is meant to be a personal practice. One which isn't actually at all concerned with how you look on the outside, but much more about how you look on the inside. Yes the asanas are fun to practice, and can be incredibly impressive visually, but their true purpose is simply to help prepare our bodies for a state of meditation. Not to look fancy and show off on Instagram. 
  • Some are outright dangerous. I have seen some appalling Yoga Selfies by some very well known accounts. The problem is that many of these "insta-famous" (again, EURGH) yogis are actually self-taught and don't practice safe form in many of their photos. I am not going to call out individuals as that's not very kind of me, they are only trying to inspire others, but there is one account in particular where I have seen a collapsed lower back, hyper-extended legs, and a knee bending way over the ankle in Warrior II (and this one was even endorsed and reposted by a very well known yoga brand!). And not to mention the photo where she is performing a handstand on the edge of a very tall building. GULP. Unsafe form and risking your life for a Yoga Selfie is not cool. Yes it looks incredibly impressive, but it's not yoga. Rant over. 
  • It encourages vanity. I know that when I post a Yoga Selfie more often than not it's taken 10 shots to find the one I am happy to post. I am even ashamed to admit that the first ever Yoga Selfie I posted I edited my waist to make it look smaller (since then I've never done that again, I felt too awful to be deceiving people - and myself). And then when I post up a Yoga Selfie of course I am keen to see how many likes it will get. Sometimes if it gets a lot I am genuinely happy, and if it doesn't get many I can often feel miffed. Is the asana I'm doing not impressive enough? Do I look too fat? Am I not as good as other yogis? [SHUDDER]. These thoughts are vain and also incredibly sad. And completely unrelated to my worth as a yogini or a human being. 
  • To counter my "it promotes diversity" point in the Pro section, it can also do the opposite. A large majority of the Yoga Selfies we see online are posted by slim, white, young ladies. Of course there are some gorgeous, genuine and talented slim, white young yoginis, but what does this do for the rest of us? There is little body diversity, little race diversity, and it is largely female dominated. The Yoga Selfie may be helping to perpetuate this image and may be putting some people off of trying yoga... 
  • It puts too much emphasis on the asana (physical) practice. The Western world is largely more concerned with the asana practice than it is the other aspects of yoga, and the Yoga Selfie exacerbates this. Of course this is a very sweeping generalisation and isn't true for everyone, but there are so many other aspects of yoga that are equally important - Yamas (ethical observations), Niyamas (social observations), pranayama (breath control), and the 4 stages of meditation, are not emphasised nearly as much. The asana practice is beautiful and integral one to a rounded yoga practice, but it is only one small part. Spiritual enlightenment cannot be achieved through asana alone (despite what might seem otherwise on your Instagram feed!). 
So now I've explored the pros & cons, I'm sure you can see my dilemma. On the one hand if you don't post Yoga Selfies you might be missing out on opportunities, exposure to new clients, and a fun way to connect with existing ones. And sometimes they really are just a harmless bit of fun and genuinely inspiring. However there are some real moral question marks behind the Yoga Selfie - ones which are hard to ignore. So far I have seen them as a necessary evil to help me make a name for myself as a yoga teacher, but I am realising that from time-to-time I lose sight of them as a business tool and they do feed my ego. This is when it's a problem. I suppose the answer is to separate business and pleasure in my mind, but this is difficult to do when your in a business of something you are deeply passionate about. Hmmm. 

It's something that I'm going to have to consider more deeply. So in the meantime do you have any input on the debate? What are your thoughts on the Yoga Selfie? Be brutally honest (but preferably without being mean!). I really would love to hear your thoughts on this one.

Love & light beauties, 

L x

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