Yoga & Social Media #2
Yes another post on yoga + social media. This one was written a while back, but having just been interviewed about yoga and social media for an article I decided to post it. If you are bored of this conversation, then please do ignore it! Yet, we can’t ignore the fact that yoga as perceived by the masses IS changing, and social media has a lot to do with those changing perceptions, whether we think it good or bad, or don’t think about it much at all …
Following many comments and reflections on my ‘I nearly quit teaching yoga’ blog I want to offer some less some further (perhaps less emotional?) sentiments. I had an interesting year contemplating Modern Yoga and my role in it. These days when it comes to social media I don’t have black and white views as to whether mixing Social Media and yoga is good or bad. My initial intent was not to dictate a “yogic” way they anyone should engage with social media. I was having a dialogue, asking questions, raising concerns.
I am not here to mansplain what you should do with your social media account
The questions of how to most effectively use social media to convey the heart of yoga has no objective answer. There are NO facts here.
For some of us it is a question of using this platform for our teaching, or not. But personally I don’t want to totally opt out. I don’t believe in leaving the public narrative and representations of yoga (or fitness, health and love) to a few. That said, an Instagram and Facebook account wherein posting content is shared with the other Yoga Space owners is more than enough for me … personally I found it takes up too much headspace to try represent yoga as more than postures in an Instagram feed (so I deleted my personal Insta account).
When it comes to social media and spiritual life I sometimes cringe, when I imagine myself documenting my life in ways I see online and I feel uncomfortable. I am not that extroverted and don’t have a huge amount of energy for lots of people. I can find lots of interpersonal engagement a bit overwhelming. That said I know other people enjoy the engagement and find it mutually beneficial. They share lots of their discoveries with their followers, and for many followers that is hugely helpful.
Additionally, I am sensitive to unkindness (aren’t we all?). Each time I publish a more topical blog there is often at least one or two nasty comments somewhere that sting a little. I endeavour to be kind, not just as a teacher, but when at the supermarket, school, walking my dog. I like talking to strangers and hearing their stories. The world can do with a healthy dose of kindness and true listening. I know that my critical mind as applied to myself or others is not pretty. I have worked initially on changing my actions to be more harmonious, and over time that has filtered down into my thoughts, which are gentler than they once were.
That said, it is important that the yoga community, like any community not blindly have an anything goes attitude. Debate and dialogue is important. I regularly see debate shut down by friends, partners and students of those at the centre of these debates. Dialogue is important, viveka or discernment is essential to spiritual life. Yet it takes awareness and skill to have these conversations in a way which can maintain harmony and create change (you can find a wonderful example of how constructive dialogue helps here).
Had I been on social media during my ‘philosophy studying, born again yoga-meditator’ stage I probably would have enjoyed some fiery debates. These days I just generally want people to try be nice – and I want to be nicer too. It is more important to me to express thanks, to ask people how they are and want to know the answer, to make a sick friend a meal, to be present with my kids.
I don’t have black and white thoughts on yoga and social media. I take each account that I see (and I don’t spend extensive time looking) on face value. Do I like the image? Do I like the words? What is the intention here? Just like a hammer social media is a neutral tool. A hammer can deliver a devastating blow to your face, or it can be used to build shelters for the homeless. Using social media is not good or bad … it is how it is done.
In terms of the line in the sand – I suppose the most uncomfortable I feel with yoga + social media is sexualisation. This has nothing to do with what people are wearing, long shorts, short shorts, whatever. But as I discussed in my Nude Yoga Blog – photos taken of naked female bottoms or women in gstrings/bikins from behind with the women/an looking over their/her shoulder do create some disquiet in my heart (read about the ‘male gaze’ in advertising here).
Yet I know that it makes other people happy to post in this way. Perhaps it is empowering or liberating to them and it is every person’s right to post the content they resonate with. But at the same time it is ok, and I think IMPORTANT to ask how certain images relate to wider established hegemonic paradigms.
For me, I focus on connecting with what I feel is right, in my personal life, teaching and business. Rules of what we “should” and “shouldn’t do” as yoga teachers, can be limiting and are often subjective.
By using the medium of Facebook and Instagram we are all part of the changing face of yoga. We might have our own ‘rules’ about what we think is right – but none of those ‘rules’ are evidenced based. There is no set research into this – we are in the world of conjecture and opinion. Yet, research is emerging in relation to fitness feeds and #fitspo (fitness inspiration) that does raise some alarm bells.
Many consumers of fitness and health related social media content are young women and girls, which makes it crucial that we reflect on what we are posting. Recent research regarding #fitspo, highlights that viewing health and fitness images are not always neutral or inspirational as thought by some. Rather, exposure to these images led to increased negative mood and body dissatisfaction and decreased self-esteem in comparison to the viewing of travel images. It was concluded that viewing these images, can have unintended negative consequences on those viewing them. While the research hasn’t yet been done on yoga images, it is not a stretch to begin to consider that there might be unhelpful ways of presenting yoga using social media, that create harm, especially for yoga women and girls.
For me I see that representations of yoga are changing. Some days I love this new evolution, some days I wonder if it is a devolution? Other days I just wonder why people want so many fans and where do they find the energy to engage with them all?
Social Media, like all aspects of life, can be a platform for self-discovery. While I believe it is always helpful to raise questions, it is equally important we all find our own answers. To tell someone else how to use such a platform such as Instagram or Facebook “yogicly” takes away an opportunity for that person to get to know themselves better.
Personally I try to “hold any judgements lightly”. My first blog wasn’t a manifesto or a critique of particular teachers. It was an expression of a process I had gone through and a communication of where I am at with teaching. A subjective view of how I see yoga changing.
Mostly these days I try not to take myself too seriously or other people. Life is too short to make decisions not based on love. I know we are ultimately connected, yet manifested as humans with spectacular differences. And that is the foundation for a lot of the work we get to do internally in our lives. Yet, at the same time, I know every post I make tells a story about what yoga is to the public, to my students, to those who haven’t done their first toward dog. I want to be careful about what that story is, the intent of the images is important, and how the words match the image to me should be considered deeply.
At the end of the day we are here to live the life we have, not someone else’s. As Krishna told Arjuna:
It is better to follow one’s own dharma, though imperfect, than the dharma of someone else, even though well-performed.
I think this sums it up when it comes to Modern Yoga – follow our own dharma.