Scroll through Instagram or Facebook and you’ll probably come across someone contorted into a yoga pose, dreamy sunset location optional. With the popularity of social media soaring in recent years, it has become ubiquitous for yoga teachers and yogis alike to post pictures of them in a yoga pose, and I’m no exception.
Modern day yoga has the greatest focus on the 3rd limb of yoga, asana, or physical practice, where “The yogi conquers the body by the practice of asanas and makes it a fit vehicle for the spirit” (Iyengar, 1966 p. 41). Often times neglecting the other 7 limbs as defined in Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, especially so on social media. Yamasand niyamas (moral guidelines or self-discipline), pranayama (translating to expansion of life force; usually refers to breath work), pratyrahara (withdrawal from the 5 senses), dharana (focussing on one thought at a time), dhyana(meditation; observing your thoughts but not reacting to them) and samadhi (detached, non-judgmental; Buddha-like enlightenment) are rarely mentioned on social media, mostly due to the fact that the target audience is largely just interested in the physical postures.
The paper Yoga on Instagram: Disseminating or Destroying Traditional Yogic Principals has drawn light on the flaws of posting yoga-related content on social media. Many people, especially yoga teachers, use it as a form of marketing – I personally am not against this because it’s free and if they have a large following, effective in getting their followers to come to their class. However, the paper finds fault in those who use it to seek validation or an ego booster, where it depicts a misleading perspective which goes against the yogic philosophy. In addition, the paper brought up the dangers of negative body image, where most of these pictures of young, toned bodies in tight leggings and a sports bra spurs comparison of one’s own body to that ideal, especially when tagged #fitspo (fitness inspiration).
But then again, yoga is derived from yuj, which means union in Sanskrit, and social media is a great platform for yogis all over the world to connect and draw inspiration from one another. Besides that, it isn’t purely about the asana – captions can often share a lot of knowledge about the asana or yogic philosophy and videos can give you tips to help correct your alignment. Many of these posts focus on achieving both physical and mental wellbeing, which goes in line with the traditional practice. As B.K.S. Iyengar wrote, “to the yogi, his body is the prime instrument of attainment. If this vehicle breaks down, the traveler cannot go far. If the body is broken by ill-health, the aspirant can achieve little”.
It definitely is a double-edged sword, where its benefits lie in the way people choose to use and respond to it. When used well, one can share knowledge about the philosophy, tradition and history of yoga and spread their love of yoga to their friends. Beyond that, it’s called social media, so let’s make it more social – its an awesome opportunity to connect with people from all over the world and perhaps more importantly maintain those friendships, even if we’re oceans away.