#Yoga on Instagram has close to 90 million posts worldwide.
A quick scroll instantly reveals an obvious trend – the posts mainly consist of aesthetic photos of young and thin women showcasing their mastery of inversions, backbends and complicated postures. Instagram has led to image and physical poses becoming an intrinsic element of how yoga is perceived, and the platform has also been further leveraged on by yoga practitioners as a way to market themselves to prospective students.
What are the implications of Instagram culture on yoga and how does it relate to traditional yoga philosophy?
Traditional Yoga Philosophy
There is no consensus on the exact origin of yoga, except that it was developed in ancient India, possibly over 5000 years ago. However, Patanjali’s yoga sutras during the Classical Era are widely regarded as the first compilation of formal yoga philosophy.
In the yoga sutras, yoga is loosely translated as a meditative practice to attain the cessation of fluctuations of the mind. The Eight Limbs of Yoga mark out the steps to achieve this – namely, Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Through abstentions, observances, physical practice, breathing techniques, abstraction, concentration and meditation, the practice of yoga will allow one to achieve liberation. Notably, the third limb describes the physical practice and simply the seated position used for meditation.
The Instagram Trends
Asanas have undoubtedly become the most prominent feature of modern yoga. As revealed through the Instagram culture, which is inherently image-based, yoga has shifted toward an emphasis on the physical practice and the physical body. Common themes from the top yoga posts demonstrate a focus on fitness, fitspiration, being present and happiness.
While some of these themes mirror elements from traditional yoga philosophy, such as being present, the repeated emphasis on achieving the perfect pose in many Instagram posts strays away from the original intention of yoga. This emphasis on the body and physical postures inevitably leads to social comparisons that can result in poorer self-perception, lower self-esteem and more negative feelings. Rather than the ultimate aim, traditional yoga philosophy actually purports that the body should be used only as a vehicle to achieve a higher state of liberation. It is the steadiness, stability and comfortableness that one feels in the movement of Asanas that matter, not the pose.
Finding A Balance
At the end of the day, how do we navigate the modern world and still practise the true essence of yoga?
It is crucial to be aware and gain clarity of your own intentions. The yoga sutras can then be used as a guide to purify your intentions and regulate the self both internally and externally, until your intentions become internalised. There will be many distractions along the way, including the effects of Instagram culture, but I choose to believe that it’s a matter of perspective and the platform can still be utilised as a means to positively benefit the self and the society around us. It will take time and effort to find a balance, but at the very least, we have learnt how to practise mindfulness during this journey.