The rise and rise of the instagram yogi
Shiva Rae recently posted this on her Facebook page:
‘yogasanas and vinyasas are not “tricks” to be learned or performed…let us be aware of how our “likes” and what we are putting out there on FB, instagram, etc are transforming the heart of yoga here in the West.
yoga as an emanation of deeper consciousness
expressed through our whole being as the wholeness of nature
one’s Self, creative by nature expresses reality through bodily expressions – sahajayoginicinta, 13th century yogini
elevate-emanate-yoga for all’
Back in the day of my youthful yoga world, the yoga superstars of the day (to me anyway) were the likes of Shiva Rae, Seane Corne, Gurmukh, Sharon Gannon and David Life. When I look back I find it interesting that social media wasn’t a part of what made these teachers ‘rockstars’ of the day. Sure they had websites, but they had also written books, made DVD’s and featured in the glossy pages of printed magazines. Social media as we know it had not really become a thing back then.
I dreamt of going to the states to study with these great teachers and over the past decade I did just that and was never disappointed in the reality of these teachers compared to their virtual presence in my life. They were authentic and inspiring.
But in more recent years there have been several yoga teacher scandals, I don’t think I need to rehash the infamous John Friend scandal here, or the debate surrounding Uma Thurman’s brother at Jivamukti in New York, the ongoing nasty rumours surrounding Bikram, locally at home in Australia there was the fall of Yoga in Daily Life due to the bad behaviour of their Swami and I’m sure many others that I don’t have the time of inclination to research.
I think the yoga community is partly to blame for these scandals and the fall from grace of our superstar yogis. We place them on such high pedestals and then wait for them to topple, once they become seduced by the fame, money, power that we so easily offer them, they show their oh so human characteristics and fall and fail spectacularly. We are shocked! We are horrified! We then turn into a pack of hyenas and ravage them and their reputation.
So when I read Shiva Rae’s comment a few weeks ago I was all like ‘you go girl!’.
What is this with these instagram yoga superstars? I love a good yoga image, I love beautiful photographs, I love exploring yoga shapes advanced or simple, I adore Robert Sturmans work and think that it’s truly art. There are some teachers on social media that I love to follow as they integrate beautiful imagery, with real life and a deep yoga understanding (Kathryn Budig comes to mind) and I am inspired by their online presence.
But there are also what seems like hundreds of yoga teachers on instagram uploading images of themselves in increasingly impossible poses, running instagram challenges where followers copy said impossible pose (#socialmedialawsuitinthemaking), there are many a sexy bikini beach babe busting her yoga moves, sexy tattooed yoga guys wearing just his pants while hanging upside down, watered down yoga philosophy being used for self promotion and all the while we are lapping it up.
These yogis have hundreds of thousands following them. They are young, they are beautiful, they are the new yoga superstar but it feels to me that they lack the credibility and integrity of the teachers of old. They fill workshops and classes based on how they look holding a handstand while balancing on a rock and the newcomers to yoga will think this is what yoga is all about – buff bodies doing tricks. I imagine this would be quite intimidating to some wishing to dip a toe into yoga for the first time.
It all feels a bit empty. It all feels like we are repeating our mistakes and placing these young bendy teachers on pedestals and what will we do when they fall?
I would love to see these teachers offering less tricks and more about the real teachings of yoga. Or at least a combination of both. Can we as a yoga community start a new hashtag #nonasanayogaeverydamnday and transform yoga in the west to be inclusive, inspiring and an emanation of deeper consciousness?
Thank you so much for this, Keren.
I miss your beautiful classes at Brisbane Yoga Space. I had “practised yoga” on and off for years without ever really going much deeper than the asana and had only really found the (for want of a better word) deeper teachings six months or so before I discovered BYS. And while I only got to practise with you for a little while, I am incredibly grateful to you and the other lovely teachers for really introducing me to what yoga could be all about at a time in my life full of big shifts.
I think I was at risk of getting really swept up in the social media yoga hype (I am naturally inclined to be pretty hard on myself and want to do what all the cool kids are doing, unfortunately) and (although I try not to criticise others doing their thing) what seems to me a hollower kind of practice.
Long winded but I wanted to say thank you!
Meanwhile, I am now practising at Jivamukti Sydney in Newtown on your recommendation, and it’s just wonderful! Thank you for sending me in that direction!
Tara! So lovely to hear from you. And you brought a smile to my face hearing that you are practicing at Jivamukti, a great studio! Glad to hear you are embracing the chanting and philosophy as much as the asana. Stay in touch and keep up your beautiful practice
Hear hear! I look at girls in bikinis doing the obligatory forearm scorpion and I have to admire their dedication and practise. But what are they dedicated to and practising for? If we are all in this thing together then you need to be sensitive to the message you are putting out there and how it’s going to affect others. What are you hoping to achieve with the shot of you? Is it to inspire? Or is it to be pleased with yourself? How is the bikini beach shot going to inspire a paraplegic woman to get into yoga as something that could benefit her as indeed it very much could? I love and celebrate the human form – in all its forms. It takes a strong, brave and selfless yogi to know they can do forearm scorpion and NOT put a shot of it on instagram.
Thanks for the piece Keren xx
What a wonderful read! Thank you Keren! We sure do live in a global yoga community that can be difficult to ground in the true essence of yoga. I discovered Yoga while living in NYC in the 90s… a time when yoga was not cool and the internet barely understood. Many years later I share yoga in a variety of dimensions in Townsville & most of what I share comes back to the truth that you also share above! Thank you again & I hope to meet you some day down the path! xo
Thank you for the lovely comment. And guess what? We met YEARS ago. I came to Townsville for work (a mini conference) and you gave me an amazing private yoga class in my tiny little hotel room. I’ve never forgotten that you gave me a little heart shaped candle at the end of the class. Was bliss xxx