Is it empowerment or another form of masked objectification? If you practice yoga and are on social media, particularly Instagram, you may be intimately familiar with asana photos running rampant through your feed with various hashtag markings from #yogaeverydamnday, #yogalove, #yogachallenge, and so on. Some of these photos are inspired by yoga challenges, while others are prized proof at the progress in our practice, and still others some may hold are not yoga at all despite the inspirational quote affixed to the photo. There are very strong opinions on both sides. Let’s dive in a bit and see what the fuss is all about.
Some of us may be wondering what’s going on in those Instagram challenges. Is it just another form of narcissism or another ploy to get us hooked on technology even more? Ask almost anyone that has participated in one of those challenges, and the majority of the participants will tell you it’s a great way to connect and build community and camaraderie among fellow yoga practitioners, not just in their own city, but from around the world. So, I say cheers to community building however we can build it. Virtual community building certainly doesn’t replace face-to-face community connections, but what it does do is this – it enlarges our scope to build community in a world that those hooked on the TV news would seem to think is a distant thing of the past. And let’s be realistic and to the point here, I’m talking about character-filled, authentic-based, and love encompassed community building. If Instagram challenges invoke those characteristics of what I call enlightened community, then it is a blissfully empowered experience for all involved with residual effects to those that don’t even participate, but observe.
On a personal note, I’ve hosted Instgram challenges. I like them, but with one caveat – I like them when I have time to commit to them. They do take up time, but so do most things whether it be an asana class, a workshop either in person or on-line, or a series of classes in any particular field. Many participants have attested to personal growth in their practice and find the external requirements of the challenge help them dig a little deeper in the practice on the inside. And, I’ve also posted asana photos with various hashtags of a posture I’ve been working on or that communicated an important emotional breakthrough and posted them with my own words as an empowering image, a piece of art that as the power to inspire others to tune into their highest Self their own way. I do think hashtagging our asanas has the potential and power to be blissfully empowering on many levels, but the key here is the intention behind the picture and the post.
Then there are those that say hashtagging our asana isn’t yoga at all and even others that say it’s just more objectification masked in cute quotes and colorful filters. Our yoga practice is all about peeling the layers of our ego away and edging closer to our essence, exposing toxic emotions that have been repressed and eating our spirits away, then releasing them to fill up energetic space with more kind awareness, and breathing life into every cell of our bodies so we feel more physically energetic and stronger. This group of yogis asks how can that possibly happen in a bikini-clad photo on the beach while inverting with friends in the back peacing it up and out. There’s also the argument out there that this is another form of watering down yoga’s philosophical and spiritual precepts while framing it in another mass-market consumption based eye candy that enlarges the less desirable ego and deflates the more desirable spirit. Or in other words, asanas aren’t just poses anymore in this context, they are product placements where the body becomes a product and any cutesy background becomes the body’s placement to feed the consumption giant of a free market. The body as a product wipes spirit’s domain away. So yoga’s ancient traditions become sexy contortionism of the post-modern West.
I suppose those ego inflating, spiritual destroying, and emotionally traumatic laden life issues could magnify through hashtagging asana posts on Instragram, but really, in my humble opinion, it’s about the intent and perspective behind the post. Though this part gets a little tricky. So much of what we do isn’t in fact consciously driven. There’s mounting research in the field of neuroscience demonstrating that a great percentage (like over 50%) is driven by your unconscious.
So whether the intent behind the post is consciously driven or not is a bit difficult to answer and I think the best we can do is ask ourselves what our true intent is, not just once, but consistently each time we engage in it, and notice how we feel when partaking in the posting activity. Are we attached to some external feed outcome? Are we constantly seeking approval? Are we evaluating our self-worth on our on-line community feedback? Or are we having fun and being empowered and learning more about our practice, our community, and ourselves?
The Middle Way
Yoga philosophy and the ancient yogic texts all say that yoga is the path of the middle way. There’s balance to everything. Too much asana itself can have negative unintended consequences and become kind of like not yoga at all and more of an addiction to external approval and attachments that sear the heart instead of warm the soul. To discern what is yoga and what is not yoga is really a personal question of what our intent is in practicing the foundational precepts of the eight-limb practice. Perhaps for some, hashtagging their asana is all about Satya, speaking their truth and inspiring others to speak their truth. There are many paths that lead to a greater spiritual awareness. Maybe hashtagging our asana is like being on a certain train cart for a while, enjoying the empowerment until we shift a level up in consciousness and move on to the next abundant filled cart or perhaps we stay there enjoying our on-line community grow all the while filling up our heart cup with good spiritual food.
Everyone has their own personal journey and if we are headed more toward the middle path, then we are headed in the right direction. But, when we take the time to ask the meaningful questions about why we do what we are doing and find that our intent is destructive upon further investigation, then perhaps it’s time to change our practice to one that bears the fruit of love, kindness, and respect for all things, including our bodies. If our spiritual awareness is growing, our emotional wounds are healing, our physical body is becoming healthier for health’s sake not our ego’s sake, we are empowered and inspiring others, and our attachments are dissolving, then I say rock on in awesomesauce and hastag your asana, or not. Choose wisely and kindly, and then love the space where differences are held, because that just may be where the next spark of enlightenment grows.
Om Shanti Om ~ Athea