Yes. Yes. Yes. And I have stopped following the so-called instagram yoga influencers. When people think of a yoga teacher on instagram, many would think of the instagram yogis with feeds demonstrating advanced asanas in exotic locations – normally beaches – with some inspiring quotes as captions, and sometimes the captions have nothing to do with the essence of the asanas posted. Also, don’t forget the perfect ‘yoga body’ tagging expensive yoga clothings and branded mats. Then I thought, is this how I should market myself to succeed in the yoga world? But I felt extremely uncomfortable how exclusive this approach can be to those who want to experience yoga. When I saw those perfect, often heavily photoshopped asana pictures, I felt intimidated. I felt that I’m not good enough. I felt ashamed of my basic practice. I felt ugly about my body. I felt inadequate for not being able to do those advanced asanas.
Yoga is for everyone. Not only for those bendy, muscularly-defined perfect-body yogis.
With the proliferation of these instagram yoga influencers, and worst, the so-called self-taught yogis, yoga has been lost in translation. The exclusivity of this community – because we have to be in certain body shapes and certain asana abilities to be acknowledged as the instagram yogis – contradicts the essence of yoga. Yoga is the union of everything, so how can it be exclusive? Yoga is for everyone. Not only for those bendy, muscularly-defined perfect-body yogis. Yoga is for young, old, sick, healthy people in different sizes and races. In essence, Yoga is inclusive, not exclusive.
I always remind my students the non-competitiveness element of yoga: that they should not compare their bodies with others.
In my class, I try to create a safe space for my students to experience any sensation and emotion arising from practicing the asana. For so long we have been configured by the society to be competitive from when we were born to adulthood: having to perform in exams, securing a place in top schools, winning competitions, getting a job in a top company, getting promoted in work etc. This competitive nature is often present when we are on the mat in a yoga class. For instance, we tend to compare how others are better in inversions, have stronger core muscles, hip flexors, or more stretched hamstrings etc. Thus, I always remind my students the non-competitiveness element of yoga: that they should not compare their bodies with others. As long as they try their best with safe and correct techniques, are aware of their breaths, work on the targeted muscles, they are good to go! It doesn’t matter whether we can bind our hands in paschimottanasana. It doesn’t matter whether we can do pincha mayurasana with or without the wall or cannot even lift our legs up at all.
Asana progress is not equal to yoga progress. When we progress in our asana but our ego is even more inflated, we are actually regressing spiritually in our yoga practice.
We must not forget that the practice of yoga is about dissolving the ego. In today’s instagram world, it is hard to judge whether by posting advanced asanas we are actually dissolving or elevating our ego. Sometimes the difference between elevating and dissolving ego is very obvious. For example: yogi #1 posted an advanced asana with a google-searched random #inspiring quote. Yogi #2 posted an advanced asana to educate the people about the benefits of that particular asana. We can roughly see the difference. Yeah, maybe yogi #1 is more elevated in their ego than yogi #2. Yet, in the end it is very hard to judge what is the intention of the yogi #2 when they posted the benefits of the asana. Is it for people to know and experience these benefits? Or is it to show people how knowledgeable they are in yoga? Only the person who posted the picture know what is their true intention and whether they actually progress in their yoga practice. Another example would be when a yogi posted an advanced asana telling the technique of the asana, how they worked very hard non-stop with the best teacher/trainer in perfecting that asana and how they want to inspire others to do the same. Sounds like they have the humble intention to inspire others? Look again. When they showed how hard they had to work to finally be able to perfect that asana, are they elevating or dissolving the ego? Asana progress is not equal to yoga progress. When we progress in our asana but our ego is even more inflated, we are actually regressing spiritually in our yoga practice.
Yes, asana is important because it is one of the eight limbs of yoga. But asana for the sake of asana itself is meaningless and actually rather harmful for our mental and spiritual development. Imagine spending hours trying to take a picture of what is considered as a ‘perfect’ yoga pose that we rarely even do in our daily practice and end up failing to meet our own expectations. We will feel frustrated, useless and discouraged in our practice. We might hate ourselves or blame the circumstances when we can’t we do the pose. We will become very self-conscious. Bla bla bla. This is the recipe for disaster! What can we do instead to spend the same amount of time? Let’s say we spend few minutes or so taking the pictures, laugh at the pictures when we appear to have weird facial expressions in those pictures, post the pictures, let go of any expectation from others and spend the remaining time to enjoy life.
…we have to be real. We have to be true to ourselves and others. We have to really show what goes on in the practice.
I am not against posting the journey of progressing in advanced asanas and inspire others. In fact, I very much support this. But we have to be real. We have to be true to ourselves and others. We have to really show what goes on in the practice. We have to be aware and tell the not-so-cool sides of practicing the asanas: the falling, the frustration, the expectations, the rare occasions that we can hold the pose longer, the occasional giving ups, and finally the surrender. Indeed, it is hard to dissolve the ego in this instagram world. But it is not impossible. Yes, we have to constantly ask ourselves when we want to post something: “Do I add value to enriching people’s knowledge and experience of yoga? Am I secretly elevating my ego by posting this?”
We have the power to contain and dissolve our ego. It is in, not beyond, our ability to liberate our mind from its own prison of expectations, plans, emotions and judgements. Whether we want or not is the question.