We’ve all seen it: a perfectly-filtered photo of a perfectly-highlighted, skinny blonde in an arm balance on a beach in Malibu….with an inspirational quote in the caption to boot. Hashtag #soblessed on this #beautiful #day.
It’s happening. We’re starting to sacrifice our reality for a homogenous highlight reel. I know we can’t ALL be having the #bestdayever with the #besttribeever, all the time. (Also, are we ready to retire the word “tribe”? The whole subtle cultural appropriation thing is super lame.)
As I scroll through my feed, I can’t help but wonder: is our yoga community becoming too Stepfordian? When did we decide to start hiding our flaws behind filters? Are we replacing storytelling and connection for likes and video views?
I’ll be the first to admit that I fit into a decent amount of the stereotypes out there. I’m a female yoga teacher (in the most oversaturated yoga market in the country), I’m blonde, and yes — I’ve definitely taken a photo or two at El Matador and posted them to my account. I’m rolling my eyes at myself too, don’t worry.
Is there anything inherently wrong with taking yoga photos? Is there anything wrong with being proud of your body, or sharing a story that inspires you? Absolutely not! (I have a lot more feelings on this one, by the way — but we’ll get to that another day.)
As I see it, the real problem lies within what our community’s newfound Instagram addiction represents on a larger scale: the disconnect between social media’s portrayal of yoga, and what yoga inherently is.
Inspirational quotes are social’s “autopilot mode”
You know when someone asks you how you’re doing, and your immediate response is “I’m good. Busy!”
Posting a quote on Instagram is the digital equivalent of that kind of conversation. It’s autopilot. It’s a way for us to do the least amount of communication possible, while still showing face and not ruffling anyone’s feathers too drastically.
Listen, I get it. I do it myself. I see a quote that I love, and I immediately want to share it with my followers because it in some way rang true for me. But the questions we should be asking ourselves before we post — why do I care about this? Why do I connect with this?
That’s the story to share. That’s a way to build connection.
Without words, a story — your “why” — behind it, spewing pseudo-spiritual quotes day after day just feels disingenuous. It creates a faux veil of perfection — a world where yoga people are these eternally happy, green-juice drinking, constantly-inspired, wholly self-realized beings.
Allow me to gently remind you of two things: perfection doesn’t exist, and yoga people are crazy. It’s why we do yoga to begin with.
We need to be better storytellers.
We need to be more comfortable showing, embracing, admitting our flaws. Instead of sharing a generic quote, tell me how you got your scars. Tell me why you’re mad today. Tell me how you’re working through it…or why you’re not. That’s interesting, and it gives something for people to actually connect with — it’s real, it’s honest, it’s human. And it’s not an effing Rumi quote.
Quantity in followers ≈/≠ Quality of Class
I do want to take the time to recognize that Instagram is a tool. Teachers are small business owners, and there’s an inherent responsibility to market your business and grow your classes classes by connecting with students. In that respect, Instagram is a strong brand awareness play and can certainly help get people in the door…initially.
I say “initially”, because we need to address the elephant in the room: just because someone has a lot of followers and a lot of pretty photos, it does not guarantee that they’re the right teacher for you.
A photo might speak a thousand words, but none of those words include someone’s skills and knowledge as a yoga practitioner. There’s no real way to understand someone else’s understanding of the physical and spiritual body by looking at some beach photos they posted, and there’s certainly no way to understand how they’ll share their knowledge with their students.
The way I like to look at it is this: if Instagram can bring students in the door, great. The real test is retention. How many of those students are they keeping and connecting with?
Authenticity, authenticity, authenticity — the more relatable/honest/real the teacher, the more likely it is that students will want to connect.
So…what do we do?
At a high level, we need to be more conscious of what we’re consuming and what we’re creating.
I don’t think it’s fair to point fingers or make claims about someone else’s practice or spirituality, but I do think it’s important to recognize the difference between someone who is reliant on social validation of their practice, vs. someone who is truly living their practice. There are people who are driven by likes on their photos, and there are people who are driven by an innate desire to help and to connect with students…and it’s usually pretty easy to understand which is which when you start to dive in.
As students of yoga, we need to recognize that difference. As teachers of yoga, we need to own that difference and activate ourselves (and our social presences) in more real, honest ways.
I’ll leave you with this.
Followers don’t always equate with quality & attendance…
The right filter won’t let us see into your soul…
& hashtags are not spiritual currency.
What about you? I’d love to hear what you think, too.