When you start out on your yoga journey, what inspires you? Why do you come to yoga? Why do you choose this particular path? And is it something you’re going to share with others? Keep to yourself?
Whatever the reason for beginning yoga, if you choose to share your yoga journey it is important to remember a number of things. I speak as a yogi who for 3 years didn’t share my yoga journey, but at the time was sharing my mental health journey. Then two years ago I switched my focus to sharing my yoga. I joined Instagram. I posted a LOT of photos on Facebook. (Although I was kicked out of a Facebook yoga group for posting a photo of me in shorts on a hotel bed stretching my legs in Happy Baby pose so I’ve never been one for yoga “groups”.)
Anyway. Some pointers for you. If you do want to post your yoga journey to Instagram (or other social platforms) you need to ensure you never stray from the reason you started yoga. To be fair if you started yoga just to post cool photos, it’s not the best reason to begin yoga – but everyone starts somewhere. I started my own yoga journey as I needed to find a fitness routine that suited my tricky circumstances: I needed something gentle on the joints, that I could learn and practice entirely at home and on my own. Arthritis + agoraphobia + social phobia is the perfect recipe for yoga. I began with the Wii Fit, then I learned to create flows by following a DVD, and then I took the leap and started working entirely on my own, putting my own flows together. I gained so much more than physical strength, balance, flexibility and fitness though. It helped my mental health immensely. My spiritual journey began as soon as I realised that my dedication to the physical asana was inextricably connected to my mental and spiritual wellbeing. Yoga spoke to my soul and healed some very painful memories and events.
Then I began filming and taking photos of my practice and sharing my love for yoga on social media. Learning to navigate Instagram was a journey in itself. It’s hard to maintain a balanced ego. Sometimes when you’ve worked for 5 years to achieve a pose, you post it full of so much happiness and joy and, if you don’t use the right tags or you don’t have the followers, you might get 5 or 10 likes.
Reality: it’s disheartening. You feel like, “what’s the point” and you compare your pose to others that have done exactly the same and got 11,369 likes.
Reality: likes are not everything. If YOU are proud of your achievement then posting it online should be about creating an online journal of your progress and achievements. Think of your Instagram as a personal diary. A timeline of your yoga journey. It encourages you to think more realistically about social media and brings you back to why you started yoga. It’s all about balance. If you feel your ego getting too big (“I deserve more likes than that!”) step back, stop filming your flows for a week. Spend some time on Instagram supporting other yogis. Then come back to posting with a fresh mindset. Gratitude is important.
Something you will also notice is that some of the big names in yoga have a huge following and you might not be able to understand why. For example, I’ve practiced yoga for 5 times as long as some of the Instagram yogis who are trained yoga teachers but have only been practicing for one year yet have tens or hundreds of thousands of followers.
Reality: it’s disheartening.
Reality: yoga isn’t just about amazing poses and pictures or videos. It’s about being authentic. Yogis especially are very astute at spotting who is authentic and who is more egotistical. Why not try being open about your emotional and spiritual journey? Make your captions count. Talk to the world. Be honest. If you faceplanted out of that crow after 0.025 seconds? Tell your followers! They will love you for it. Share your downs as well as your ups. Part of your journey as well is realising that social media is the least important part of your journey. There’s no point pretending it isn’t part of the journey because in the modern day, it just is. It’s very natural and normal and of course lovely to feel appreciated and recognised. It’s better to be respected by fewer people who have a lot more of a genuine feeling for you, than to have a massive number of followers who really aren’t all that interested and couldn’t name you if anyone asked them!
As weird as it might sound, something you will also quickly come across is yogi sponsorship. Some of the clothing brands who specialise in yoga kit sponsor certain yogis in return for promotion through the yogi’s posts. There are so many incredible, big-name brands out there and it can be very hard to understand how or why these yogis were selected to be sponsored and gifted these stunning clothes (or props, in some cases). It usually comes down to number of followers and consistent style of the yogi’s photos: they’ll select people who can show off their items in ads every day to a massive audience. Of course these clothes are too often unaffordable to the average Instagrammer, and many “make do” with sweats or joggers and sports bras off the high street which are incapable of holding your boobs in place whenever you get inverted.
Reality: you feel disheartened and left out if you can’t afford what is basically advertised, inadvertently, as “the best yoga clothing”. Because this stuff looks incredible and you see so many yogis wearing the clothing. The subliminal message is simply that the best yogis wear the best brands.
Reality: clothing doesn’t matter. What you wear means nothing. It does not make you a better yogi and wearing top brands will not make you a better student, practitioner, teacher. The only reason we notice what a yogi is wearing is if they point it out, or if it’s unusual or unique. Plenty of people go so far as to practice in their underwear, bikinis or even in the nude, and yogis – men and women – of all body types embrace this and still do incredible yoga. Having lovely, top brand yoga clothing is a nice feeling but most of your followers will not care what you’re wearing.
When you put yourself out there into the virtual world, it’s a peculiar version of reality. It is real but it isn’t. It’s modern life. We usually see the result but not the journey. We can’t change the way social media works. We can’t all be sponsored, we can’t all have 100k followers, we can’t all write the perfect caption or post the perfect crystal-clear photos. But we can be authentic. We can be honest, we can be ourselves. We can make our personal Insta-Gallery real and a reflection of our physical and emotional journey. We can make it whatever we want. That is where our power lies. We can be ourselves, and that is enough. We are enough. Just as we are, in that moment. The right people will find you. The right number of people will find you. It might take time, but people on your wavelength, people who emit and absorb the same vibrations, will be drawn to you.
Instagram brings you full circle and can teach you important lessons that better you as a yogi. You start yoga to better yourself. You share your yoga and through the journey of building “your” community and finding your place in the larger Insta-Yoga community, you have to learn to maintain your focus on your journey and your authenticity and discover the place of the ego, what it is to be human and how to manage the more complicated challenges your mind brings up.
I come back to the message I love to put out there as much as I can: yogis are, at the end of the day, human. Even the best, happiest, most perfect yogi in the world is human and started where you are. To be a yogi simply means to be on a journey, a lifelong self-development adventure which has no ending.