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Yoga has an Image Problem – and Here’s Why

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Hatha Yoga / Social Media / Yoga philosophy

Yoga has an Image Problem – and Here’s Why

Thanks to social media, a lot of people have a certain visual idea about a yoga practice and who is practicing. Let me tell you why I find that problematic.

What’s the problem then?

It’s interesting, as the physical practice of yoga is – according to Patanjali’s sutras – only 1/8 of the yogic practice. In other words: a relatively small part of yoga as a philosophy. And yet when looking at social media, especially Instagram, which is an image-based platform, it makes sense that a photo of a handstand on a beach during sunset is visually more stimulating for most people than that of a pranayama practice or a meditation pose in someone’s home. The problem is, that all the other 7 steps of the yogic paths just aren’t physical.

What this means, however, is that the image of yoga as a purely physical practice, as a workout, is being promoted over that of yoga as a philosophy, a holistic practice, a lifestyle. And it makes yoga seem less diverse than it really is. Here is where we could go more in-depth about the various definitions of yoga and whether it is cultural appropriation to use it mainly as a workout – but let’s not go down that route for now.

Who do we see practicing yoga?

When we not only look at WHAT people are practicing but rather WHO is practicing, we uncover another problem. Because the image that is being promoted on social media is rather one-sided. What we see is usually white women in their 20ies or 30ies (which, I am too, for transparency) with a very toned body in matching sportswear. Most of them have what some might considered an “ideal body”. They are commonly practicing physically demanding poses to demonstrate their level of strength and flexibility – poses that most people aren’t capable of doing. Is that what is intriguing about it?

I suppose that is what works well on social media platforms. Pictures that are “visually stimulating” and content that is inspiring or maybe a “goal” for some people. But don’t we want to see more “average people” doing “average yoga”? I mean, most of these poses I’ve never seen taught in a yoga class, let alone have I ever entered one of them. Luckily, there is an uprising of people of different ethnicities and body shapes in the yoga community, but they only make out a fraction compared to the mainstream accounts.

What strikes me the most is the perfection of the yoga poses – and that goes for most yoga pictures on social media, even from more marginalised accounts. While a lot of people still share the progress of their physical yoga practice, there seems to always be the goal to “nail a pose”. This is a shame because that essentially goes against the yogic philosophy of not being attached, of not fixating on a goal. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t be a yogi*ni, and train towards a pose, it’s about how much of the other journey are you sharing?

Self-check

Are you someone that posts about your own yoga practice? Then let me ask you this: Do you always add a filter to your images? Do you show yourself unfiltered, too? Are you ok with showing “imperfect content”?

At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong answer. But it might do you and your community some good if you were to reflect more on the content you are sharing and whether you are contributing to the image of yoga as something physical. And even though you might be ok with this image, I would strongly suggest reading more about the origins of yoga and its philosophy. Maybe this will change your mind.

Do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution?

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