Before you get discouraged by impressive yoga photos
A yoga teacher friend and I were chatting recently about our mixed feelings about yoga on Instagram (a photo-sharing social media site/app). I'm excited about the diversity on Instagram! So many different bodies are now represented online, which is really great for expanding the view of who is practicing yoga. It's not just young, thin, white women; everyone is practicing yoga!
But for as many people who are inspired by seeing photos of yoga poses, there are many who feel intimidated by the impressive poses. I often hear potential students say, "I'm just not strong enough or flexible enough to do yoga!" If you're in that camp, here are a couple of things I want to address about checking out Instagram yoga.
1) While you can photograph yoga poses, it's difficult to photograph yoga.
No matter how much time you spend on someone's Instagram page, you can't actually see the yoga in their poses just by looking at their body. As a wise friend and fellow teacher puts it, Yoga isn't a spectator sport. It's an inner practice of mindful connection.
You can't see an inner practice in a photo.
Let's use handstands, which are taught in some yoga classes and shown all over social media, as an example. Kids, gymnasts, and people from all walks of life do handstands. But what makes a handstand part of their yoga practice has little to do with the shape being made by their body. It's how they approach the handstand.
Yoga is a practice of connection. Poses happen to be super helpful tools for practicing connection, because one of the easiest inner experiences to observe is the physical body. In a handstand we can connect with our breath and easily sense our muscular effort as we come into, steady, and come out of the pose.
Connecting with our physical experience in a pose is a great way to then meaningfully connect with who and how we are in that moment. We can offer understanding and compassion to our bruised ego as we struggle with the fear of lifting our feet off the ground.
We can get curious about why our shoulders feel so much less strong today than they did yesterday, and get even more curious about the emotions that brings up.
We can observe our glee and surprise that we can actually support our bodies in such a precarious position!
We can catch a glimpse of the sense that, as unique as we may seem, we share these emotions and experiences and consciousness with infinite other beings in the universe. We are all connected by this shared consciousness.
The poses are only one path to that realization.
2) The poses alone aren't yoga.
Poses can be empowering and challenging and often great for our strength and mobility, but without introspection and connection, they are just exercise. By the same token, even though we often learn yoga on a mat in stretchy pants, you don't actually need to move your body at all to practice yoga. You can practice while completely immobile in an MRI machine!
All you is need mindful awareness. Observe. Get curious about this very moment as it's happening right now. Connect.
So, check out photos of poses because they're inspiring, fun, remind you of the joy of practice, or for absolutely any reason you like. Just keep in mind as you're scrolling that if you see a pose that isn't accessible to your body today (or ever), that's ok!
No matter the filter or angle, there's no physical obstacle to your yoga practice.
Want to ponder more about why poses aren't the end-all, be-all of yoga? Check out this article: How We Got Here: Where Yoga Poses Come From.