“Follow us if you love Yoga,” the Instagram profile description said.
But the photos were not of women doing yoga.
This morning I saw that I had a new follower on my business-related Instagram account. A group whose profile claims to provide “yoga benefits” to its followers; however, I was surprised to see that the profile picture for this group was a girl in a bikini whose face was mostly cropped out.
When I clicked on the account I was disgusted. What I saw posted there were not pictures of people doing yoga, but instead the page was filled with half-naked women posing by swimming pools and bedsides--with none of the photos focusing on the subject's face. There were some pictures of women wearing leggings, but... Well, I guess I should say butt. In example:
Posting a tag of #yogaineveryaction under a very sexually-charged photo of a naked women does not magically make the photo yoga-related. Furthermore, using hashtags like that and #yogaeveryday bring photos like those up when people like me search for real yoga inspiration, or when people like me try to post real yoga inspiration.
Platforms like Instagram also have no setting to control or monitor what young users see. My nieces are in elementary and middle school, and the oldest has an Instagram account. She knows I teach yoga, and she knows other teachers as well, but if she searches for #yoga on Instagram, she will very likely find photos like the ones in the screenshot above. My niece is one of many developing young girls trying to navigate her way through child to adulthood with the ever-present friend and foe that is Social Media. We live in a society that glorifies plastic surgery and photoshopped celebrities and teaches young girls to idolizes those looks and lifestyles. It's a society that encourages women to always look their sexiest, while simultaneously encouraging men to sexualize the women they encounter on a daily basis.
And this stigma has reached into the yoga world.
Even accounts I follow--some actual real-life acquaintances of mine--will post the occasional mostly-nude pic with some sort of pseudo-inspirational caption that most likely doesn't even relate to the photo. I believe in #positive body image, but I would challenge those users to ask themselves, "What am I trying to promote here? What am I trying to convey to my followers with this photo?" and "What am I hoping to bring to my account?" More followers? Sure, you might gain some. But is that the type of audience you want to cultivate for your business or personal account?
When I was completing my Yoga Teacher Training in Asheville, a male friend came to visit and took a class with me. Afterwards, we went over to the boutique to look at yoga props, and my friend received a phone call. I heard him tell the caller where he was and that he had just done a yoga class. I couldn’t hear what the caller said in response, but my friend’s reply was, “Uh, no, it wasn’t like that. I think you got that from PornHub.”
I didn’t have to know what was said on the other end of that call to get the jist. There I was, investing thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours learning an ancient healing art, and here was some guy likening my new career pursuit, my long-time dream, with something out of a porno.
That’s insulting, demeaning, and sexist.
It's a hard cycle to break in our world though, especially when social media accounts like the one I stumbled across today keep promoting these sexualized stereotypes and associate healing arts like yoga with sex.
There are enough stereotypes around yoga already.
Sexualizing yoga, or yogis, furthers an idea that only thin, sexy, flexible women can do yoga. This is just the thing that keeps people from taking yoga classes. They think, “well, I don’t look like that,” or “my body can’t do that,” and they think that they can’t do yoga.
Let me tell you something.
Everyone can do yoga.
(Don't believe me? I invite you to one of my restorative yoga classes where I will change your mind.)
Am I saying everyone can do this?
No, of course not. Yoga isn’t about being able to do an extra-bendy pose.
Yoga is so much more than that.
And when I say everyone can do yoga, I also do not mean to imply that by doing yoga you will transform your body into something like any of the above pictures. Those scantily-clad women featured on Instagram are not the people you will see in class beside you. You will see women and men of all shapes and body types at different places in their journey. That is real life. That is yoga.
I find myself having a hard time as a teacher because people look at me and think I fit into one of those yoga stereotypes. I'm small, and I was a gymnast growing up. "Petite, thin, hyper-flexible. That's what it takes to do yoga. I'm not those things, so I can't do yoga." Those words are just not true.
Every body can do yoga, no matter what you look like. Yes, I look the part of a gymnast, dancer, yogi, but I haven't always. When my self-esteem plummeted and my weight escalated, yoga (and changing my eating habits) helped me find a healthier body and lifestyle than I ever had before. Even more importantly, yoga helped me learn to love myself, and once I loved me--the real me inside, I could love all of me, body, mind, and spirit.
Now, I'm so much more comfortable in my skin. It can be a hard line to ride when you also want to be true to yourself and express that #bopo vibe, but I believe it's all about your intention. I accept myself for who I am, and I accept my body for the way it looks. Also now more than ever, I'm hyper-aware of the importance of creating posts with positive intent to help represent the true world of yoga. A world full of grace and acceptance that meets you where you are. A world that welcomes everyone.
Come on in, the door is open.
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