Monday, July 04, 2016

Asana in Social Media – What Would Patanjali Think?

What would Patanjali think?
By Kathryn Boland

Have you noticed how many yoga instructors and devoted practitioners proudly display their asana achievements all over social media? Do you question this, or even point out the potential harm - considering that this doesn't represent what yoga is really about? Can we find ways to use social media for connection and self-empowerment, while stopping short of compromising yoga's essence? 

There are several reasons why so much asana in social media would have Patanjali "rolling in his grave", so to speak. Firstly, yoga isn't about self-presentation. It's about each practitioner’s inner journey, through coming back to the practice that's best for each of us, over and over again. If non-practitioners or beginners constantly see images of yogis doing advanced inversions and twisting their bodies into pretzels, they might 1) get discouraged, thinking that if that's yoga, then they could never really "get there" (and then maybe stop practicing) or 2) attempt things that their bodies aren't ready for, and very possibly get injured as a result.

Asana images in social media also don't show the hours of physical and inner work that a practitioner has spent in order to come to the point in his/her practice where the depicted posture is accessible for him/her. Not every posture is right for everybody, when you factor in medical contraindications and unique anatomies. There is a practice for everybody, however, because there are always modifications. A knowledgeable instructor can guide anyone in these. But that's not there with social media. Also not included is the important truth that asana is but one of eight parts of classical Ashtanga yoga. A high volume of advanced asana images in social media could therefore reinforce the mistaken Western culture idea that yoga is asana - as we know, it's that and so much more! 

To play devil's advocate, is it really all so bad? People have a right to show their loved ones what they've achieved in their practices. Seeing images of devoted practitioners in advanced postures could also inspire others to keep at their practice, to someday maybe (if it's right for them) get there as well. It could also help bring people into the practice. Once in classes with experienced instructors, they can learn more about what yoga is really all about. Yoga instructors might also benefit from displaying peak poses or sequences in upcoming classes on social media, maybe then drawing more people into their classes. 

So, all of this considered, can we yoga instructors use social media mindfully, to help rather than harm the state of Western yoga and those who practice it, or someday might? I think it is possible, with a little discretion. First, apply balance - a fundamental concept of yoga itself. For instance, for every image of yourself in an advanced arm balance or inversion, offer one of you meditating or in a more restorative posture. In the text along with these photos, discuss pranayama or new philosophical outlooks you're also exploring. That can help avoid contributing to the idea that yoga and asana are one and the same. 

And limit these posts to no more than a few daily. Engage in conversation with friends and students about their practices, as much as respects personal boundaries. Those things can help avoid it seeming to be all about you, like social media is your stage. As we know, yoga isn't about performing. On the other hand, your practice is about you, as it is for each of us - our own individual journeys towards greater wholeness. Let others know that you understand this, and help them to as well (if they don't already), by writing in ways along with these posts that reinforces that. For instance, short of the cliché "don't try this at home" (if you’re posting a picture of you in an advanced asana), you could write things like "This is where I am in my practice journey today. It's somewhere different for you, and that's okay. It's awesome, actually." 

Anything like that, celebrating how we all have our own practices, could go a long way towards minimizing those described drawbacks of asana displayed in social media. It’s most likely here to stay. Yoga does have to mold and shift in order to continue fitting in with the rapidly changing Western world - but we don't have to compromise the practice’s essence along the way. We can use the tools of the modern world in ways that would make Patanjali proud! 

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