Real

 

Did you see the article in the New York Times last week about the growing trend of yogis snapping selfies of themselves doing crazy yoga poses (often donning super colorful leggings) and sharing these photos on Instagram? Some of these yogis have hundreds of thousands of followers. Virtual yoga rock stardom.

As you can imagine, this article has caused a stir. How can you be a true yogi if you are self-absorbed enough to post hundreds of selfies for the whole world to see? Is the image of the yoga community that’s being shared on Instagram (mostly thin, white, upper middle class women) creating a skewed picture of what yoga is and who it’s for? Is it making yoga exclusive?

reverse warrior variation

If you look at my Instagram feed, you’ll notice some yoga photos. OK, you’ll notice a lot of yoga photos. More often than not, I’ll post a yoga photo once a day.

Most of the time, the photos are part of ongoing yoga-a-day photo challenges. I started participating in these challenges back in October and it’s become a bigger part of my life (and IG feed) than I ever expected, which totally surprised me.

I don’t really like having my picture taken and I don’t really like selfies. So why the proliferation of yoga poses in my feed?

crescent lunge

In part, it’s because I discovered an amazing and supportive yoga community. Yes, there are some beautiful people performing near-perfect poses but more often than not, these are people who love yoga and want to share their passion.

There are teachers who now have a new outlet to teach. Honestly, sometimes I get more instruction and direction in the photo captions and comments than I do in a yoga class itself. They can break down a pose in both words and photos.

Photography is also a very powerful tool. It allows me to see myself in a pose, to pinpoint the areas that I need to work on and, most importantly, to document progress. Photography and video coaching are used in many other sports and I found it to be a huge benefit in learning to surf.

But is that the purpose of yoga? To be coached into a visually perfect expression of a pose? I don’t know.

I admit that I have gotten caught up in competition and comparison inherent in these challenges (and ended up hurting myself). However, it’s also encouraged me to be more creative – with my yoga and with photography. It’s also led me to have more compassion and gratitude for my practice. For example, being able to visually see my progress with inversions is pretty incredible.

headstand with eagle legs

But there’s a fine line between real and “real.”

One night, my husband was taking a picture for me as I tried to do a challenging arm balance. He kept missing the shot because I could barely hold the pose. He managed to snap a decent photo when I got into the pose for a split second. I was satisfied and ready to post the photo on Instagram when he said, “Isn’t that like cheating?”

Good question.

What do you think of selfies and the image they project? Do you use photography or video as a coaching tool?

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Comments

  1. says

    I have a couple friends who own yoga studios. They are both 40ish women who have made amazing changes in their bodies, their strength, and their confidence since they make yoga an important part of their life. I’m not sure about instagram, but both do post shots of themselves on facebook. I never even though about the self absorption aspect. I just am amazed and inspired by looking at their photos, how beautiful and strong that they are. I love looking at your photos too. You have beautiful form. And I don’t think it’s cheating unless you’re claiming to have “mastered” a pose. We are all just practicing yoga, aren’t we?
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted..Hüma Gel: Natural Energy. Product ReviewMy Profile

  2. says

    I just learned what a #selfie was at Fitbloggin’ (I am slow on the uptake). I don’t like pictures of myself but I’ve been known to post a few (now that I’ve been introduced to Instagram and through blogging although it’s not easy for me). If you’re always the one behind the camera (as I am most often in my family) you never seem fully engaged with your surroundings. For me, it’s hard to look at photos and notice (or have others notice) that I’m in so few of them.

    There’s a difference between being self absorbed and inserting yourself into the life around you via photos IMHO. I’m trying to be more visible in my environment and accepting of myself.
    Melissa Burton recently posted..Tunes For Tuesday (70′s Edition) – AC/DCMy Profile

  3. says

    It’s funny that since the article I’ve gotten quite a few comments from presumably “trolls” who have critiqued my yoga posts and form. Granted some of my pictures aren’t “perfect” but it’s MY practice and where I am in it. I love seeing/doing the IG yoga pics. It’s another way to showcase the art of yoga.

    As for your last paragraph – over the weekend I was attempting yoga toe stand to post for an IG challenge. I was holding it for 2-3 seconds before toppling over but I did get a good enough shot to post. I didn’t really think of it as “cheating” until my hubs said the same thing. Usually on the poses that I have a hard time with that I can only hold for a second, I’ll put the disclaimer in the comments. I think you do the same thing. Not cheating at all in my mind.

    BTW – I really hope you continue to post. You’re pics are BEAUTIFUL!!!!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..Chocolate Coconut Energy BarsMy Profile

  4. says

    Honestly? I always wonder if these pictures are really what Instagram is about – well, instant shots, happening right now, from one’s phone. But social media is subjective, it’s not ‘pure’ as such. It’s just a photo sharing platform, how the photos came to be shouldn’t really matter.

    If you find taking selfies of you doing yoga totally helping with yoga, then by all means, continue to do so! I don’t think anyone objects. :)
    Alison recently posted..4 Tips to Prevent Baking DisastersMy Profile

  5. says

    Such an interesting topic! I missed the article, but the NYT always seems to catch topics worth discussing.

    I love your pics, as well as many others in yoga poses. I find them peaceful, beautiful, and inspiring. I never thought of them as defeating the purpose of yoga, but I can appreciate that angle now that I think about it. Still, I think yoga is a personal journey and if part of that journey includes chronicling it on IG, then why not?
    misszippy recently posted..Vacation training truthsMy Profile

  6. says

    I got stuck on this article too.
    as a non yogi I find them so beautiful and inspiring—-(CRAP I JUST SAW MISSZIPPY USED THOSE SAME WORDS :-)) BUT as a wannabe teacher I have begun pondering if yoga and ME and selfies would ever meet.
    for me it would annihilate the zen.
    Miz recently posted..*I* am Eggland’s Best.My Profile

  7. says

    HA! So ironic that you post this question. As you know I’ve followed your inversion progress that you posted to help me get better at it in a sense. And often times when I see many Crossfit or Yoga IG’rs post the handstand pics and pose pics I’ve wondered how long they held the pose to get the picture or how many outakes did they have.

    Even with that being said, I am a fan of the pictures – they inspire me to TRY. Which I am assuming would be the ultimate point, right?

  8. says

    I did see the NYT article and though I can see the point, I love yoga selfies. I think it’s because I know that most poses can’t just be ‘done’ flippantly. They take time to work in to… for me at least, and once the pose is achieved it’s so beautiful.

    I follow yogis of all shapes, sizes, and colors and I always love your shots (even the one where you’re falling out… they are real!
    Martha recently posted..Zara Shoe GodsMy Profile

  9. says

    Great post- very thought provoking. I happen to love the pics that remind me that yoga is beautiful and strong. In my 31 Days of yoga challenge group we do a post of the week and I encourage them to post selfless. Most of those women are beginners (so no crazy yoga tricks) but I feel that they need to see their bodies doing something strong- not perfect.

  10. says

    I’ve thought about this before too, especially when I first started noticing them on IG. It seemed so opposite of the nature of yoga but then again, I love seeing them. I think the poses are so beautiful and if yoga truly is about your process, then what’s wrong with that? I have noticed the “perfection” of selfies in general– somehow they always magically end up as the best photo of that person EVER. For that reason, I’ve made a rule that I snap one photo and that first one is the one I use, regardless of how it looks or turns out– in the world of selfies, that’s as real as I can get, I suppose :)
    Colorado Gal recently posted..Round Two: The Colorado MarathonMy Profile

  11. says

    I always love your posts, your insights, thoughtfulness. And your photos are beautiful – I am in love with that first one – almost reminds me of a ballet photograph. I usually take 1 or 2 selfies and go with the better of the 2 and mine are usually terrible LOL. I have yet to figure out how to take a good one so I just roll with it .
    Heather (Where’s the Beach) recently posted..Holy Humidity Running ManMy Profile

  12. says

    I’ve loved the yoga poses – from you and many others I follow in Instagram. I think they’re a beautiful expression of movement, finding self, peace, slowing down, etc. But it’s definitely interesting to consider what message as a whole the instagram yogis are sending. I’ll have to read the article!
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted..Monthly Sugar Detox ChallengeMy Profile

  13. says

    Interesting post! I missed the article but several of the points resonated with me. I think the community is great especially if you have a mostly private practice – it gives you the sense of community! I think that most yogis would be lying if in a class they weren’t impressed if someone could hold a challenging post for even a second. I know when we work on inversions and balances in my class if someone gets it, no matter how short, there is a lot of commendation that happens to encourage each other. I feel like IG can provide that same thing?
    Madeline @ Food Fitness and Family recently posted..Crock-Pot LasagnaMy Profile

  14. says

    I personally love your photos. To me they are creative, beautiful shots of someone doing something they love. They inspire me, but also they are beautiful to look at. If you had crummy pictures or were in let’s say, WalMart doing poses, well then, it might be a different story. You don’t post them everyday and your locations are beautiful. Keep them coming please!
    Lisa @ RunWiki recently posted..Cherry Chocolate Cereal MixMy Profile

  15. says

    Such a good post. I love seeing your yoga photos! Personally I’m too self conscious and know my photos/skills are not up to par. While I’d ultimately be ok with posting the photos i wouldn’t want to deal with the “criticism” for my lack of skill. Like anything, it’s all about the individual’s journey. I say do what you feel but as always, keep it real =)
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  16. says

    if anything, my yoga practice has improved & increased because of yoga on instagram! i’m so inspired and motivated to try poses that i’ve never heard of and love doing yoga challenges as it helps me incorporate yoga everyday! i think itz nothing but positive!
    Linz @ Itz Linz recently posted..Vanilla Coconut Protein SmoothieMy Profile

  17. says

    I LOVE your yoga pictures. They’re so pretty and even though they’re “selfies” they look peaceful. I have to say, I’ve never looked at them and thought that because your pictures look so nice must have mastered everything. I guess I always think of them like race pictures, you pick the best ones that make you look the least like you’re dying to post online haha. And that’s not “cheating” it’s being self aware. I figure everyone knows running is hard and no one actually thinks that a good race pic means that running 13.1 miles is easy… even though I think you look great in your pictures, I still know yoga is hard. I hope you keep posting them if you find they’re helpful for you! :)
    Carly D. @ CarlyBananas recently posted..Review: Saucony Hurricane 15My Profile

  18. says

    I think it depends on the intention of the individual. If it’s to show off? Then no. If it’s to encourage and build community, then yes. My one “issue” is that the photos have a focus on the physical of yoga, which is just one small component. I would hate to see yoga minimized to achieving proper alignment in a posture.
    Ilene recently posted..The B SidesMy Profile

  19. says

    Love this post!! I follow a few toga people. Some write that they have worked up to the pose shown & have had a lot of mishaps in between.. others show the mishaps & some just show the good. I love seeing what you & they can do & it makes me want to it…

    I like how you explained your learning.. I think that is a good thing… Even non yoga people post their best shots – me & my gym ones with my head cut off! ;)

    I think if you feelgood about what you are doing & honestly – I love your situation & location shots so much more than some that just post a pose each day or multiple times a day.. this shows me the real you – to me at least.. I now you love it!
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  20. says

    Great post Christine! I started doing selfie yoga pics when you mentioned the Athleta Seize the Solstice challenge. I found it to be a really supportive community. I loved seeing everyone’s poses (including yours!). I didn’t really focus on how to do the best pose (admittedly I was sick one day and my pose looked horrible!), but rather what would make the photo interesting. I loved seeing how people got creative with their poses. I cared more about that than how well they were doing the pose.
    FitBritt@MyOwnBalance recently posted..New and Notable: The Fitness EditionMy Profile

  21. says

    Great post, Christine. As always, I think there’s quite a range within this “issue.” Your individual, personal experience is your own, and I love how you share the progression of that and what you continue to learn from it. One the one hand, you can dive further into learning good alignment in yoga poses designed to bolster health in the body/mind/spirit. On the other, you also have a light-heartedness and sense of humor about when your ego enters the picture (literally?!) and wants that perfect shot of that “advanced” pose… which really has no bearing on your individual worth/value or even on the quality of your yoga practice. That is all within you.

    Also… can totally imagine Ed’s comment ;-)

    Lots to think about today!!
    Whit recently posted..Drink Up!My Profile

  22. says

    I always enjoy your yoga pictures – whether you have held the pose for 3 minutes or 3 seconds I’m still impressed!!! I don’t think it’s cheating even if you just hold the pose long enough for a quick shot – it’s no different than modifying certain exercise during a workout!
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  23. says

    For someone who has never properly tried yoga, I love your pictures and really any yoga posed pictures. It is nice for me to be able to see a proper pose or see how things improve over time. As in, I won’t be perfect when I start, but that’s part of the point. The only thing I’ve never understood is how you do them yourself. I get that it’s a timer, but to set it and get in the pose seems difficult. Anyway, keep it up. It’s inspiring some of us, so you must be doing something right.
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  24. says

    You bring up good questions. The only frustration I have with posting selfies on IG is sometimes I waste a crazy amount of time making sure the pic is right or ok or good enough to share. When I am done I always think to myself “was that worth it?”. I guess if it’s worth it to you than there is no harm. I enjoy seeing them. I don’t think it’s like cheating because all that practice leading up to getting the pose right is totally normal and real. I think we can all imagine that those difficult poses just don’t come to anyone the first time.
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  25. says

    The challenge of the poses and the fun of posting to IG is very appealing to me. I am VERY new to yoga, but have been getting more into it because of these two aspects. When poses are hard, I say so. I don’t think anyone will be concerned about whether or not I’m “cheating” and if they are, oh well. This is what my starting looks like.

    I hope you’ll continue your IG posts ;)
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  26. says

    I don’t study yoga – unless you count the one class I attended 10 years ago. But I find the photos beautiful and am often amazed by not only the forms, but the grace and strength shown in the photos. I think if people are inspired to share and connect, and share their own real experiences, that can only help form a sense of community.
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  27. says

    Oh, so interesting! I love them because I’m a photographer and a visual learner/expresser. (did that even make sense?) My sister is a yogi and a radio DJ with a very public persona in New Jersey. She is also training to be a yoga teacher. She posts herself doing handstands and yoga poses all over the country – even internationally! (ok, it was Canada but still) I think it’s cool and people seem to love it and it will probably help and not hurt her future work as a yoga teacher, I should think.

    I dig it. It shows me what is possible. Human bodies = amazing.
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  28. says

    This may make me the bearer of bad news… but part of the reason Yoga images are popular, is that they’re sexy. It makes me a little uncomfortable to tell this (mostly female) audience but there you have it. If you’re OK with that kind of admiration, of course more power to you – but many of you feel uncomfortable being whistled at (or whatever rude people do nowadays) in public.
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  29. says

    I love your yoga pose photos. I think the word ‘selfie’ has a negative connotation of duckface heavy eyeliner drunken 3am out with the girls and using 3 different filters. I think a yoga pose selfie is a little different. The duckface doesn’t inspire me to go out and get wasted, but a yoga pose does inspire me to reintroduce yoga to my life.

    I’m not even sure if that makes sense, but the gist is – Keep Posting Your Yoga Selfies! :) No-one thinks you’re self-absorbed!!
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  30. says

    Interesting post. I am not a yoga person but because of that I think I am always amazed when I see these photos on Instagram and always marvel at the strength and flexibility of these people. I think it is beautiful. But I can see why you would question whether they are “real” vs real especially because yoga is so “unselfishly spiritually centric” practice.
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  31. says

    This is such an interesting topic. My intrigue with social media and its ever changing presence in our lives is growing all the time. Honestly, I love when I get a great surf photo. I feel so good about capturing a moment a feel I worked hard to get to. I also enjoy saving those inspiring and freeing moments I experience out in the lineup so I can look back on them fondly and hopefully smile or find inspiration. I don’t think it’s really all that different with the yoga photos. I’m sure people are very inspired by your photos, they’re lovely. As a non-yogi I really enjoy observing these different poses and the unique ways people capture them (I love the one focusing on the carpet with you in a headstand in the background). It’s an amazing moment. It’s totally photo-worthy. I guess the nice thing about social media is that you can “customize” it to cater to your interests. If someone doesn’t like seeing yoga photos or surfing photos or so on they can choose not to follow people who post them. I don’t think there’s any real harm in sharing them so long as you and others involved are getting something inherently positive from the experience.
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  32. says

    I don’t participate in the yoga pose challenges because I feel like it would take me out of my own personal practice and I’d become too competitive. I practice because its my own time and a chance to just be. As an instructor I don’t like to comment or offer advice on photos because I may not understand an injury or limitation of their bodies and an adjustment may not be appropriate. My opportunity to teach is when I’m in the studio with my students. With all that said I have been part of many yoga photo shoots and can really appreciate the art and beauty in yoga and photography. But to me that is what a photo is, it’s art. Rarely are you capturing a pose in the midst of a class, it’s usually staged and posed. To me there is a distinct difference between yoga photos and an actual practice. I hope other practicioners can see too.
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  33. says

    I have to admit I get bored of people who fill my feed with selfies of their hair and makeup for the day, I feel like they’re fishing for compliments. But when you are doing something cool or are at some cool place and you want to capture it I’m all for it. I love your yoga pictures usually you are doing something cool somewhere cool and have taken an awesome shot! :)

    I do think though that we tend to portray yoga, meditation etc too frequently as rich, skinny, blond in yoga pants doing a pose on the beach. And yoga is so much more then that. So rather discouraging yogis from posting I would like to see more people, from all shapes, sizes and walks of life practicing and sharing it!

  34. says

    Great post! While I agree, those taking photos could portray an imagine (and if I am being honest, one that does make me hesitate to go to yoga!) that yoga is for middle aged women of a certain body type, the same could be said for any sport. It’s the nature of the beast, if you are at a place where you are comfortable with your body and showing those pictures then people will assume those are the people that yoga, lift weights, swim, etc…

  35. says

    I have been thinking about this alot. For me IG isn’t about the competition for just snapping pics- but it’s about the purpose behind the pose. Helping to inspire others…. It’s also about networking and marketing since I work in the field. It’s hard not getting caught up in the fancy poses though ;)
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  36. says

    I feel like the (from my, ya know, extensive 3 months of yoga experience) that the entire point is that it’s YOUR journey, and if you benefit from evidence of your effort, support, and creating a beautiful visual picture, it’s pretty anti-yogi to judge you for that, right? There is no right way or wrong way to love or appreciate any physical activity. If someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to follow. Of course I hope that everyone feels like, no matter their level, they could and should do the same if they feel motivated, but it goes back to this being your journey, and if you get support, then keep on posting! PS, I totally don’t think it’s cheating. If you got there, you got there. Doesn’t matter how long you held it! Also, I love your yoga photos!

  37. JA says

    From Yoga’s point of view there’s no difference between the most vain selfie on Facebook and Ramana meditating in a cave. It’s only the imagined separate self that projects a sense of right or wrong to bring itself into existence. I think this is how religions might start. Embrace the selfie.

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