Last fall, I took a Hatha yoga class through Hart House. In between difficult seminars, I learned how to breathe in time with my movements. I figured out how to steady myself on one or both feet, how to do a forward bend without hurting my back, and how to challenge my body and quiet my mind.
All this I did with the help of an excellent instructor, who insisted that we all leave our personal belongings — cell phones included — at the door.
But in cyberspace, yoga seems to have taken on a very different character. Many of its spiritual aspects are replaced by cosmetic posturing.
Timed selfies of the eagle pose are supplemented with a “#yoga” hashtag, and what once would have been considered a humbling experience is tainted with the intention of ego and imagery.
Yoga is a way to stay healthy, in all possible aspects. It has the power to unify the mind and body and strengthen, given the right application. Actively involving Instagram feeds in one’s practice can’t cultivate the kind of well-being that yoga has the potential to endow.
In an email interview, yoga guru Fatha Singh Khalsa, who teaches a free yoga class at U of T’s Koffler House, extolled the practice of yoga as a private dialogue between mind and body.
“If you look beyond the surface, you will see that postures are just a part, and not the whole of yoga practice,” he says.
“Sound posture allows us to sit and experience peace of mind through meditation, which is the actual objective of yoga,” he writes.
“With peace of mind also comes humility. A true yogi does not want to show off their latest posture or their most difficult meditation,” says Khalsa.
However, posting “#yoga” photographs is still a means of sharing one’s progress and encouraging others to follow suit.
“That being said, of course there are millions of people now who are new to yoga practice. Some are excited and want to share their latest accomplishments. Others are just vain and try to inspire others’ envy. It is truly a mixed bag,” he says.
But it remains that advertising poses on Instagram cannot instill one with the requisite humility and peace of mind to practice yoga genuinely.
Framing yoga as part of a lifestyle that may simultaneously promote a high level of concern with competitive body imagery and self-conceit ultimately debases the traditional aspects of the exercise.
Ultimately, if you perform a headstand in order to brag about it online, then you aren’t really doing yoga.
Rather than turning to a superficial promotion of yoga culture, it may benefit one’s practice to forget about hashtags while on the mat.