Is Instagram killing Yoga and turning it into an elitist trend?

Trends are there for a reason and nobody is less of who they are for following a trend. I think it is unfair to try to sell people the idea that they are living a disingenuous life just because they take an interest in something that is commercialised, well packaged and easily accessible to them. To a great degree, social media, fashion, music and the media, influence us all in general. So personally, I am for trends and riding on bandwagons especially if they are meaningful to you.

Now here is the interesting part. Instagram yoga pages.
Most of us are aware that a huge percentage of Instagram is about highlight reels, the best picture forward and imperfect pictures just do not make the cut. I do not know anybody who would spend his or her time and energy uploading a blurry or uninteresting picture on purpose. It is like a gallery of your moments, a scrapbook of your life so it only makes sense that you desire your moments to be captured in a beautiful way. Therefore, I cannot really crucify yoga teachers and enthusiasts for having picture perfect yoga pages.

Yet it is interesting to note that one of my fave Instagram yoga accounts @annelizah once came under fire by her followers for calling out on “pretty yoga Instagram accounts”. How I interpret her reasoning is that almost all yoga accounts were staged and like they lacked the authenticity because of the golden sunsets during a contortionist pose while wearing theatrical outfits on the cliff of a mountain with quotable captions and an overwhelming feeling of ego driven displays of themselves masquerading as “spiritual”.

I understood where she was coming from because when I first started taking interest in yoga, I was demotivated and was fed a very watered down version of what yoga truly was and its intentions. I felt like because I couldn’t master a hand stand then I wasn’t flexible enough, that I had to force my body into difficult poses to reach true enlightenment and if I couldn’t execute their poses in the time frame that they did, then there was definitely something wrong with me. What concerns me is the pressure, the obsession of perfectionism, the lack of representation by POC and most painful for me, the loss of its original purpose.
Many people are unaware of the origins of yoga and its initial purpose so for me as a black woman to practise it, I have been asked on numerous occasions why I enjoy participating in white culture. I had to swallow my words as I felt that huge lump slide down my throat and land on my chest and the more I swallowed my words instead of voicing out my opinion, the more there was a build-up. Yoga teaches me to let go with each breathe, so this is my release.
Yoga is not a white “thing”. It is a spiritual practise from Africa and South Asia and during the days of colonialism, genocide and oppression, people of colour were killed or punished for publicly practising yoga and not converting into Christianity. Yoga is beyond gymnastic poses, it is a way to connect with yourself and be in tune with your true nature. A doorway that leads you to your ultimate awakening.
So it is concerning to see the ancient and spiritual practise turned into a marketing tool and a classist trend that has no representation from the very same people who were persecuted for practising it.

History has white washed yoga and how it came about in America and as damaging as it is to try to erase a spiritual practise and introduce it as your own; it is also damaging to see it for what it is today. Yoga has become a “look”, a look run by thin, blonde, able-bodied white women whose Instagram accounts resemble editorial magazine photoshoots that reinforce impossible beauty standards and unrealistic lifestyles. Whom does it serve? The brands who endorse this and monetize it by creating a desire and selling a product and unfortunately much like sex, spirituality sells. Whether its intentions are towards serving the greater good or a step towards collective consciousness or not. Spirituality sells because we are spiritually starving and have a void that these brands are able to identify and sell to us to make profits from our emptiness.

Suddenly in order to reach true enlightenment, you have to appear in some lavish location disguised as a spiritual retreat, sit in back bending poses while wearing expensive yoga outfits to achieve this impossible goal. Should you not be able to master the perfect handstand, then you are not disciplined enough, not flexible enough, not thin enough or not rich enough. Yoga has become a product where athleticism is praised and “good yogis’ are determined by their large following and highly edited picture perfect posts selling us a desire by appearing to live a life that not even the yogi themselves can live up to.

Now I am guilty too and I am not excluding myself here because I tend to show pictures of my advanced poses only and not focus on the journey and intent of it all. I take full accountability with no excuses and I apologise and admit my mistake in further cementing this false yoga narrative. Truth be told, I am not coming for white people practicing yoga or anybody who has a “pretty yoga page” because I have no right to say who is a true yogi and who isn’t. If it makes you feel great when you have achieved a pose under clear lighting, in an exotic location, I do not think it makes you a classist, yoga killer. However, if you are on defence mode or have a sense of discomfort then I encourage you to feel through it and sit with that and take time to reflect.

See, what I am against is the lack of diversity and the fact that yoga has a stereotype and it is not the original descendants of the culture. That POC were once afraid to practise it and are now being excluded from it. Please listen to the podcast Yoga is dead: White women killed yoga by Tejal Patel and Jesal Parikh for their testaments on being excluded in yoga spaces run by white women.
What I am against is yoga losing its essence. It is not a physical exercise and its purpose was not to get applause for back bending poses. It is a practise for self-realization, a discipline for creating harmony between your mind and body and reaching your stage of true freedom. Much like you approach prayer and meditation.

What I am against is selling yoga as product by brands and influencers that is a complete contradiction to yoga teachings. Unfortunately, many people believe that they cannot participate in yoga when ultimately it is intended for everyone. So if you so happen to have a large following or are a white yogi then you should kindly take note of the following:
• Be mindful of how you deliver your content. Make space for POC and let them have a voice in your workshops or classes rather than speaking on our behalf and being our voice.
• Research on how to make your spaces more inclusive and do not dismiss criticism.
• Refrain from using symbols from cultures as accessories as you are then appropriating and disrespecting cultures. You don’t need a decapitated Buddha head in your studio to prove that you love yoga,
• Check your privilege, you are more likely to be given endorsements based on how you look, however this does not mean that you should turn down deals. It means that you should be aware of brands who are actually racist, sexist, classist and in reality are the polar opposite of what yoga aims to bring in the world but need your face to spread their ideals and product through you.

Lastly, if you’re interested in yoga, do not be discouraged by the acrobatics of it all because it takes more than awesome poses to master yourself and become knowledgeable in yoga. Do not be misled by the high quality, well-composed pictures and the almost flawless looking women, you do not need to look a certain way or live a glamourous lifestyle to practise yoga.
To the yogis that inspire us towards creating deeper connections with ourselves and living in a harmonious and a well-balanced life, I thank you for your presence because your teachings remind us to achieve higher power and true liberation.

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