#Yogi is a popular hashtag for yoga professionals and enthusiasts on instagram. In fact, the hashtag currently has nearly 8 million posts on instagram alone. But the term “yogi” existed long before social media.
So what exactly is a yogi?
A yogi is a person who is proficient in yoga. That’s it! Just a person practicing yoga-boom! The only equation you need to achieve yogi status is:
Human + a regular yoga practice= yogi
In contrast, a #yogi is the online version. The equation for a #yogi looks more like this:
Human + a regular yoga practice + access to social media + access to filters + access to quotes, stylish clothing, etc.= #yogi
As you can see, a #yogi can get a bit complicated. There are a few more variables, which is a key point here, as it is easy to confuse what a yogi really is to what a #yogi represents.
Think about it. What does a #yogi look like to you?Is it anyone who can reach a peak pose in a picturesque location? Is it a thin woman with designer yoga duds? Can it accurately represented by an image?
The Insta-Ethical Dilemma
I have an instagram account dedicated to yoga, and I’m still trying to find which path I walk in order to promote my appreciation for yoga, upholding my values and integrity, and provide an audience with what they want. I found that when I posted what I wanted, the “likes” and followers did not grow. When I started to fall into the “instayoga” mold of advanced positions with a beautiful backdrop, my followers and likes increased. Basically, I conformed to the instagram yoga culture because that is what, at least based on likes and followers, the audience wanted. In one way, I was winning at getting attention that social media allows, but what the hell am I really sharing?
I’m not sure, that as a yoga practitioner and teacher, this “instaculture” is what I want for myself or for yoga students. At the same time, I see its value. I guess you could call it an insta-ethical-dilemma! And insta-annoying-as-fuck.
The Power of Social Media
So why does it all matter? It basically boils down to the power of social media. Social media, such as instagram, is potentially a great marketing tool for yoga professionals. If you are just starting out in the yoga business, it can be a great way to reach new customers, advertise your brand and services, and just share your passion and interest. It is also a great way to conform to the “instanorm” and fall into the attention grabbing tactics that so often work quickly. But does it really matter? How harmful can social media be?
Well, pretty damn harmful, apparently. New research points to the fact that social media, especially instagram and snapchat, have a negative impact on mental health. When you think about this, this isn’t surprising. Many photos on instagram (perhaps in the majority) are staged, edited, and manipulated to tell a particular story that may or may not be rooted in reality. This gives the outside world that things are perfect- after all, people are showing off their elaborate, color-coordinated smoothie bowls without all of the hard work it takes to make them, and the challenging peak poses that take years of yoga practice to achieve.
A study by Cowan (2016) analyzed 100 yoga posts on instagram identified by the hashtag #yoga over the course of 10 days. Out of these posts, the researcher found that 80% were of advanced peak postures, 86% depicted a person with a thin body type, 76% were female, 72% were outside, and 65% had minimal clothing on. The author noted that this” self selective presentation” gives the viewer an image of yoga without flaws, and that “inspiration” was a common word in yoga posts. Let’s be real here. Yoga is full of flaws, farts and fat. This is reality and it is not a bad thing. Polishing it may look pretty and is a tool for marketing, but is it a fair representation of you? How about your yoga?
As a yoga teacher and student, I realize that I represent yoga to others. Not necessarily yoga on the whole, but my yoga. My experience. My story.
Every person who shares yoga online is telling the story of yoga in some way. The way we visually represent and share it online carries a lot of power. And to be honest, I don’t always know what this power means or where it will take us. And here is the thing: you can’t always worry about getting it right. You have to speak your truth, share your knowledge and experience, and let that be okay. Sure, it may be criticized or embarrassing at some points, but that is a part of life. It is also a part of growth.
Because of social media, most of us have two identities: your actually identity, and your online identity. Does your online #yogi identity match you actual identity? Reflect on this. How are the two similar? Are you telling the truth? And ultimately, where is your #yogi identity taking you?