Instagram Anxiety and the Yoga Aesthetic

The other day I posted a vain and silly Instagram post of myself in a yoga handstand, which is a pose I've been working VERY hard to achieve away from the wall. The alignment could have been better, (I’m still working on core engagement and knitting my ribs in), but I still felt proud of my progress and wanted to share. So I posted it, along with a plug for my weekly class schedule and some hashtags like “#bodypositive” and “#yogaforall.”

I took it down, minutes later, for a variety of reasons: mostly because I found myself slightly fiending off the dopamine-releasing “likes,” and also because I assumed some of these “likes” were more in favor of my booty than my body, (or the main point of self love, which I was attempting to express in the post). This self love and body positive image is something I’ve worked very hard to develop, and I think that’s important for women to talk about - especially those in an industry with complications around body image, which we need to stop pretending the yoga industry does not.

Essentially, when I go to post a picture of myself in a yoga pose, I have two very different inner voices. One of them is admittedly self indulgent, but truly well intentioned: a smart and confident business woman, proud of my strength and progress (growing up I could never touch my toes in those gym class aptitude tests) and hopeful that the post will inspire others to love their own bodies and unique strengths.

The other voice is self doubting and apprehensive, unable to shake the obviously narcissistic exploitation of an *ancient* spiritual craft to satisfy a *young* online trend - one that is very ego-driven, and one that reflects conflicting ideals from basic yogic principals.

Let’s be fair. There are some (many) people who would have seen this post and have an intrinsically positive response — either out of support for me as a friend or fellow wellness industry worker, or out of confidence in their own body and self care practices. People who post things like this do so for SO many reasons - this is important to stress. Certainly these posts are NOT all out of vanity. We women work hard to love our bodies in a culture that teaches us young to reject them. I’m all for sharing, exposing, and doing whatever the hell feels good and healthy.

But more so, I’m all for critical thinking. In the grand scheme of things, social media is new. It's important to pause and think about what it's doing to our brains as we mindlessly scroll, absorbing far more sensory input than we are, as animals, wired to receive. But my point here is that these posts - the poster and the viewer - may very well be in good fun and healthy intentions.

On the flip side, there are some (many) whose reaction will have a viscerally negative response: A cocktail of insecurity and resentment, maybe. They may see the post and immediately feel bad about themselves, their lifestyle, their bodies. They may perceive yogis to be vain and egotistical. They may judge or feel judged. I do this sometimes, when I see pictures of thin and flexible, usually white, bodies in the desert or under waterfalls, young, conventionally attractive women in an effortless, bikini-clad Mermaid Pose. The thought of exposing one’s body this way is terrifying to many who see that post, for a smorgasbord of reasons. Social media is disorienting in a unique way to each user, I’m sure. 

But the worst case scenario, and ultimately the reason why I took my handstand post down, was that the picture may be triggering. It may bring up difficulties for the viewer that I just do not need to bring up in order to promote my classes for the week. It may be harmful and dangerous and counterproductive, despite my hashtag urging the viewer to “#loveyourbody.” 

Something else to regard here is that Instagram is a platform for artistic expression - and some of these photos are from a place of ONLY artistic expression, purely for visual stimulation or surface level imagery, and this is separate from my point. A lot of these skinny-yoga-mermaid-lady pictures have more to do with creativity than alignment, as the photographer is probably more an artist than a yoga instructor. But shouldn’t artistic expression hold space for social responsibility, if it chooses to dip its toes in a health and wellness industry that works to hold space for ego-free inclusivity, and already so often fails at doing so?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!