Yoga is an ancient practice that involves uniting both the body and the mind through a sequence of stretches and poses. Although it is full of history and tradition, the practice of yoga is still very much alive and well in fitness communities around the world today. With that unwavering popularity (which is always increasing), however, comes the inevitable modernization of the centuries-old exercise.
While it’s not surprising that yoga’s increasing number of followers has resulted in a flood of yoga apparel production and a boom in studios opening across the country, there’s another surprising side effect that wasn’t quite as predictable: the phenomenon of the Instagrammable yoga practice. Yogis and aspiring yogis are taking to their smartphones to post selfies of their poses, and there are even entire Instagram accounts dedicated to yogis who have risen to an almost web-celeb level of fame. While the vast majority of these Instagram users promote positivity and health through their yoga photos, it's valid to wonder if posting on such a public forum about something that is normally considered fairly private might be harmful to the introspective nature of yoga — and even to your own body, if you attempt a complex inversion without the help of an instructor.
Beach Yoga Girl (@beachyogagirl), one of the most popular yoga accounts on Instagram, boasts an impressive almost 118,000 followers who love to admire her incredibly advanced poses in gorgeous beach locations. The yoga instructor uses her account to post affirmations and words of encouragement to other yogis along with her photos, and she also hosts the occasional “challenge” as well. These challenges use a hashtag like #dharmayogawheel or #journeytohandstand so that participants can find and view each other’s photos, and they also offer advice and instruction for working toward an end goal.
Although this sort of online instruction is encouraging and may even help to advance your personal practice, the idea of posting photos of yourself struggling into a crow pose while you should be enjoying your downward dog may seem a bit counterproductive. And, like with anything on the Internet, it could lead to feelings of jealousy and the desire to impress your followers with your poses.
Kelly Farina, an instructor at Shakti Power Yoga in Nashville, thinks that ‘gramming your practice can be extremely beneficial — provided that you remember yoga’s core values. “The time I spend on my mat is a sacred time for me. I am not sharing photos during that time, and when I post it's usually because I am inspired by the scenery and I'm like, 'I want a yoga photo here,'” she says. “My best friends and some of the Shakti teachers are rock stars at posting. I see them and I'm like, 'Wow, they are beautiful,' and I'm inspired by their strength and grace.”
As for the beginner yogi who may want to Instagram his or her practice in order to keep accountable or find encouragement through an online community, Farina says: “The yoga Instagram community is huge, and through the sharing of photos and videos we can stay connected, and sometimes even be inspired to try a pose or a transition out. I do feel there is a responsibility to share that yoga is not always pretty. It can get messy and awkward and there is beauty in sharing that, too.”
Avid Instagram yogi Krystal Douglas (@yogikrystal) actually amped up her beginner yoga practice after seeing others post their poses on Instagram, proving that the social media site has even played a vital role in encouraging new yogis to start their own practices. "I knew nothing about yoga before Instagram except basic sequences learned through P90X," Douglas says. "After discovering the entire Instagram yoga community, it's become a daily practice and an adventure, and has connected me with instructors and yogis around the world who've helped and encouraged my study."
For Douglas, Instagram is not just a place to post her own photos, but also a sort of ongoing tutorial for learning new poses — without the pricey package required by a physical yoga studio. "My practice is almost exclusively solo and from home, so Instagram actually plays a vital role," Douglas says. "I've learned over a hundred poses exclusively through Instagram, and have developed a supportive community by following other yogi Instagram accounts and posting photos." While yoga traditionalists may have some issues (mainly regarding safety) with beginners learning yoga via Instagram, many people consider it an equally beneficial way to learn the ropes through actual skilled, accredited instructors. And with the hefty price tag associated with many yoga studios, it's a much more affordable option as well.
As for concerns about comparison or criticisms, those things always exist on any online platform. Within the Instagram yoga community, however, the negativity seems to be fewer and farther between. "Everyone is so encouraging and positive, I've never had a negative comment on any of my photos," Douglas says. "If you're feeling down about what you can do versus what someone else is posting, you're misunderstanding the core of yoga. Whether you've been practicing for 10 years or 10 days […] It's your practice, no one else's. It should never ever be a comparison."