It was bound to happen. As yoga gains mainstream acceptance, its ancient philosophies and precepts have finally come into conflict with modern social mores. It was inevitable, but it’s still ironic, in a way, since yoga strives for harmony and union.
At the center of the conflict is the yoga selfie: a photograph that shows a yogi or yogini performing a yoga posture. And “performing” is the operative word. Is it self-promotion, a stroke to the ego? Or is it an inspirational portrait, a selfless act from the heart? Or is it a form of exhibitionism, meant to titillate? Tune into any yoga blog or publication, and you’ll find one side of the argument or another.
Here at the Three Minute Egg®, we believe in exploring all sides of an issue. So let us present the pros and cons of the much-debated yoga selfie.
The Pros of a Yoga Selfie
We live in a visual culture. More and more, the written word is being replaced by photos and videos. It’s a huge part of how we communicate. So if one image can convey the joy and benefits of a yoga practice, where’s the harm in that?
A yoga selfie can inspire others to start their own journeys in yoga. Haven’t we all been motivated by seeing a yogi — like B.K.S. Iyengar — twisting into an improbable pose? The purpose of the photo is to show that we, too, can achieve that kind of flexibility, strength and balance through a regular yoga practice.
A photo can never replace the knowledge and skills of a qualified yoga teacher to monitor our alignment in each asana. But the photo of the teacher in proper alignment gives us the mental image of what we’re trying to achieve. We have to know what the posture is supposed to look like before we can know what it’s supposed to feel like.
So a yoga selfie can be a well-intended advertisement for yoga, a tool for persuading others to take that first step on the path, or for encouraging novices to continue and deepen their practices. A yoga selfie may in fact be a modern expression of our love for this ancient practice.
The Cons of a Yoga Selfie
On the other hand, many yoga selfies seem to do little to inspire others. We’ve seen yoginis in natarajasana, a balancing pose, photographed on a rocky outcropping in some unnamed national park. We’ve viewed yogis showing off astavakrasana, a difficult arm balance, in a city square. We’ve seen yoginis in provocative poses wearing flirtatious leotards.
It seems like a stretch to believe that anyone can see one of these photos and come away thinking this is good for yoga. A yoga selfie in this category has less to do with inspiration and more to do with arousal. Instead of seeing the pose, we see the ego. “Look at me!” they seem to shout from the photo.
Yoga is more than the physical poses; yoga is a philosophy, a mind-body connection, a spiritual journey. Yoga stimulates humility. It helps people learn about themselves. It’s ultimately an enlightening practice, whether it leads to enlightenment or not. If yoga is meant to turn people inward, yoga selfies can turn yoga inside out.
The Truth of a Yoga Selfie
Like yoga itself, the truth of a yoga selfie lies in your intention when you create it. If your goal is to show off, it will inevitably come through in your face. If your goal is to inspire, that too will appear in the angle of the photo, the location of the photo, the expression on your face (which might or might not even be visible) and the clothes you’re wearing.
Three Minute Egg® can’t stop yoga selfies, nor do we wish to. The “dilemma” posed by the phenomenon leads us to ponder some deeper questions:
When you see a yoga selfie, how does it affect you? If you’re reviled by it, what does that say about you? If you’re turned on by it, what does that say about you? If you’re inspired by it, what does that say about you? In other words, as we stare at another person’s yoga selfie, where do we go within our selves? Because yoga is a path of self-discovery, and like any other experience, the yoga selfie can provide fertile ground for our exploration into ourselves.