I took a few weeks off of blogging to focus on taking care of my father-in-law whose health has been poor this past month. In the interim, I explored the underbelly of the internet to see how other people are practicing Yoga. I joined a Yoga chat room on Facebook. It really opened my eyes to the current psyche of Western practitioners today. This information is helpful for me as a Yoga teacher, so I can at least have a frame of reference from which my younger students are coming.
Discussions on this Facebook chat page revolved around three topics: Selfie/Instagram posts, Yoga Teacher Trainings, and 30 day challenges in that order of post volume.
Selfies are so prevalent, that more than half the members of the group thought that posting postures of themselves is what encompasses the whole practice of “yoga.” The standard post would be something like: “This is my Handstand today #goalkiller” and then there would be showers of praise in the comment section. It seems as though people are doing one contortion-esque posture (not even asana), asking for and receiving reinforcement from the FB community. It is doubtful that these are part of a sequence and more just “showing off” the ability to be flexible and balance.
Yoga Teacher Trainings were the next big topic. Between people hawking the next big YTT in Costa Rica, Bali, or Timbuktu, people would either brag or whine about their current YTT experience. The YTT people were not imparting any particular insights or knowledge of their training to the group, but much like the selfie crowd were seeking some sort of approval or status positioning that they were on their way to teacherhood.
One disquieting aspect was the prevalence of online teacher trainings. There were actually a few good discussions on why online teacher training is not appropriate. One theme that came up is when a topic would be questioned, the pack mentality of the group would say that the person is “judging” and that “yoga is whatever you want it to be.”
I tried to introduce some concepts to the group like Aparigraha and even posted my essay about the new prevalence of alcohol in yoga classes. It made for some interesting discussions. Unfortunately the majority in the group saw no problem with it and said that their studio has alcohol events regularly. The Aparigraha post was quickly drowned out by the latest barrage of selfie posts.
Lastly, the 30 day challenges were a ubiquitous part of the group discussion. I understand that these challenges are helpful for new students to be motivated to practice. But after the 30 day challenge, then what? Another 30 day challenge? To me it just shapes the practice like a monkey swinging from tree vine to tree vine without any direction.
Some may read this post and say “you mean there is another way to practice?” The answer is there certainly is another way. Yoga is made for us to confront and conquer our senses, our ego, our samskaras, and our karmas. Asana can be a powerful tool in doing this. But as we are now seeing, people are using asana to become more deluded and lost in the ego’s trappings.
I ended up leaving the Facebook page. It was causing too much citta vrtti in my own life. This experience has motivated me to re-read the Bhagavad Gita whose verses are refreshing and healing after seeing what Yoga is becoming in the commercialized world.
Oh, I am sorry to hear this. Hopefully there are young people out there who are taking classes from experienced teachers who have an understanding of the true depth of yoga practice. That way they may see through the egoism and shallow competition expressed on the internet.
May your father in law be well, and also you.
Thanks for the kind words Phyllis. I was torn about even writing this post as it may come off as self righteous. But at some point we have to draw a line of what is “yoga” and what is simply commercialized nonsense that reinforces the ego. Much of what we see on the internet under the guise of yoga falls in the latter category. I am hopeful that traditional yoga will whether this storm. Experienced teachers have much work ahead of them to dispel the avidya that commercialized yoga creates. Thank you again, and be steadfast in your practice.
I feel I’m in the minority in my age group regarding not being into whole #killingit Instagram photo op while wearing flashy clothing, 30 day challenges and so on. Because of this, it can be difficult at times to discuss yoga with teachers and practitioners in my age group. On top of that, Iyengar classes tend to be filled with older students; in 50% of the classes, I was the youngest person in class or in 50% of the classes there were only 2-3 people in my age group. I will say that given the limited continuing teacher training opportunities in my immediate area, I do find the IYANUS Facebook page a good resource for information.
I just moved to another state and started grad school this fall and I’m trying to get a feel of the yoga community here. My classmates recommended this donation based studio in town because it was only five dollars. Since I am on a student’s budget, I like to use my money wisely, and I rather pay more money for an experienced teacher and go to class every other week to stretch my membership than to pay five dollars each week “just because it’s cheap.” Luckily I did find an Iyengar certified teacher nearby, so that is what I’m doing…still the youngest student. 😛
I hope your father-in-law is doing better. My family was in a similar boat last year. Like someone said, taking care of an older family member is a whole different ball game.
You sound well beyond your years!
Which state are you in? Perhaps I can direct you to a good teacher. I agree that the IYNAUS FB page is a great resource.
You bring up an excellent point in that younger students go to these free websites and chat rooms because they lack the funds to go to a more seasoned teacher. Perhaps others in the Iyengar community can read this and think of ways to draw in younger students by lowering prices for students, and teaching in schools and universities to introduce the fundamentals. I greatly appreciate that you are young and practicing this style.
I go to University of Georgia. My teacher studies with Kathleen Pringle and he told me to join the Stillwater Yoga e-mail list to be in the loop for workshops and trainings. Atlanta is 60 miles away from Athens, so it’s not too bad of a drive to do on a weekend. I also am a member of IYANUS and IYASE and my teacher told me IYASE post all their workshops on their website.
Other than cost, geography is also an issue for Iyengar teachers reaching out to younger students. A lot of colleges and universities are not located in big cities and the concentration of Iyengar teachers tend to be in bigger cities(I presume). In that case, producing online content that is affordable(such as offering classes for download for the same price as a community class at a studio) would be a good way to attract students.
Sounds like the workshop/self study may be a good route for you. Road trip workshops sound like a lot of fun. If you have any questions about home practice, I’ll answer to the best of my ability or refer you to someone who can.
Thank you. If I have any questions, I will certainly send them your way.
I hope your father-in-law is feeling better. Caring for an older person is more difficult than looking after young ones. God bless.
Thank you for your kind words 🙂
Keep in mind that the what I would call the more serious practitioners of yoga generally are maybe not spending their time in chat rooms.
I’ll tell you about what I see at my studio, which is run by Chassidic Jews in Israel. The beginners are out of touch with their bodies, and often very worn out. They like yoga for the calm and the health benefits. The people who are long-term practitioners like yoga – well, for the health benefits, we just do more of it. Around five women and five men are finishing the first Iyengar TTP for Orthodox Jews – some of us because we want to teach, some of us to get deeper into the practice.
We don’t do selfies. We do a lot of complaining about how the practice pushes us and we support each other. I personally use yoga as a tool to support my spirituality, not for spirituality itself.
May you be blessed for helping your father-in-law.
Thank you for your blessings from Israel Rachel! I told my family about your comment and they got exited that someone from so far away reads my posts.
I agree that serious practitioners don’t spend time in chat rooms. However, Facebook and Instagram are the way a majority of young Western practitioners are being introduced to this practice. It is important as Iyengar instructors to understand where they are coming from and what ideas they have about Yoga.
It sounds like you are doing wonderful work in your studios helping beginners connect with their bodies. I certainly did my share of complaining during my teacher training, but am now grateful for the experience.
Many blessings to you in Israel from Hawai’i!
Great post. There is a balance between making something ‘accessible to all’ and diluting it to the point of non-recognition. Let’s hope that people who come to yoga through chat rooms, selfies and wine in class eventually come to appreciate yoga for its deeper benefits.
Thank you for taking time out from your journey to respond to this post. A great question I can start asking is “how will we be practicing yoga tomorrow?” I do have to remember that even though people are mixing some crazy things with yoga, that they are in fact trying to practice some form of it. I always appreciate your posts and comments.
I hope your father-in-law is doing better.
I feel the same way about you with much of yoga’s social media. There’s a lot of look at me I had do headstand,# yogaeverydamday, if you’re not head standing, hand standing, wheel with hands and feet touching, one handed crow, you’re not doing yoga. While they do provide some motivation (in my case handstand, but 1 image every few days is enough for me. Not 5 a day), it gets too much and feels like it’s becoming a competitive sport. Go do gymnastics instead! I practive with Yogaglo.com at home. For me in Spain, it’s cheaper than a class and since I’ve been using, it’s not just the poses and teaching points that have helped my practice, the ‘mental’ side too. While Kathryn Budig does post a lot of poses on her IG account, she gives life advice or link to her blog how to do it (I remember the post you did on yoga photos being on for educational purposes. That’s stuck!). Alcohol however with any kind of physical exercise is a major NO. Why?! But then I don’t get the whole drinking scene anyway!
You bring up a good point about being away from teachers when traveling or living in another country. I notice that many of the senior teachers are now recording their classes on audio to MP3. This may be a good way to practice at home given one has the props.
I have mixed feelings about YogaGlo after they tried to patent a “camera angle” which they later retracted. But for many this is the only way they can have access to competent teachers. Learning to do a home practice without prompting is something I try to teach to my students from day one and is a valuable skill to cultivate. Even if we remember 2 or 3 poses. I’m sure you have checked out my yoga sequence page on this blog.
Many blessings to you in Spain, I’m sure the food is wonderful! And thanks for you kind thoughts about my father in law.
I don’t understand why they tried to patent that camera angle. Something like that you can’t!
Another thing I have picked up from them is when I practice on my own (no Yogaglo, no Internet) I have my ‘teachers’ voice in my head guiding me with their prompts. I’ve noticed now with some poses I adjust automatically, their voice becomes quieter, my own prompts become louder. I still need their voices to learn however! I’ll check out your yoga sequence for my ‘quiet practice’! Every teacher offers a new or different prospective!
thank you writing this. I have been thinking a lot recently about the communication of yoga in our modern world — internet included. I suppose if you take the ‘yoga as a journey’ metaphor then you can hope that the internet chatters today might come to develop a different relationship with yoga in future. If they don’t it’s because they don’t need to/feel drawn to? Lots of people start with a particular idea about yoga and what it might offer them, but the magic is in the transformation. Remember that it’s not just in yoga that social media is used in very odd ways! There is so much sharing of what was once private.
My thoughts go to you and your father in law today.
Thank you for you kind words and thoughts. We are indeed in a brave new world of not only yoga, but in how we communicate. This has mixed effects both good and bad. It is easy to get caught in the whirlwind of it all. My advice to myself any anyone else is just keep practicing what you have learned from your teachers and take or leave the other information according to its usefulness.
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I have zero interest in social media. Your post highlighted why Facebook leaves me with the same feeling I have after mindlessly clicking to E! Online or the New York Daily News…
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