Yoga, the self and the selfie, part 1: I read my Instagram today, Oh Boy…

(part of my continuing series “The Ten Year Itch”, a reflection of a decade in the yoga world)  and with sincere apologies to the Beatles for the title…

Every once and a while I miss living in New York City- the grand skyline, all the amazing (often cheap) food, being able to go out any night of the week and hear world-class live music in any genre (again, often for pretty cheap), walking down Broadway and seeing a woman doing yoga in a glass cage on the back of a truck…

Wait, WHAT???

In case you missed it, celebrity bad-girl yogini Kara Stiles, in a cross-promotion with the W Hotel chain, was driven around Manhattan in a glass box, flexing her asana. Yogadork picked it up, and then the NY Post ran with it in a larger article about celebrity yoga selfies, which also called out Gisele (or around here, Mrs. Brady) and Hillaria Baldwin (Alec’s yoga teacher wife).*

The phenomenon of the yoga selfie has drawn a lot of attention, press and conversation, with articles in the New York Times, and now the post, as well as blog conversations at Yogadork and It’s All Yoga Baby (which, as mentioned in the article, ran a countercampaign posting awkward yoga moments). I think there’s actually a lot going on behind all of these instagram natarajasanas, and I want to unpack a few things as part of the ten-year itch series. (In the meantime, I enjoyed my colleague Michael Mann’s blog on the subject.  He puts snark to good use)  But for now I want to address the Post’s piece and the uproar it’s caused specifically.

As an aside, I didn’t know the Post had anyone left who could write this well- this is really happening prose!

“… it spotlights a growing phenomenon, the yoga showoff who’s more circus sideshow than beacon of motivation.”.

This is one for all of us involved in spreading the physical practice of yoga to chew on for awhile, and something I’ll continue to think and write about. But to the matter at hand…

In the case of Ms. Bundchen,(or Lea Michelle, or Sting, or any celebrity who does yoga, rather than a “celebrity yogi”) I’m fine with all of it. Giselle is a model and an entrepreneur; her image is her brand is her business, just like Oprah or Russell Simmons (also mentioned, though his featured shot isn’t quite so glam). She likes yoga, she likes to be photographed, who am I to say what she should and shouldn’t post? And as an AcroYoga teacher, I think it’s great that more people see acro, and maybe even want to do it- fly away! (full disclosure: the photo in the Post article also features Kadri Kurgun, a friend and colleague who has allowed me to use some of his photographs before)

In the case of folks who are promoting themselves as yoga teachers, however, I think more scrutiny is due, because I think we do and should hold yoga teachers to a higher standard.  Yoga is not Giselle’s living, but it is how Tara Stiles defines, markets and supports herself.

First, a hot girl doing yoga in a glass cage- paging Dr. Freud, Dr. Freud?   There’s enough cultural and sexual baggage in that particular choice of message delivery to fill it’s own truck, and I think all it does is make Ms. Stiles look like a circus freak, not a teacher worthy of following. I’m all for “creative marketing”, as Stiles advocates, but this is way too far out for me, and all I thing when I look at this is “make it stop, please!”**

And, if you’re going to post yoga selfies, for god sakes model the poses in a healthy way! The photo of Ms. Baldwin (and baby) doing warrior II in heels in front of Tiffany’s made me shudder- so many yoga teachers understand the dangers of constantly wearing high heels, and work to help our students counter the damage heels can cause. The last thing I want to see is a yoga teacher, one with a mass audience at that, modeling poses in ways that needlessly harms the body. (The setting of Tiffany’s and what I’m guessing is a $1,000+ outfit also bring up some uncomfortable issues of yoga and classism, but I’ll save that for another day) And I don’t even want to start about her hip alignment in airplane on the airplane…

I guess my larger question, especially for Instagram yoga teachers, is what exactly are you selling when you post your photos and videos? What is the message you’re sending, or is it just “look at me!” Because whatever you’re selling here, I’d be embarrassed to sell to my students.  Needless to say, I’m not buying.


* Full disclosure- While I certainly have and use plenty of images of me in yoga and AcroYoga poses, I don’t have an instagram account, and I readily confess that I don’t get instagram at all, so that certainly colors my commentary. I often think I could certainly use some of the marketing finesse of these uber-popular instagram yogis.

**  Matthew Remski noted in his link to the post article on Facebook that when early Indian yoga entrepreneurs like Vivikenanda were trying to popularize yoga in the West, they were adamantly opposed to big shows of asana, comparing them negatively to the street hustling fakirs in India.  (I think this is what Iyengar is alluding to in Light on Yoga when he says that when he started yoga teachers were held in lower regard than beggars.)

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