Yogini’s in Bikinis: Will Social Media Ruin Yoga?

Yoga teachers often lament that social media has reduced yoga to a daily “yogini’s in bikinis” photo competition. While there is some truth to that, the fact remains that Facebook, Instagram and Youtube have inspired and taught yoga to hundreds of thousands of people around the world, many of whom would otherwise have no contact with yoga at all.

There is also more racial, age, and gender diversity online than offline, and entirely new practice styles have been born.

Is it traditional yoga? Maybe, maybe not—but is yoga reserved only for fundamentalists? Is their perfect alignment on social media? Not always, but isn’t the quest for perfect alignment just as fleeting as the quest for perfect abs?

This belief that you can only learn yoga in person, face-to-face, is commonly stated—and yet rarely practiced. For a clear example of this, let’s look at one of the most influential yoga teachers ever: BKS Iyengar. Nearly every yoga student has studied his work, and yet how many actually took class with him? Even more telling, how many students have taken any traditional Iyengar-style classes at all?

Considering the scope of his influence, the number is shockingly low.

So how did Iyengar have such a big impact? He wrote a stack of really great books and took a bunch of photos. Books were the media-of-choice at the time. Students read his work, learned and were inspired, and then they incorporated that into their own practices.

Inexpensive publishing has always been the key to the democratization of education, and this is especially true in yoga. Instead of needing 3 months and thousands of dollars to run off to Pune, India to meet the master, you could buy his book for $14.95. Is it as good as the real thing? Surely not, but it’s 1000x’s better than nothing.

Traditionally, yoga in the West has been exclusive and elite. To write off social media as “not good enough” or “not real yoga” is a move backward toward yoga elitism of years gone by where a select few were the gatekeepers of knowledge, teacher certifications, and authentication. No access? No money? Sorry, you were out of luck.

Years ago, that system made some sense. Yoga teaching and inspiration just didn’t scale. Today, we have inexpensive technology that allows for the spread of yoga to be nearly instantaneous. I’ll be the first to point out that with the good comes plenty of bad, but it’s very easy to find the teachers that you connect with and ignore those you don’t.

So how does a modern yoga student navigate this digital publishing explosion? It’s really simple: follow the teachers that you want to learn from, and block (yes, block!) those people that for whatever reason drive you crazy. You wouldn’t keep a book you detested in your back pocket, so don’t allow anyone into your newsfeed unless you want them there.

A book is sometimes a better teacher than Instagram, but a Youtube video is sometimes better than a book—isn’t it? Have a question? Facebook is a great place to have real-time conversations with your teachers.

Remember, you can love the message without loving the messenger. Social media is just another messenger. Remember, people moaned when the first sticky mats were introduced (you’re supposed to practice on concrete or in the dirt!), and even books were criticized.The democratization of yoga means that anyone can practice, anyone can learn, and good teacher is someone who enables that process by any means necessary.

I’m going to dig my heels into the ground on this one, social media is great for yoga. Just unfollow the people that irritate you (good practice in general, by the way), and you’ll be free.