#YogaSelfie:  A Marketing Tool, Expression of Art or Cry for Validation

#YogaSelfie: A Marketing Tool, Expression of Art or Cry for Validation

I remember roughhousing with my dad, rolling around on the living room carpet, like six year old little girls with too much energy like to do. I broke free of his grip and rolled to my belly. I arched my back and lifted my toes to touch the back of my head, a proud display of my 6-year-old athleticism, a variation on Bhujangasana. I taunted my dad, “I bet you can’t do this!”

He couldn’t, and once I hit my growth spurt as a tween, I couldn’t anymore either. That is, until recently.

I felt proud of myself the first time I was able to complete the same variation of cobra pose as an adult. At 33, due to a consistent yoga practice, my spine is as flexible as a six-year-old. I set up a self timer on my phone one day as I was working on the pose so that I could capture the moment my toes touched my head. I happened to be practicing on the beach that day and the photo turned out to be beautiful. I was proud of it, I had worked hard and it paid off. I posted it to instagram with a caption about how excited I was to see the results of my physical practice. That night I opened my instagram app and saw that the photo received three times as many likes and comments as my average post. Something clicked.

I’ve been a yoga-prenuer for several years. As yoga instructors, our bottom line depends on how many people come to our classes and events. I used to hire a lot of instructors. I would always check to see how big their social media following was and how active they were in self promotion of their classes and events. To be honest, a mediocre resume with 5,000 instagram followers always got a chance to interview quicker than a great resume with no social media presence. Instagram and other social media platforms are invaluable tools in our industry.

According to Kissmetrics, social media posts with photos are twice as likely to receive comments as text only posts.  Around that time I was promoting an upcoming yoga/surf retreat. I started posting more and more photos of myself doing crazy backbends on the beach where the retreat was to be held. It worked. People started sharing my posts, liking my page, visiting my website and some signed up for my retreat.

Yoga selfies are not just about promotion of events and classes, they are beautiful. The human form poised with power under control is artwork worthy to be displayed. There is something so vulnerable and beautiful when an artist finishes a masterpiece and reveals it to the public eye. If yoga is an art, nature is the canvas and the human body is the paint.

Like many young American women, I learned from a young age that the female body was something to be hidden, covered and ignored. I learned to feel guilty about the power I held in my physical form. And so I buried it, instead turning toward academics and career. When I found yoga as an adult, it was like my mind and soul were hosting a reunion with my body. It felt amazing. I wanted more. I started to crave the experience of my physical body. I worked to get stronger, I changed my career to focus on physical bodies, quitting my job in the software industry to teach yoga. And just like the yoga sutras teach, with too much new found attachment to the physical, I would end up causing myself suffering.

I started filming my yoga practices, setting up a tripod on the beach, and then taking screen shots as I reached each peak pose. My practices started getting more and more about which cool looking poses I could get into and less and less about what felt right in my body.  If I hiked to a waterfall I took photos of myself in dancers pose standing in the rushing water. If I saw a cool tree I climbed up and stood in tree pose on a limb. If the sunset was particularly beautiful while I drove by the beach I would pull over and set up the self timer. After all, marketing is marketing right?

One particular evening I was watching the sunset at a place called Sunset Beach. You can imagine how it got its name. It was an epic sunset with colors so vibrant it took your breath away. Rather than taking it in, breathing in the moment, I propped my phone up against a palm tree and set the video to roll. I kicked up into a handstand and with zero warm up, went straight into a full wheel backbend.

POP. I heard and felt the suffering the yoga sutras warn against as a disk between two lumbar vertebrae slipped out of place. I slowly lowered into a seat in the sand, hugging my knees to my chest, knowing exactly what my ego had just caused. It would be a month before I would attempt even the slightest backband again.

 

I’ve learned some lessons and have some more to learn.  Here are a few questions I have found to be helpful when navigating this dance:

  • Does the performance of this photo on social media affect the way I feel about myself?
  • How often do I check the performance statistics (likes, shares, comments, etc.) of this post?
  • I am trying more to teach a lesson (ego) or enter a conversation (loving kindness) with the caption?
  • Am I creating art out of an overflow of loving kindness or am I looking to be filled by seeking outside validation?
  • Is this photo honest? Does it look like me? Did I do the pose with integrity? Do I feel I need to edit it to smooth out my skin or hide an unflattering area?
  • Am I proud of an accomplishment (hiking to a waterfall or holding a handstand) or am I trying to get people to like me, validate me, or become jealous of me?

Last month I even went on a selfie fast. No selfies on social media, not even in my 24-hour “story” posts, as well as not even taking selfies just in case I wanted to post them later. It was awesome, a real learning experience and something I recommend trying if it resonates with you.

Yoga teaches us that all experiences are valuable and that enlightenment comes from consistent practice after a long time (Yoga Sutra 1.14). For me the practice happens as much on my smartphone, editing photos while icing my back, as it does on the mat stretching my back trying to recover from an injury of vanity!

Melanie Williams

Melanie is passionate about growth on all levels. As a student of math and physics in graduate school Melanie went on to listen to her heart and peruse her dream of building a business where her work could have a direct effect on the happiness levels of those around her. Melanie is a marathoner, surfer, former women’s pro-football player, nutritionist and personal trainer. Through yoga, Melanie has found a way of understanding the ups and downs of life. She shares her experience by leading several classes per week, providing for her students a place of rest for the mind and growth in the soul.