By: Kristin Diversi
For the past several years, it has been trendy for people to post pictures of themselves in yoga asanas.
Handstands in the snow, backbends in urban landscapes, beautiful standing poses on the edges of canyons and cliffs—incredible, aesthetically pleasing images that advertise the power of a personal yoga practice. These images say that it is possible to master the body through union with the mind and spirit, and all of that, the whole being, is beautiful.
And that’s lovely. I don’t have an issue with that—when that is the sentiment.
But is it?
How often is the sentiment, “I can do a handstand! Look at me! I am Awesome! Yoga RULES! Namaste, bitches!”
That is not yoga. Posting pictures of asanas to show that we can do them is not yoga.
To advertise ourselves, our classes, our physicality—it’s like posting our race times in 5ks. Sure, they’re cool accomplishments, and they’re fantastic, but they’re not yoga: they’re beautiful shapes.
Without the mind and spirit in union (yoga: to yoke, to be in union), they are a physical feat.
And again—it’s fine. Do it. Post away. Dancer on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Handstand next to a sculpture in New York City. Crow on a staircase. These are awesome, beautiful physical feats of strength and flexibility.
But please do not post under the guise that these are the purpose, the end, to a yoga practice.
They are one branch—asana—on an eight limbed path of yoga.
Students join yoga classes in record numbers each year wanting these shapes—wanting these bodies. They wonder why they can’t bend this way, fly that way or look like that guy they saw hashtagged #yogaeverydamnday.
It makes me sad.
What if students came to class wanting to be able to be at peace, in the body they have? To have flexibility, in the mind they are blessed with? To look at themselves, and want to engage in a lifelong discovery of the person they see?
To love that person? And, subsequently, to love others, in equanimity?
Take a picture of that. Hashtag that.
When we can show the beauty of that practice, we will be doing yoga a service. Until then, we display our bodies and call the mastery of them a spiritual feat—we call it yoga.
I’ve done it. I did a full wheel on some rocks on a beach—it looked ok. People passed me and gave me weird looks. I felt foolish. Look at me! I am so bendy.
I did a photo shoot for an awesome shoe store in my old town, wearing high heels and posing in various shapes. I’m tall. The pictures were aesthetically pleasing.
I was even the main model for a yoga apparel line, designed by two awesome yogis with a goal to create clothing for people with real bodies and evolving practices. But never once did those pictures—the taking of them or the publishing of them—feel like a yoga practice.
I felt attractive. I felt proud of what my body could do—after all, I had spent years working on mastering those shapes. I also feel the same when I am able to lift a heavier weight at the gym, or go a little longer on the treadmill.
But it was a reminder that, pleasing as the pictures were, they weren’t my full practice. Just like my outer body isn’t an indication of my inner spirit, my yoga asana isn’t an indication of my yoga practice.
Or, as I’ve said before, just because I can do a handstand doesn’t mean I’m not an asshole.
Similarly, just because someone can’t touch their toes doesn’t mean they don’t have a beautiful yoga practice.
Lately I have noticed a lot of pictures of people sitting in meditation—or, in a meditation seat—with their eyes closed, hands in a mudra. And every time, I feel like something sacred is being violated. Would we take a picture of someone praying? Why do we feel the need to take a picture of our meditation practice? As proof that we do it?
Validation to the outer world that yes, we are real yogis? Because, of course, unless someone is sneaking up on us while we are sitting, unknown to us, these aren’t pictures of us in meditation. They are staged—pictures of us playing at meditation. And we may even have meditation practices—but, why feel the need to publicize that? Does it make us better? More serious?
We can master handstand. We can have the most beautiful seat in the world, the most beatific, knowing smile as we sit for our meditation picture.
But these are trappings. And sometimes the trappings look like a practice.
“Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which leads to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.” ~ Chogyam Trungpa
Pema Chodron has said, “the point of meditating is not to be a better meditator. It is to be more awake in our lives.”
The point of our practice is not to nail handstand, or stick crow, or to make it look like a pretty thing that is facebook-able and hashtag searchable. It is to be more in union with the circumstances of our lives. To wake up, every day, every moment.
To be real. Can we take a picture of that?
A yoga practice is not something to enter into without wanting to get to know some serious shit about ourselves—some of it will be beautiful, but a lot of it will be jarring to the foundation of our souls. It might be ugly. Our lives might be shaken, and we may find ourselves questioning the very bedrock of our person, of the lives we have carefully built.
I’m not an expert. I can’t stick handstand, and my meditation practice is evolving every day. But I’m pretty sure that means we’re doing it right.
It won’t be comfortable. It won’t always be beautiful. But it will be real.
And that is what I want to see a picture of—that is the practice I want to see.
That is the practice that will change our lives.
Kristin Diversi is a star child, born and bred in rural New Jersey and currently enjoying the good coffee and fried chicken in Durham, North Carolina. Kristin received her Master’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science and through nutrition, yoga, and mindful living, she is dedicated to empowering people with the resources to change their health, future, and lives. Find the things that make you come alive- and go do them! Find her at her blog, on Twitter or on Facebook!
Editor: Daniel Scharpenburg/Dana Gornall