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Yoga in a Digital Age

in YogOpinions


By J. Brown

Information technology is transforming the way human beings engage and interact with one another. Like most industries, the yoga world is keen to embrace and capitalize on the new media. But without a clear understanding of how these technologies are affecting us and a conscious relationship to their usage, we are easily betrayed by their advertised promise.

I remember my first America Online email account. I maybe checked it once or twice a week. Now, I have a full blown addiction. Sometimes, as I am opening my inbox for a third time in fifteen minutes, I actually say to myself: “Why are you checking your email again? You just checked it.” But I still go ahead and open it all the same. You just never know when something important, a new opportunity, might pop up at any given moment. And my phone doesn’t even have email notifications turned on. For many of us, we no longer log in to check our email. Our email finds us.

Its hard to admit but I think the majority of my emails are not even being read. I sometimes take considerable time preparing an email, crafting it to make sure that it contains all I want to say and reads as intended, only to get a quick response to something that was in the first paragraph and nothing else. Chances are the recipient was in the back of a cab and only read the first few sentences before firing back. Everything is faster now. And we’re all trying to keep up. For the first time, regular people are reporting signs of stress that were previously reserved only for air traffic controllers and 911 operators. What was once only accessible by way of someones ability to remember it can now simply be looked up in a minute on Wikipedia, marking a change in human cognition and behavior.

“Just as television is better at broadcasting a soccer game occurring on the other side of the world than it is at broadcasting the pillow talk of the person next to you in bed, the net is better at creating simulations and approximations of human interaction from a great distance than it is at fostering interactions between people in the same place.” – Douglas Rushkoff

An email is no longer the same as a letter. Maybe it never was. But nowadays, if you don’t get to the point in a flash then chances are it’s being missed. And when our transmissions do not extend beyond 140 characters, meaningful content is inevitably lost to the gross and sensational. We have embraced the internet as a vehicle for connecting us to the world and generating new forms of communication, only to find ourselves feeling more disconnected, and endlessly searching for substance in a sea of Adwords.

Of course, when it comes to business, content and meaning are much less important than click through’s and sales. And while the net has made it possible for some businesses to grow in new ways, the massive scale of the internet perpetuates a myth that anyone can grow a small independent business into a global empire with nothing more than a DSL line and a website. Commercials for internet providers depict a man making dog biscuits at a corner store, cut to him standing beside a fleet of trucks filled with dog biscuits, cut to him in an executive office and celebrating his success on a yacht.

Even if your website, blog, youtube, facebook, twitter and instagram feeds actually drive some traffic to your yoga class, you are still going to need to back it up with something real. And no matter how amazing your posts might be, chances are they’re never going to get 30 million hits and launch you into yoga stardom.

Yoga training is rightly more concerned with well being than with wealth. But this means that yoga practitioners tend to be less business savvy and therefore more susceptible to the internet hype. Just look at how many budding yoga teachers have blindly posted full length videos of their yoga classes to YouTube, and the array of new internet portals that are springing forth to take advantage of all the content that is being given away for free, without any real consideration as to who is actually profiting from it. Very rarely, if ever, is the teacher reaping the same kind of benefits that the guys with the MBA degrees are.

Sure, it’s cool that our childhood Jetson’s-inspired dream has come true and we can now have yoga practice via a video chat. But let us not be mislead into believing that the internet will bring the world to our doorstep when, in actuality, it’s probably only going to provide directions to the people who live within a few miles radius. Whatever the web might be able to bring is only so good as our ability to maintain focus on what’s happening in our immediate spheres, and the relationships that are nurtured there.


J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY.  His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and across the yoga blogosphere.  Visit his website at yogijbrown.com
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