There is a movement afoot.
Yoga selfies are virtually ubiquitous in the internet age, but they haven’t been without controversy. Are they inspiring? Are they discouraging? Are they perpetuating an unrealistic, stereotypical image of yoga? What’s their intention, anyway?
While some of us may be wondering, what’s the big deal? There are others who might say what we see as representations of yoga has a big impact on our perception of yoga. Hence movements like the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, an initiative challenging the narrow definitions of who yoga is, and alternative selfie missions like My Real Yoga Body and the new #realyogaselfie project, seeking space to share yoga beyond the physical practice. Their tagline: “Show the world your #realyogaselfie. Devoted daily yoga practice beyond the physical, closer to the Self.”
What makes it a real yoga selfie, and why should we care? We checked in with Caitlin Casella, founder of the #realyogaselfie project, to find out.
YD: What is the #realyogaselfie project and what was your intention in creating it?
Caitlin: #realyogaselfie project is a forum for raising awareness and asking questions about the way yoga is portrayed in the mainstream media and in marketing.
The intention is to tell a story about yoga that emphasizes the process over the finished product. A realistic portrayal of what a daily yoga practice looks like, however messy, mundane or awe inspiring it might be. People of all shapes, sizes, ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds are practicing yoga in deeply personal and unique ways. Devoted daily practice is happening in homes, yoga studios, gyms, and off the mat in daily lives.
I see this as a platform for educating ourselves, yoga beginners, yoga teachers and future teachers about the benefits of yoga and empowering practitioners with a realistic vision of the diversity, adaptability and uniqueness possible in personal practice.
It’s hard to avoid yoga selfies these days. Why did you feel it was necessary to create an alternate space to share them?
Our current yoga culture has been bombarded with imagery that seeks public approval. As the Hollywood and fashion industries perpetuate a skewed picture of reality, so does much of our mainstream yoga imagery. I’m tired of looking at polished, highly stylized, fashion/travel magazine worthy images of impressive yoga poses. I’ve viewed (and cringed at) too many yoga selfies that show poses pushed beyond the limit of what could be considered safe and appropriate range of motion for most bodies. I’m more interested in seeing the day-to-day efforts and step-by-step progress of a practice that exercises self care and self respect over outward impressions from others.
Side note: some may argue those images of fancy, stylized poses are “real yoga” as well…what would you say to them?
I am inspired when I look at an image of a difficult pose done well. Of course that’s real yoga. I’m not saying that #realyogaselfie images are the only real yoga, but I have seen more than enough in the pose-to-impress genre. I’m simply asking myself and the yoga community, “What do we learn from these images? What can they teach us about the meaning of yoga and about ourselves? How can we showcase practices that are safe, accessible and offer greater benefit to a wider population? How can we share yoga’s benefits beyond the physical practice?”
Do you believe there’s too much of a focus on the physical practice of yoga today?
I do believe that the fitness industry has hijacked certain aspects of the physical practice of yoga. Most yoga and fitness marketing exploits physical prowess, strength and flexibility over sensitivity, restraint and mindfulness.
That said, I also believe that we can approach fitness, athleticism and yoga asana in a way that educates and brings out the deeper benefits of mental focus, relaxation, and a closer/healthier relationship with the Self. More people are receiving these benefits than we realize.
What is your hope the #realyogaselfie project will accomplish?
My hope is that #realyogaselfie will help to showcase the tremendous work happening below the surface of the skin. I’d like to expand our understanding of the word “selfie” to mean anything in yoga practice that brings one closer to the Self.
CONNECT: #realyogaselfie on facebook and twitter @realyogselfie
About Caitlin: Caitlin Casella is a yoga teacher and photographer in NYC and leads teacher trainings and retreats in the US and internationally. After moving to New York in 1999, Caitlin turned to yoga for stability and solace. As a yoga teacher she empowers students with the tools to organize the body in a way that brings awareness of breath and focus to the mind, fosters a safe practice for those recovering from injury, and builds a solid platform for healthy practice. Caitlin’s interest in anatomy, through the lens of visual arts and movement practices, has inspired her to deeper study of the human body – its layers and patterns, how movement connects us to our environments, to each other, and to the Self. More about Caitlin at www.caitlincasella.com.
This is definitely a hashtag I’ll support! I have supported and posted to #myrealyogabody a plenty and will definitely take some for #realyogaselfieproject in the future! Love that the community is not completely fighting the ‘selfie’ craze, but trying to see it from a different light and honor everyone regardless of gender, race, age, weight, etc.
what you’re seeing is real, what you’re thinking is real, what you’re seeking is real; your animosity is real, your urges are real, your failure is real; revelation is real, etc.
A real yoga selfie would show someone experiencing Citta Vrtti Nirodaha. Everything else is just ego and delusion.
“A real yoga selfie would show someone experiencing Citta Vrtti Nirodaha. Everything else is just ego and delusion.”
Bingo! 100% correct.
“I’ve viewed (and cringed at) too many yoga selfies that show poses pushed beyond the limit of what could be considered safe and appropriate range of motion for most bodies. ”
Why stop at “cringe”?
Do you have use of your hands? Do you not know your mudras?
I have often used an American “mudra”–raising the middle finger in reaction/response to seeing some of these selfies … even now having been convinced that those selfies aren’t all about commercialized yoga #selfpromotion …
Although, after 7 years of regular yoga practice, THAT’s my double-pigeon. AND I even dance!
I will PROLIFICALLY and supportingly comment to blogs of selfie photographers and videographers who, in an expansive, non-snooty way, state their case.
I guess I discriminate against non-literary/semi-illiterate/barely verbal advanced (in asana mostly) yogis, but that’s the limitations of the media transmission speed in my household and my brain … particularly now that I am off of Facebook …
When someone is literate about their yoga selfies, and expresses it … it lessens the triggering effect of the selfie on me. I’ve gotten to the point where it could be a two-way street.
If I’d never gotten involved with commercialized yoga and had certain experiences during commercialized yoga classes, all these selfies would not mean much to me …
I’m disappointed. This doesn’t seem to make sense to me, why doesn’t this concept of self acceptance in yoga relate to people who are slender and flexible? Why is there so much more compassion for people who have trouble keeping weight off and none for those who can’t keep weight on? The overwhelming disapproval of extremely flexible or strong yoga practioners is disappointing because that person is now being looked down upon. As a yoga teacher, students express envy over my flexibility and I find it embarrassing and end up self depreciating in order to spare them from their own body issues. I wish some people could appreciate the fact that yogis blossom AS yogis because their bodies are perhaps built to do so? Clearly the author of this article is a particularly talented writer, that’s a gift- one that I wasn’t given. But I was given hyperextension and a slender frame. What about the accountant who can afford to pay the expensive classes but doesn’t have the flexibility in his lumbar spine to ease into cobra- should I self depreciate for him even though he is actually good at working with numbers while I have to use calculators and count on my fingers? Just let people be who they are. Everyone has something they understand or a natural pull to, why not just let those “annoying” “skinny” “flexible” yoga people be themselves?
One of the yogis I DO follow, in a way; and not just on his blog from time to time (J. Brown) has stated at least one incontrovertible fact, along with Matthew Remski – surprisingly, his entire blog has of late become one screed of injury prevention, etc., etc., etc.
There is a difference between being inspired by a selfie and aspiring to (which could span future lifetimes as a time frame) what’s depicted in a selfie …
People should know the difference between the two words. What’s inspiring to someone flexible and advanced (in asana, mostly) or advanced-identified … could be a vague, far-off aspiration to me. If I want to stay out of the hospital and manage my diseases.
They should also stop proselytizing, then.
Yoga people should stop saying that their way cures everything.
I have trouble keeping weight on, am NO kind of Gumby, and dropped out of accounting school a long time ago; so I could tell if the commercialized yoga world is trying to rip me off in an instant, while still being without the ability to be a CPA to pay for live classes up the patoot.
It’s interesting… I just wrote a blog post about this and in doing some research for it I found the #realyogaselfie hashtag.
I do find some of the stylized yoga selfies inspirational, but I also know that in trying to introduce my friends and family to yoga (thinking maybe they’ll like it, maybe they won’t, but it’s done wonders for me!), their preconceived notions about what yoga is and their perceptions about the limitations of their own bodies prevent them from giving it a try, even though they want to.
My humble opinion is that projects like this one help balance out the conventional wisdom on yoga. Yoga is a practice that is sometimes intense, sometimes light-hearted, sometimes graceful, sometimes awkward, and it’s nice to see it depicted as such.
It’s funny that you should mention the movie Dodgeball in your blog, Average (can I call you “Average”? You don’t seem average to me. On the other hand, I am very much average.)
I had the great “fortune” to have been schooled for a while at the “Globo Gym” of small, faux-homey spiritually-inclined yoga studios by their founder, the “White Goodman” of yoga. This was about six years ago, further away from the end of this Kali Yuga we’re in. I’d enrolled in several series of vinyasa yoga classes taught by these young people in a hurry. Location was the then-closest studio to where I lived, that had a wood floor and looked polished and serene.
So, I would not comment in the way I do if it hadn’t been an introduction like that.
It was not a selfie but something like a martial arts-like demo that drew me in. Had I been introduced via selfie, I would not have given that place a second glance. Because I know what’s behind them; and places/teachers like that will not meet the student where they are, until they prove that they do.
Yogabeyondtheasanas.com has been trying to get this message out for several years. Love the hashtag idea.