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.
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.