The Real Reason Behind the Yoga Selfie Debate

Lauren Burkart
The Real Reason Behind the Yoga Selfie Debate

Recently, I was seething at a popular blog article that referred to selfies as “yoga porn.” After a fuming tirade to about five hundred of my closest internet acquaintances, I began to ask myself some questions.

What is it about this topic that gets under my skin? Are these pictures inspirational or demoralizing? Do they build community or eliminate diversity? Are we educating people about the body or turning our forms into sexual objects? I have an answer to all of these questions, and it is a very untidy one.

Glossy images are appealing and attractive.

When I first began teaching yoga, I participated in many Instagram yoga challenges. I was overweight, and I had regular chronic pain and past injuries. Modifying asana was imperative in my own practice. I saw a lack of practitioners and teachers that looked like me, and I wanted to fill that void.

I understand the appeal of glamorous women performing difficult postures as much as anyone. I started yoga at 19 because I wanted to lose weight, be flexible, graceful, and beautiful. Instagram did not exist then. I saw dainty women on magazine and DVD covers, and I wanted their sleek yoga bodies.

I started asana practice to satisfy my ego, and I stayed because I received much more: body awareness, chronic pain reduction, ease of anxiety, and self-compassion.

The yoga community is changing for the better.

There is more diversity in Western yoga now than ever before. Many people have seen the lack of diversity and have taken steps to put their bodies, images, and lives on display to create an inclusive environment, and I applaud them.

We currently have a great moment of opportunity to educate others about diversity and compassion for all people. With that said, being accepting of diverse bodies does not mean we should shame fit people who do bikini-clad yoga on the beach.

Inclusivity means we invite all. We cannot beg to get a seat at the table, and turn around and say, “Now, all the people who don’t look like me need to leave.”

To start this revolution, we need to change our own perception.

In Rev. Jaganath Carrera’s “Inside the Yoga Sutras,” he states, “The mind is the mirror in which we perceive ourselves.”

We see our own bodies and others’ through a lens distorted by ignorance. The object that we are looking at is not the problem; the problem is our own mirror, our own mind. If I perceive someone as not beautiful enough for yoga, then I truly perceive myself as not beautiful enough.

We should hold ourselves personally accountable for our own experience. If I see a lack of overweight yoga teachers, then I need to be more visible to provide representation for my own kind. If I feel anger at people who do not look or think like me, then I need to foster compassion for myself.

Every feeling, thought, and judgment that this debate brings about is just another opportunity to practice acceptance.

This situation is an opportunity for self-reflection.

The yoga selfie trend and debate is whatever you perceive it to be. My mind believed that the author of the “yoga porn” article was the problem. It was a convenient explanation for my anger, and it made me feel better about myself. It was not the truth.

I fear criticism of women’s bodies because I fear criticism of my own body. I can stand on my soapbox and tell others to love overweight women until I am blue in the face, but the problem will never be solved until I stop beating myself up about my own body.

Yoga selfies and the arguments about them are not going away anytime soon. This is good. According to Carrera, “We develop acceptance every time we remind ourselves that no matter what occurs, it ultimately brings about our spiritual unfoldment.”

This body acceptance work is an inside job. We can include everyone and all be offered seats at the table, but until we can look in the mirror and see our true selves, the self that is beyond what is contained in our bodies, our work will never be done.