This won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me in person, but I have a love-hate, approach-avoidance relationship with social media. I recognise that as a freelance, self-employed yoga teacher, it's necessary for me to use these platforms to promote my classes and engage with current and potential future students online. I also value these platforms because I have noticed that less socially outgoing students sometimes feel comfortable interacting with me online before they will start a face-to-face conversation, and in this way, instagram, facebook and twitter can be really helpful ways to break the ice and establish a more personal relationship with a student. I also have moments when I actually like instagram and facebook and feel like they help me learn something new or interact with people I might not otherwise cross paths with.
But I am increasingly worried, and confused, about what we are trying to do, as yoga teachers, with our instagram accounts, in particular. And let me make one thing very clear before I write anything else: I am intentionally saying "we" here because I am as guilty as anyone else of sometimes using instagram in a confusing or less-than-upstanding way.
One way to unpack the most appropriate or mindful use of instagram for a yoga teacher is to try to remind ourselves of our roles as yoga teachers. Here's a short and certainly non-exhaustive list of some of the things I think yoga teachers are meant to do:
Teach asana, pranayama, chanting, philosophy, and/or meditation in a safe, effective, and sustainable way.
Educate students about the 8-limbed yoga path, including the parts of the yoga practice that may be harder to teach in the context of a 60-90 minute yoga class.
Build a space and community in which students feel comfortable engaging in self-study and asking questions.
Guide students to other teachers, teachings, or styles of yoga when it is clear they need more information that you cannot personally offer, or when a different approach may be more beneficial to that individual student.
Be a role model of how to embody the yamas and niyamas, while also reminding students of our own imperfections and that we are all "works in progress."
The problem is, none of those things make for very interesting instagram content. So, within our discipline, what we have done is look at what issuccessful on instagram and try to mimic it in a way that feels vaguely relevant for yoga. You don't have to scroll through many of the "big" non-yoga instagram feeds to learn what does well: fancy pictures or beautiful bodies and beautiful faces in beautiful locations, living enviably beautiful lives. And of course, this is unsurprising given both the strengths and the constraints of this medium. Unfortunately, when yoga teachers try to emulate this content and transform it for our own discipline, we often pervert or lose sight of our purposes as yoga teachers.
Here's a short and certainly non-exhaustive list of some of the things I'm pretty sure yoga teachers are not meant to do but seem to do a lot of on the internet:
Practice a disproportionate number of asanas that look sexy online and/or are not achievable for the vast majority of students in their classes.
Expose our bodies in ways that lead people to respond with comments like "#bodygoals" or "#thoseabstho".
Foster a celebrity status for ourselves built around the pretense of an apparently enviable life, which may or may not be grounded in reality.
Foster more illusion ("maya") through (perhaps unintentionally) misleading posts about our own yoga practice or our own life on or off the mat.
Foster a community of students whose relationship with the teacher starts to seem scarily similar to guru-worship.
I believe that, online, we have lost sight of the fact that we are not meant to be goddesses or celebrities or wellness and fitness experts. We aren't even meant to be popular. We have signed up for a big, important, not-at-all-sexy job. We are TEACHERS. Do you remember your best teacher in school? I don't mean the young cool maths teacher who was straight out of University who you had a massive crush on. I mean the one who taught you the most. Did they lead an enviable life? Did you even KNOW anything about their life? Were they always perfected coifed? Were they your friend? The answer to all of those questions is almost certainly no.
I want to preserve and protect the unique role of being a teacher. I've done an imperfect job of remembering what is important about this job as I tried to navigate the world of social media, but I am working to do a better job. I don't know how to do this while still engaging with instagram, so I'm taking a little break for the time being. I might be back, in some form or another, in a few weeks or months when I've had a chance to consider how to navigate this medium in a way that feels more in line with my aims as a teacher. Until then, I hope that by not posting on instagram, I'll have more time to write on this blog and I hope you'll share your thoughts we me as I go.
We're all just learning, everyday. Here's to trying to learn and teach the very best way we know how.