Today is all about social media and the way that it can strengthen and damage our physical, mental, and spiritual yoga practice.
Photo-driven social media such as Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and Facebook magnify what is already buried in our minds. The same platforms that encourage us to get off of the couch and onto our mats one day can have us crying in front of a mirror the next day. It’s not the platform or the people that we follow. It is we, the readers.
Mental health has a huge impact on the way that we process information. I cannot and will not adequately address that with any degree of grace.
But for many of us, we can learn how to keep our relationship with social media positive and uplifting. We must first identify why we open the damn apps in the first place. The second (more meta) goal is to think about our thoughts.
Why’d you open the app?
In the beginning, each time that I visited Tumblr was because I wanted ideas and inspiration. I think we all start off that way. Image-based social media can help us see what progress looks like, set goals, and get pumped about the journey ahead.
Back then, I was good at reminding myself that what I saw were usually edited versions of yogis lives. I wasn’t seeing how many times they fell on their asses, their muscles trembling with exertion, or the awkward phases between trying and reaching the full expression of an asana.
I encourage you to remember your intentions before you peruse anything regarding health or beauty. When we don’t remember those intentions, we run the risk of our thoughts working against us…
Herding Armed Cats
You know how cats are difficult to corral? Pissed off cats, armed with diamond-tipped claws, are damn near impossible, right? Our thoughts are the same. Any thoughts are hard to control but negative thoughts that have had time to fester can feel impossible to defeat.
My relationship with social media changed after about nine months of practice. I would open the apps to see who was doing what, and how long they’d been practicing. For a short time, my practice became competitive. I’m healthy. I’m dedicated. There is no reason why I can’t do what she’s doing if we’ve been practicing for the same amount of time. Then the self-defeating thoughts started. I can’t get into that asana because my thighs are too chubby. I can’t do what she can do because I’m so much weaker than she is.
The toughest part was knowing that my thoughts weren’t lies. My thighs are the thickest part of my body. I do have puny little arms. If I restrict my eating, I could lose weight. If I add more practice hours and got back into weight training, I could drop more pounds and gain strength. All truths. I could.
The more that I let those self-defeating thoughts take root, the more my practice suffered. I plateaued. Then I thought worse of myself for not making progress. The cats were out of control.
Negative thoughts could have carried me down a destructive path, a path lined with beautiful images of waif thin yogis balancing on one hand, all wearing expensive yoga pants, all giving me the finger. Unfortunately, that’s the path many of us begin to walk. To avoid common pitfalls like self-doubt, poor body image, and unhealthy competition, we yogis must approach images on social media mindfully.
Many factors stopped the negativity from getting worse but one of them was *drum roll* social media. It reemerged as a surprisingly beneficial tool once I reevaluated why I was surfing Instagram and what I was thinking while I did.
Rather than browsing the most popular images on my feed and getting frustrated with seemingly perfect rock stars, I intentionally searched for women of all shapes, sizes, and skill levels. I think it’s important that our dashboards include people who are beginners like we once were, people who are where we are, and people with practices that we aspire to. This broad approach can keep us level-headed and keep the rowdy cats at bay.
For example, some of my faves are wasiawasia, ladie_dulcie, sassy-yogi, biggalyoga, and little yogi. All of these lovely ladies are at different stages in their practice. They have different bodies. They inspire me in different ways.
It may also help to remember that comparisons are some of the dumbest shit we can do to ourselves. Some women are dancers, former gymnasts, professionals, or women who simply have more time to dedicate to their practice. Some, like my friend Shannon, are so naturally flexible that their progress happens effortlessly. There are no equal comparisons. Any time you’d spend in comparison is better spent on the mat.
Lastly, I’ve learned to tame my negative thoughts by replacing them with positive ones, like visualizing myself reaching my goals. I’m not very “deep” about it. Right after I shut off my phone for the night, the most recent images of fallen angel and headstand are still fresh in my mind. I imagine myself prepping, getting into them, holding them, coming out of them gracefully. When we visualize ourselves fulfilling our goals as easily and as often as we see ourselves brushing our teeth, we won’t have time to mediate on fears or negativity.
If your time on social media leaves you feeling worse than before, log out and uninstall the app until your mind is in a better place. No need to destroy your esteem for pics of people that you barely know. Getting your mind in the right place takes time but it’s worth it. Then you can enjoy social media for all of its benefits without the harmful side effects.