In November, Spirit Bear Yoga created challenge to encourage positive thinking called Gain Frame 21. The challenge also pushed us to focus on our Instagram and Facebook content . It was an interesting experience for me, as the emphasis was on capturing photos and brevity in describing our thoughts, which both pushed me outside of my comfort zone!
Then, at the start of December, we decided to try another challenge – this time sponsored by other yogis on Instagram. (Note: If you’d like to see pictures of yogis dressed as elves doing variations on yoga twists, then you’ll enjoy our adventure with the #TwistyChristmas challenge.) As Tara and I found matching costumes and worked on getting the poses perfected to post on Instagram for this challenge, I began to ponder some issues with authenticity and yoga as it exists in social media. This is not a new topic, many yogis ponder and postulate about the impact technology, marketing, and photo-editing has on the integrity of yoga, but for me it was the first time the colliding worlds of the authentic yogi and the Instagram yogi affected me personally.
“This is why I like writing about yoga better,” I rationalized to myself. “It’s so much more genuine, authentic, unfiltered.”
Or is it?
As I type and edit, reread and revise, consider my audience, and then revise some more – aren’t I “filtering” my words? Don’t I carefully select what I want to say and take time to make sure it’s clear? Is that any different than taking 50 photos of a handstand so that you can capture the ONE shot that makes it look effortless? Or deciding which lighting makes your skin look clearer, your legs look thinner and the angle that ensures your pose looks perfect?
The truth is, our words and our photos can both be filtered, and they can both be manipulated. So, what’s a yogi to do? Is it better to be completely raw? Do I become more authentic if I simply type stream-of-consciousness style or ignore conventions like punctuation or grammar? Should I allow obscenities to flow freely on the page because that’s what might pop into my mind? Is that being authentic? And there are plenty of images on Instagram that seem to adhere to the idea that more skin must be more real or that no polish is needed before posting. Are those pictures more yogic? Or maybe the West has just corrupted the concept of authenticity by over-filtering everything until we don’t know what real is anymore?
Still, I don’t think the ancient yogis were without their own “filters” either. Patanjali writes in the Yoga Sutras:
Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively
Toward and object and sustain that direction
Without any distractions.
Patanjali is, in essence, asking the yogi to filter distractions from the mind in order to focus clearly. In this sense, filter is used as a synonym for clarify, purify, or refine. Desikachar wrote of his father, the great yogi Krishnamacharya, “no one ever used words more carefully than my father.” If Krishnamcharya carefully weighed his words, then I think it reveals to modern day yogis that being authentic doesn’t have to mean without consideration, processing, or editing. But it should be tied to the concept of clarity. In other words, what clarity do our words and actions provide others about who we truly are?
Consider the following:
Webster defines one use of the word raw as:
a (1) : being in or nearly in the natural state : not processed or purified <raw fibers> <raw sewage> (2) : not diluted or blended <raw spirits> b : unprepared or imperfectly prepared for use c : not being in polished, finished, or processed form
On the other hand, authentic is defined as:
true to one's own personality, spirit, or character
We may start raw, but yoga calls us to be authentic. There is a difference. To move from rawness to authenticity requires filtering. The yogi should seek ways to clarify, purify and refine towards truth. We do reveal something about ourselves in the words we use and even in the pictures we share on social media. How authentic - or raw -- we choose to be in those moments is a choice. We can communicate not only through what we reveal, but also by what we filter. I’m not content to stay raw, but I need to recognize that authenticity doesn’t mean perfection either. Like so many things in life, and in yoga, it’s a delicate balance.
Now, if there was just an Instagram filter for that…