Mandy’s blog: My ego needs to chill about Instagram yoga challenges

If you are a domesticated pet enthusiast, you’ve probably seen those cute articles about “pet shaming.” They are usually full of pictures of dogs or cats who have done something terrible, like destroying the couch cushions, with a sign nearby that says something like “I thought my mom’s favorite pillow was strawberry flavored.”

If today you could see a picture of my ego, it would probably have a handwritten sign next to it that says “I take myself too seriously to participate in Instagram yoga challenges.”

Yoga challenges on Instagram are one of the first connections I ever had to a broader yoga community. For the first several years of my practice, I was a home yogi, learning from the internet and books, trying to make sense of the great big world of yoga from my computer. Instagram opened up my practice into something bigger than it might ever have been otherwise.

And then I started to teach. And then I got certified.

It’s a very natural transition, I think, for a yoga instructor who goes through the grueling 200 hours of training to look at Instagram yogis with a little bit of concern. I have blogged before about the phenomenon of judging Instagram Yoga as not “real” yoga, but as some form of appropriated contortion that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what real yoga is supposed to be. (Spoiler alert: that perspective comes from the ego too.)

These days I struggle to get back into Instagram yoga challenges. I want to push back against the commercialization of yoga, and promoting big brands on my Instagram feed when what I want to do is teach yoga feels counterintuitive.

But I know from experience that participating in these challenges opens me up to the broader community, allows me to be a part of something in a way that my natural lone-wolf personality doesn’t do very well.

I need community. So do you. It’s a fact of human existence. And at a time in my life when I spend my days in my home by myself or with my daughter, Instagram yoga challenges would be a great way for me to connect with other yogis and share my passion.

Maybe I can even do some good for other baby yogis like I once was, and expand their horizons beyond the beautiful shapes we make with our bodies into the beautiful shapes we make with our souls when we truly practice full, holistic yoga.

What judgmental yogis mean when they claim your hard-won yoga pose isn't "real yoga" is, more accurately, that your pose is the tip of the incredible yoga iceberg.

NEWBIE YOGIS: What “Instagram Yoga is Not Real Yoga” Actually Means

What judgmental yogis mean when they claim your hard-won yoga pose isn't "real yoga" is, more accurately, that your pose is the tip of the incredible yoga iceberg.

So you discovered yoga and took to Instagram or YouTube to study under the greats. You followed every how-to and #yogainspo account you could find, and now you’re learning.

Dominating Downward Dog.

Crushing Caturanga.

Flourishing in our Forearm Wheel.

But then, sure as the setting sun, along comes that one person to ruin your day and your feed with “Instagram yoga isn’t REAL yoga.”

But if that’s not yoga, what on earth is?

What most judgmental enlightened yogis who claim “that’s not real yoga!” often fail to do is explain why they feel this way, or what, if anything, “real” yoga actually is. The sweeping condemnation can be really hard to take, especially after hours and hours of practice to get into the poses that make up what we think of when we hear the word “yoga.”

So, to help out a little, here’s my perspective on what “that’s not real yoga” actually means.

It’s actually kind of true.

As much as it sucks to admit, in a big way, the claim that Instagram how-tos aren’t “real yoga” is kind of – almost – true. The reality is that what we see on social media (primarily gorgeous poses and postures) is only one of the pieces of yoga. Yoga, as a whole, is made up of eight “limbs,” each as vital as the next. The yoga we see online is called asana, and it’s just the third limb on the tree.

So when you stretch your body using yoga postures, you’re only doing one-eighth of the yoga that is available to you. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing! But…

Most of yoga happens outside of the poses.

As I mentioned above, asana is only one of the eight limbs of yoga, and since each limb builds on the next, it’s the jumping-off point for three other crucial pieces of a complete yoga practice, and meant to be built upon the two limbs that precede it.

Here’s how the whole tree looks:

The eight limbs of yoga | tenaciousmandy.comYama – how we interact with others

Niyama – how we interact with ourselves

Asana – the poses of yoga

Pranayama – breath control

Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses

Dharana – concentrated focus

Dhyana – meditative immersion

Samadhi – bliss


It’s easier to see, when it’s all laid out in a row, how asana is just a slice of the bigger pie.

In a very real way, “that’s not real yoga” really means “that’s not ALL of what yoga can be.

And that’s amazing news, because…

You can practice yoga without doing any poses.

When we reduce yoga to the asana limb, it’s easy to be discouraged when you can’t access a pose. Watching Insta yogis tackle out-of-reach poses like the splits or handstand (particularly if you’re a Spoonie Yogi) can make you feel like a bad yogi.

The amazing news is that when we look at the whole tree, we find there is a TON of yoga left to practice that doesn’t require the mobility of an old-school Barbie doll.

We can practice the Yamas and Niyamas every day as we interact with the world.

We can practice Pranayama to control our anxiety.

We can practice Dharana and Dhyana in the quiet hours just before bed or upon waking in the morning.

We can truly incorporate yoga into our lives in an impactful and respectful way without ever touching the mat. Whew! So this means…

Yoga really is for everyone.

Not just the flexible, the strong, the stalwart, and the skinny. Yoga is for everyone because it is so much more than what we see on social media, in the best way.

So what now?

If you feel like you’re ready to expand your yoga practice beyond the physical, there is so much for you to explore! Start by picking up a copy of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, where all of these limbs are outlined. (You can find a free ebook of it here.)

If you love Instagram, trying searching for each of the limbs in hashtags – there are a lot of amazing teachers out there who would be happy to help you broaden your knowledge and practice of yoga. (And I’m on Instagram too, of course!)

Tip: if you’re worried about the quality of your Instagram yoga education, try looking for yogis with “RYT 200/500” in their bio. This means they have completed a 200 or 500 hour yoga teacher training course and registered with an internationally-recognized yoga association.

Yoga teachers, you and I can do better. We can do our part to teach yoga as a whole practice, instead of focusing on the asanas to the exclusion of all else. I’m so blessed to have met so many incredible teachers who already work hard to teach yoga as a comprehensive lifestyle, and I look forward to meeting many more!

And newbies, the next time some killjoy shows up on your feed to announce that your recent win with Wild Thing Pose isn’t “real” yoga, you can smile to yourself and move on, knowing that your practice of yoga is your own, and no one, even the judgmental enlightened yogis of the internet, gets to decide how you express it.

MANDY’S BLOG: More than pretty shapes – the origins of Asana

These days, by and large, we celebrate the physical benefits of yoga – and there are many! Hatha (body-focused) yoga is most popular in the western world and offers a ton of gorgeous postures, or asanas, for our personal betterment or to share with the world.

Instagram and Pinterest offer us so many tutorials and how-tos for creating that perfect yoga shape. In our pursuit of the next beautiful posture, it can be easy to lose sight of the “why.” Why are we doing the asanas we’re doing?

Maybe the reason is fully physical. We have tight hamstrings, so we sink into a deep wide-legged forward fold. Our shoulders are sore, so we play in Puppy Pose.

I love the physical benefits of my practice. I got into yoga in middle school to give myself a mode of exercise that wasn’t too hard on my tender muscles and fragile joints. But sometimes I start to itch for something else. A bigger reason. An older one.

In the Sanskrit, Asana means “seat.” It refers to the postures the ancient yogis would adopt to facilitate their meditation. Every asana they practiced was designed to align the energy in their bodies and get their minds into the proper state for the type of meditation they wanted to practice.

Nowadays the little meditation I do in each asana has more to do with getting into and out of the postures than getting out of my mind and into my higher Spirit. I’d like to change that. I’d like to do more Dharana (single-pointed focus meditation) than it takes to stay balanced in Tree Pose and more Dyana (detachment from the mundane) than I find in a deep, yummy Yoga Nidra session.

I still love yoga for its physical benefits and I don’t see anything wrong with practicing Hatha yoga for that reason! My practice can serve more than one purpose, and yoga is, at its core, what I need it to be.

But as I lever my way into the balance poses, or twist myself into the more pretzel-y ones, I want to reconnect with the ancient yogis who, millennia before me, knew that meditation and growth starts with the asana.

Asana is only the third limb of the tree of yoga for a reason, after all.

SPOONIE YOGIS: Your throat chakra wants you to cool it on the oversharing

Spoonie Yoga Throat ChakraI believe that one of the universal needs of human beings is to be heard and understood – ESPECIALLY for Spoonie Yogis, who know that being seen is a vital part of being whole.

Language and communication evolved for a reason, and being able to speak our truth and have people hear, accept, and validate it is one of the most powerful things we can experience.

The lore around Vishuddha (our truth-telling throat chakra) tells the story of Lord Shiva, who drank the poison of the world, and in his throat, turned it to nectar. That’s what our truth can be – the transmuting of something awful into something nourishing and powerful. But sometimes when Spoonie Yogis get out of balance, that positive, beautiful sharing turns into stressed-out oversharing, which can begin to push people away rather than pulling them in, and perpetuate the feelings of loneliness and rejection Spoonies already face.

Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. It’s not oversharing, it’s not purging, it’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity-style social media information dumps. Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them. Being vulnerable and open is mutual and an integral part of the trust-building process.

― Brené BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Here are a few signs that your truth-telling throat chakra is spinning a little bit out of control, and what you can do to more mindfully and deliberately share your truth with those who deserve to hear it.

You might be oversharing if:

People withdraw or feel uncomfortable when you share your truth

As with most things, this one has exceptions and nuance, because sometimes people need to hear things that make them feel uncomfortable. But if every time you share your story, secret, or opinion, someone in your sphere shrinks away from you, it might be that you’re getting a little too personal with people who are not ready to see that much of you.

How to modify:

Be stingier about who you let hear your truth

I know this sounds counter intuitive to the purpose of Vishuddha, but sometimes as Spoonies we can accidentally let our inner circle get too big and need to rein it in again.

Pick one or two close friends to vent to on the daily, instead of sharing with everyone you come across. Those truth-telling sessions will be more meaningful and more cathartic. You also run less risk of judgement or rejection.

You might be oversharing if:

You notice your spoonie experience spilling into every aspect of your social media presence

This one is tough. We share about our lives everywhere, because we experience our struggles all day, every day. We’re also hounded by people who would “rather not hear about it” so much (and Spoonie Yogis know how hurtful/selfish that perspective is.) In reclaiming our space in the rest of the world, we overcompensate by putting our experiences on every social platform we have, in every post we make.

How to modify:

Create a social media presence specific to your experience

It feels impossible to compartmentalize an experience that pervades every part of your life. Believe me, I know it’s a hard thing to put pain and illness on the back burner when you’re in the midst of it 24/7. But creating a Pinterest board, a separate Instagram, or a new Twitter account for your spoonie experiences not only gets them out of your head in a real way, it invites other Spoonie Yogis to join your community by allowing you to be totally honest and real in a safe space you control.

And don’t forget to post on your other, generalized social media about other things! Even when it feels like your illness, disability, or pain is 100% of your life, I promise you it isn’t. Showcase the whole you.

You might be oversharing if:

You begin to feel like you’re educating everyone in your life

People rarely study things that don’t impact them firsthand. When I overshare with people who aren’t in my support circle, I find myself answering the same questions over and over.

“Isn’t Celiac just tummy troubles?” Well, no…

“Why do you use a cane sometimes but not other times?” It’s kind of complicated…

“What do you mean you’re getting diagnosed again?” It’s a long process…

Answering the same basic questions ad nausea can feel overwhelming.

How to modify:

Ask your inner circle to really research your illness

The day my boyfriend did the legwork to educate himself on my illness, our whole relationship changed. He saw me differently, understood my struggles better, and knew how to converse with me about my symptoms. I started to feel seen and heard. It would be difficult to ask the same of every person I meet and share with, but my inner circle peeps know what’s up.

You deserve to tell your story. You deserve to share your experiences. With a smaller inner circle of dedicated, educated supporters and a way to invite the wider world into your community, that sharing can be easy, productive, and super cathartic.

Now go turn that poison into nectar, you incredible Spoonie!


HOME YOGIS: Start Your Mindfulness Practice in 1 Minute Flat

Mindfulness is one of the most valuable tools in the yogi’s toolbox. Mindfulness meditation can lower anxiety, sharpen decision making, and even help you sleep better! One minute of mindfulness here and there throughout your day can make a world of difference in your life.

And the best news? One minute is all you need to get started!

Whether you’re a busy parent, a busy entrepreneur, a busy teacher, or just busy, you can spare one minute, right? Easy Peasy. Here’s how to practice one minute mindfulness.

Pick a “mindfulness trigger” to remind you to practice.

Mine is my car. I drive at least once a day, so using my car as my trigger ensures I get my mindfulness practice once a day. When I park my car, I turn off the ignition, put both hands on the steering wheel. That’s my moment to begin my practice, and after a few rounds of this, it became an easy habit.

If you don’t drive enough to borrow my trigger, maybe you can use the shower, brushing your teeth, loading the dishwasher, or taking a daily medication as your trigger. Anything you do habitually will work!

Hit “pause” on your mental to-do list.

This is often the hardest – but most crucial – part of mindfulness for most people. It’s also the very reason we practice it! Mindfulness gives us the space to set aside our fast-paced mental load and just be for a few wonderful moments. And like anything else in Yoga, it’s a practice, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t come naturally right away!

Mindfulness depends on our ability to set aside the to-do list, the worries, the regrets, and the hopes of the day and focus fully on the present moment. Click To Tweet

Focus on what you feel.

Starting from your feet upward, notice every physical sensation in your body. Feel your feet on the floor, your pants on your legs, your shirt on your shoulders, your hair on your neck. Tune into the little sensations we train ourselves to tune out, like the weight of your watch on your wrist or your glasses on your nose. It’s okay if all this noticing makes you feel a little itchy – that’s a feeling to notice too!

Take five to seven full breaths.

Breathe first into the lowest part of your belly, and let it balloon out like the happy Laughing Buddha. Give your stomach all the space it wants! Then let your breath fill the middle and finally the top of your lungs. Feel a little stretch across your collarbone as you finish your inhale.

To exhale, reverse your path. Exhale the breath at the top of your lungs first, then the middle, then lastly the air from the lowest part of your belly. Feel your pelvic floor muscles engage as you expel every bit of breath and pause for a beat before beginning your next breath.

Express gratitude.

As you near the end of your one minute mindfulness practice, take a second to feel gratitude for what you have and who you are. Thank yourself for expressing care by practicing your one minute mindfulness. You’re amazing. Your body and mind will be so much healthier for this one minute of love.

MANDY’S PRACTICE: Sound Bath vs the Chitta

Tonight I had the amazing opportunity to experience a sound bath led by my dear friend Mokeph. She’s a healer and sound therapist who plays Tibetan singing bowls, gongs, crystal bowls, chimes, and other auditory goodies to create a super restful hour.

Participants laid on mats and blankets, resting as completely as possible while the sound rolled over us. It was magical. I saw color auras for the different instruments and sounds, and even at one point experienced a tactile hallucination that felt like my 3-year-old daughter was snuggled against my chest, fast asleep. I had to open my eyes to be sure she wasn’t actually there. It was that real.

But at first, I wasn’t feeling or seeing anything but my new website, the email blast I’m creating for the studio where I work, and the pile of dishes in my sink.

For the first half of this powerful time my mind was trapped in the mundane. I couldn’t snap out of work mode. I felt the hamster wheel of my brain spinning along at its usual lightning fast pace and couldn’t slow it.

In Sanskrit, the word for the feeling of a runaway mind is chitta. It refers to a chattering monkey who won’t leave you alone. And isn’t that so appropriate? Sometimes I feel like I have two children: a chattering, incessant, loud, overwhelming, demanding presence – always pulling on me, taking up my personal space, making everything 10 times harder than necessary – and my daughter.

But somehow, in the midst of the chitta, the sound broke through. I began to drift, not sleeping, but resting deeply in a practice we call Yoga Nidra (I’ll talk about this amazing type of yoga soon!) There I found colors, peaceful orchestrated parades of purple, red, yellow, and blue, floating through my vision in concert with the sound.

And as I finally felt the chitta release me into the most restful state I’ve experienced in a while, I felt in my arms, as real, as warm, and as heavy as my actual child, the spirit of my baby. It was so beautiful, and almost – almost – as perfect as the real thing.

YOGA TEACHERS: How to turn a rough class around in 5 steps

My bad classes usually come on the heels of a long week full of child-induced sleep deprivation and overwork. Most recently, my rough moment in class came in the form of mixing up left and right (my students’ right leg will be so strong now!) and confusing the word “knee” with the word “elbow.”

Not really what you want in a yoga teacher, right? I mean left. I mean- Dammit.

Teachers – you’re gonna have a bad class once in a while.

When the realization that you are not on your game starts to hit, don’t panic! There are some simple steps you can take to turn things around. Next time you find yourself making one too many mistakes, try one of these strategies.

Make a joke about your experience.

Yoga students like to know their teacher is human. Acknowledging your struggles can be a funny and personal point of connection with your class. Click To Tweet

Just be careful with this one, especially if you naturally resort to humor as a coping mechanism! One self-aware moment of humor can lighten the class atmosphere and help shake out the bugs. But remember, one is plenty! Then you’re ready for the next strategy…

Keep moving forward.

This is one of the most valuable tools I gained from my childhood piano lessons. When you make a mistake, don’t let it stop you. Keep going, even if you stumble along the way. Odds are, not everyone notices every mistake, and if you keep going, you can minimize the disruption. But if the mistakes keep piling up and you feel like you can’t shake it…

Take a beat.

Put your class in child’s pose and take a moment to breathe. Ground yourself and grab a moment of mindfulness. Offer yourself grace and remind yourself that our rough days give our lives color. You’ve got this! And if all else fails…

Head into Savasana early.

Or start your cooldown postures sooner than you planned. Moving from flow into restorative might give you the calm and space you need to finish out the class without any more issues. And once you’ve landed the plane and your students are safely in corpse pose…

Let it go.

You don’t have to spend time beating yourself up. Give yourself a moment of Aparigraha and let go what could have been. As you know, teaching yoga is every bit as instructive as taking yoga. Let yourself soak in the little lessons, then move on. You’re a great teacher, and your next class will be better.