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.

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.