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.
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?
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:
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.