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!