Yoga is no longer only available in studios or on retreats. Social media (hello, Instagram!) has made it possible to view others’ yoga lifestyle and watch their progress through beautiful and difficult yoga poses. This is a tempting way for many to either begin or deepen their yoga practice. There are pros and cons to this attempt that I think are important considerations:
Poses are done singularly rather than as a flow.
Let’s use gymnastics as an analogy to this: hanging from the playground bars isn’t the same as a parallel bar routine in the Olympics. It’s way out of context. The same could be said for a yoga pose out of its “flow.” Most are intended to transition to another. I am definitely guilty of this - practicing one pose at a time rather than flowing together. But to maximize the intended benefit of the pose, I think it’s really best with a proper warm up and pose series.
Social media provides motivation and inspiration.
Many of the yogis I follow on Instagram are light years ahead of me in terms of pose progression, but I love to see what they are capable of. It’s totally inspirational. It gives me something to work towards and a mental image of what I am trying to achieve. In many cases, I also have the opportunity to read about their backgrounds and current events, giving context to their practice. It’s also fun to see creative props and settings in which other yogis practice.
You are constantly shifting focus to check your phone or computer.
I can remember a very specific example of this while trying to perform Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose): I was on my living room floor and had pulled up a YouTube tutorial. I got very frustrated with having to keep picking up my phone, unlocking it, and restarting the tutorial. I finally just asked my husband to walk me through it based on the tutorial. It sort of worked, but ultimately my focus wasn’t there. I remember thinking to myself: “I don’t think this is the ‘idea’ behind achieving this pose.” It isn’t, of course. It is not about whether one’s Eight-Angle Pose looks the same as in a tutorial, it’s about the progression into a safe form and alignment for your body.
Self-paced yoga routines based on internet sources allows for personalization.
To me, this is a huge selling point. Sometimes it can be hard to sit in a studio class that just isn't right for you on that day. Maybe it’s too aerobic and what you needed was a lot of attention on your tight hamstrings. You as a student don’t have much control over that. There are also many students who are nervous about trying yoga for the first time in a class environment (I can’t tell you how many people tell me their first yoga experience was the P90X yoga DVD). There are websites designed just for this sort of thing, with online access to lots of class videos for fees less than that of a monthly studio membership. While you can’t always personalize the class, with these videos you are at least able to pick from a wide range of class types. You’re also able to make modifications as you feel comfortable without the pressure of keeping up with the rest of the class.
You are more likely to compromise form to achieve the final posture or omit progression to achieve it, and there is no one there to correct you.
The physical benefits of yoga depend largely on alignment. I've said before that core pressurization is an important part of progression into difficult yoga poses and, if it is compromised, you will be susceptible to injuries. While I think that the core holds the most power to prevent injury, there are other considerations to be made for each yoga pose. If your focus is on achieving the pose at all costs (because that’s what the yogi online looked like!), you’re more likely to let some important feature of the pose slide. This may lead to bad habits or, as I mentioned, even injuries.
My point? That focus on pictures of difficult yoga poses may shift focus in poses to the wrong thing. These are unattainable for most people and are a static image in what should otherwise be a wide ranging practice. I appreciate those online users who post blooper pics or videos - it demonstrates the necessary flaw that will be part of all of our practices. If one can approach a yoga routine with good guidance, mental focus, and a sense of humility, it can be a safe and beneficial part of your physical activity routine.
Rachel Wiegand has been an athlete her whole life but yoga has been the only constant throughout moves and life changes. A former personal trainer, she is now a practicing chiropractor in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and enjoys helping patients find a physical activity that fits their lifestyle best. In addition to yoga, she practices Pilates and is an avid Crossfitter. On her weekends you can find her teaching yoga at CrossFit Sheboygan, with her hubby at Lake Michigan on her paddleboard, or at the dog park with her boxers, Dug and Rosco.