Does Yoga Need to be Sexy?

sexy-yogaYoga has grown in leaps in bounds over the last 20 years, and so has the media exposure of yoga. In addition to being featured in a plethora of commercials and tv shows, there’s a multitude of yoga pics and videos posted daily on social media sights nowadays. As with anything as it grows into the mainstream, traditions are sometimes compromised and the flashier aspects are made more visible. The photos I see with the most attention often feature less clothing and postures that are more advanced. What I’d call sexy yoga, or what I’ve heard referred to as ‘yoga porn.’

For me, the wide exposure of yoga on social media raises some big questions:

Why does yoga need to be sexy? To attract students? To continue it’s global growth? Is the increased exposure healthy for the true aspects of the practice?

These are questions, that I personally would love to see a panel of the industry leaders discuss. My own personal take is that the flashy and sexy yoga that’s put out there does attract certain people to yoga, and has increased yoga’s visibility and popularity with mainstream media. It’s not for me to know what motivates each student to practice yoga or what they receive from it, but my hope is that the practice does the work. What I do know is that a holistic yoga approach is a timeless modality for healing and attaining eternal happiness. This will always survive, even if it’s a niche market in today’s world, and not something designed to thrive on social media like the hot and flashy.

I actually believe ‘sexy yoga’ is something that the yoga industry has been battling for much longer than the social media era. In 2007, during opening introductions of an Ashtanga Intensive program with Richard Freeman, I had joked that I was attempting to be the 1st male pictured on the cover of Yoga Journal. Periodically there are males, of course, years earlier Richard had been featured on the cover.

Nonetheless, Yoga Journal has a history of featuring young, slim, female yoga models with lots of exposed skin on the cover. Unofficially, I’ve heard that their sales decline if that’s not the case. The advertisements within, for yoga clothing, accessories and trainings often followed suit. The lone exception were the Kripalu ads, which represented the average students, instead of rock star yogis, including African Americans and students with different body types. I don’t have a problem with yoga businesses featuring fit and healthy bodies (as long as they aren’t just hired models), those who practice regularly do receive the benefits of healthy skin and fit bodies. Also, I’m not saying it’s wrong to post a picture of a yoga pose.

Years ago Krishnamacharya, the father of most modern vinyasa yoga being practiced today, travelled throughout India with his star pupils offering yoga demonstrations to attract new students to keep his yoga school alive. Perhaps you’ve seen the video of Inyengar and Krishnamacharya practicing/performing advanced asana and pranayama. Additionally, there are plenty of photos of many great yogis in advanced poses. Is that all that different from the flashy yoga being flaunted on social media today? Have we just adapted to the modern world and found a way to make the message that ‘yoga rocks’ even more widespread? Perhaps, and perhaps not.

Yoga is a feeling, it’s something you become, it’s not something you do. Therefore, I believe the objective behind a yoga photograph or video is to inspire, and portray the art, simplicity, beauty, grace, and skill of this ancient practice. I feel increasingly that this essence of yoga is lost in translation with the onslaught of sexy yoga photos and videos on the web. On social media the general mentality is it needs to be flashier, more bad-ass, and more outrageous than what’s been done before. I rarely see photos shared on the internet of a yoga pose that is accessible to beginners. Something I intend to do more of in the future.

As a yogi and as a business I try to have fun and be educational with posts. The fun side of yoga may be easily lost in practice at times, and it’s a key component to what brings us to our mat. Yes, I think some of the more challenging poses are fun to practice and perhaps I’m guilty of a ‘sexy’ portrayal – it’s a fine line. This summer I started a media campaign on Facebook and Instagram with #handstandnorfolk, we at Breathe also initiated a #yogaforeverybody campaign. Our ambitions were to have fun, bring exposure to the Norfolk yoga community, as well as show that yoga is for everyone. It was also a way to feature the many beautiful places in Norfolk, and get others in the community to do the same. It was fun to do, cool to see the community engagement, and I always enjoy seeing people turn their heads, curiosity piqued, as they walk by a public display of yoga.

However, most recently I have been at ends as to how to continue with social media. Sometimes I want to post a beautiful yoga photo, demonstrate asana for the world to see, and at the same time repulsed by the idea, that it’s somehow not in alignment. Yoga for me is so healing, so remarkable that I dare not to remark as I know that the potency of the practice is lost when it is pursued for show. I see the beautiful images of yogis in exotic places showcasing an impressive athletic feat and part of me wishes I had a personal photographer, abundant time and money to travel and do the same. I have a strong desire to follow suit, and yet no desire. On my recent trip to Colorado, I had ample opportunities to take yoga pics in the beautiful nature of the mountains and lakes, but took none. It was refreshing to just live and enjoy the moment and not pose for the camera. It was actually more yogic than to practice a yoga pose in that moment. However, as a business I feel that it’s necessary to keep up with the trend, and yet if yoga means union, then something that creates division is in contrast. There’s no yoga commandment that says ‘thou shalt not post yoga pics’ of course, but I want to be mindful of how I may be contributing to something that could be divisive. I’m exploring right now, what feels congruent and most in alignment with the teachings of yoga. I recently read a blog by Janet Stone about how ‘likes’ have become a barometer for assessing value. It shares a similar view.

For me, the key lies in the intention behind a post. Attempts to showing off and boasting the newest yoga tricks may be motivation for some, but I believe this gets quickly tuned out. The made for media yoga is only surface deep, and those truly interested in the tradition and art of yoga can see the lack of depth portrayed. Personally, I believe yoga to be a journey to abiding peace, something that is unique to each student, and not something to flaunt. My teachers, who are great examples, taught me that showing off your yoga takes away it’s potential for transformation. There are many paths, of course, and some are longer than others.

Many yogis feel strongly about maintaining an identity in the social media world. Social media offers each of us an opportunity to express our individuality if we choose, and it’s a wide open playground of sorts to engage with the greater community. Plus, staying with current trends, like social media, is important for yoga businesses. Yoga has adapted for thousands of years. The physical practices have been modified, if not reinvented, to meet the needs of current practitioners. Yoga itself always seems to rise above the challenges of the day. Navigating the uncharted waters of social media, where sexy often sells, may not be a problem for yoga itself, but striking balance in social media use is one for practitioners and industry leaders alike.

Do you agree that the portrayal of yoga in mainstream and social media appears slanted to the sexy side? Do you think this is a hot topic? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. I would truly love to hear any and all opinions on the subject!