Powerful Pictures: How does Yoga Imagery Influence You?

A week or so ago, I saw a picture of a frog riding a turtle. It looked like the frog was catching a ride on the turtle’s back- it made me genuinely smile. Not long after the photo was splattered around the Internet world, another article emerged- this one discrediting the picture and revealing it as fake.

It gets worse. Both animals were purchased from exotic animal dealers, promoting a cruel industry where animals are sold off as “pets”, or in this case, macro models for a wannabe natural photo shoot. Why would someone make the effort to do this? To get attention and acclaim, of course.

This picture got me thinking about the images associated with yoga. Yoga photos, yoga marketing, how yoga is pictured in my head and how I, in turn, push that message out to other people. Do we really understand what we are doing? What effect are these images, regardless of our intention, having?

The Peak Pose Eclipse

In yoga, peak poses are advanced poses that require preparation and enter safely. You build toward them, and release them. The whole process looks like a normal distribution or a hill, with the peak pose sitting at the top.

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The process of the peak pose: the poses should warm up, cool down and help you enter the pose safely and with intention.

I’m new to the digital yoga game, which is part of the reason I am in tune with this. Marketing yoga highlights a primary message: Yoga is awesome, and it is good for you. And you want to communicate this message in images. How do you achieve this? Most people focus on poses (often “peak poses”, or poses that take preparation and warming up to even get into). By highlighting what a person can achieve through a peak pose, we ignore the rest (and just as wonderful and important) part of the practice.  Yoga injuries are on the rise. Is this due to unhealthy standards and focusing on a peak pose image as a ruler for success? Why do peak poses eclipse other poses in the practice? Peak poses are not an end goal- they are just a potential part of the larger yoga practice.

Yoga is for every body. But do the photos say that?

The yoga industry has come under fire for being marketed as exclusive and essentially not accessible to all people. For example, Yoga Journal, one of the industry’s leading magazines, uses thin, white, able-bodied women as their models for the front cover of the magazine. These images have a dichotomous meaning- on one hand, they are screaming “Yoga is healthy! Yoga makes your look good!” and on the other, they are saying, “Yoga is for fit, young, white ladies”! Just like the “frog on the turtle” picture, the images market multiple messages and may inadvertently cause harm. Be aware that, like all photos, they tell a story. But the story these images tell don’t have to be your story- you are ultimately in control.

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We live in the age of digital consumption. More than ever, we are bombarded by images and maintain multiple selves on various social media platforms. On Instagram, yoga pictures can be found in all forms: peak poses, yoga in beautiful places, naked yoga, yoga quotes. In the midst of so much visual yoga, it is easy to fall into the ocean of Dancer’s Poses and sunsets. Because of this, some photos promote shock value- think yoga pose on a cliff, in the freaking subway, or the most recent one I saw, a yoga pose on the rump of a live horse. All of these places look like terrible (and highly dangerous) places to practice yoga. They are made to stand out and challenge your view of yoga- but definitely not to give you ideas on new locations to practice!

Yoga Image Exercise

Try this. Each image below portrays the balancing asana Tree Pose (Vrksasana). Take a few seconds and look at each one.

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Which of these pictures fit your image of yoga? Why or why not?

Bottom line: you can’t make everyone happy. The message you get from a photograph may or may not be what the author intended it to be. Like all visual media, the interaction between the creator and the viewer is varied. As the viewer, you can ultimately create awareness to how images affect you, and how to handle that.

Like all visual media, the interaction between the creator and the viewer is varied.

So what can we do? Reflect on what yoga means to you. And how yoga looks to you. Can it be encompassed in a picture? Do you find yourself “falling into line” and promoting the image that is sold to you? Develop an awareness of how the yoga photos affect you.

And remember:

Have a body + do yoga = yoga body.

It really is that simple, regardless of what the pictures say.

Beyond Tree Pose: Yoga, Environmental Awareness & the Yamas

Today we released the final video for our Yoga for Environmental Awareness Series. The project was a celebration of our environments locally and globally. Each video was set in a different location, and most highlighted ways you could set an intention and do something good for the environment.

Does it sound weird?

Yoga. Environmental awareness. Can the two be connected?

Yes? No? Not sure?

You aren’t alone.

When I first began to practice yoga, I didn’t consider yoga as a tool for environmental awareness. In fact, I probably would have noted that the only connection yoga had to the natural environment was through vrksasana (tree pose). However, as I’ve grown into my practice, my understanding of yoga has changed. I am able to see the benefits of practice beyond my mat and how it can be used to facilitate change beyond the the self, and expand to the broader social and environmental contexts. But how does a yoga practice achieve this? It all starts with empowerment and tools to take action.

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Tree Pose. Photo Credit R. Jaypalan

Yoga Empowers Us

A yoga practice makes you powerful. This varies for every person-maybe you will feel empowered in your mind, stronger in your body, or in your behavior. People who are empowered are more likely to take action, and this is where real change can come about.

Yoga provides an eight-limbed path that practitioners can utilize both on and off the mat. Despite its ancient history and philosophy, modern yoga is primarily marketed as a tool to improve your body. This individual, physical focus overlooks the potential for yoga to encourage collective action that benefits the community and environment. Don’t get me wrong- yoga is a great tool for self-improvement and is beneficial for the body and the mind. But how does yoga function off of the proverbial mat? I believe that people who feel empowered are more likely to adjust their behavior to help their community and environment. In this way, yoga can help empower people to step up and make changes on both an individual and community level.

Yoga Gives Us Tools to Take Action

Yoga provides everyone with a toolkit (manifested in the eight-limbed path) to operate in the world. Ultimately, these tools set the stage for self-improvement. This stage may also function as a launch pad allows for an improved person to conduct themselves in ways that benefit others and the environment.

The task to do something can also feel daunting- but yoga can help you take steps toward making a difference. The size of the difference doesn’t matter- it is the action, no matter how big or how small, that does.

We are living in a time when climate change caused by our behaviors is a threat to every being on the planet. The task to do something can also feel daunting- but yoga can help you take steps toward making a difference. The size of the difference doesn’t matter- it is the action, no matter how big or how small, that does.

Using the Yamas to Promote Environmental Awareness

The first path mentioned in the Yoga Sutras is the yamas (standards of how we should conduct ourselves with others and our environment). While each of the yamas can be personalized for specific situations, each are connected to how we interact with our natural environment. The environment, our communities and each of us as individuals are inextricably interconnected.

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Ahimsa (non-harming): Does your behavior harm the environment? Scientific consensus provides overwhelming evidence that our behavior has a detrimental impact on Earth (i.e. climate change). This, of course, has a negative impact on people, animals, and flora around the world. Most of the harm is rooted in out choices as consumers, including a dependence on fossil fuels and using products that are toxic for the environment. Focus on shopping locally, reducing your dependence on gas, and repurposing and re-using instead of buying new products.

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Satya (truthful): Speaking the truth is vital when it comes to protecting out environment. A plethora of science exists about how we can help improve our environment- people just ignore it. Speak to others about these issues and do not be fearful of stating the truth.

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Asteya (non-stealing): Are you taking things from others? An example of this may be the consumption of energy. Reduce your energy consumption by washing clothes on cold water, air drying laundry and watching your electricity use in the house.

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Brahmacharya (not wasting energy): Being aware of our natural environment and plight of climate change can be a huge energy drain. Be mindful of what you can take on. Small steps, whether it be recycling more, planting a garden, or speaking to a friend about making more environmentally friendly consumer choices all require you to take care of yourself. Remember to take care of yourself so you can care for others and the environment.

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Aparigraha (non-greedy): Do you have every thing you need? We are avid consumers, and often buy things we simply do not need. Try to curb the urge to buy things that you don’t actually need, and share with others. Volunteering with a local conservation effort is a great way to get involved and share yourself actions with your local community.

 Yoga Can Make a Difference

Our behavior has an effect on the world, and that is a powerful thing.

The yamas are just one example of how you can get started being more engaged and aware with our natural environment. Does yoga directly affect climate change? No. But yoga does empower people to take action and make a difference in their community and environment. Our behavior has an effect on the world, and that is a powerful thing. Let’s adjust our behaviors in a way that promotes celebrating and protecting our environment, our communities, and us.

Has yoga helped you take action?