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.
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.
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.
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.