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  • Writer's pictureSavira Gupta

Why yoga on Instagram is disconnected and commercialized.

Western yoga, (referring to the US as it is the dominant voice) through the lens of Instagram is like going down a rabbit hole where accountability is rare, appropriation and misinformation of yoga rampant, to put it mildly it shows yoga land as a mess. It does not hide the fact that it thrives on capitalism, trending concepts and redefining yogic teachings. I was quite amazed and shocked to see what was actually being shared as ‘authentic yoga’ through Instagram 1080x1080 squares and even more surprised to find teachers with little teaching experience and knowledge of yogic scriptures selling training programs and workshops that are un affordable.

Because of the rising demand, these trainings, courses, workshops and conferences have been reduced to a commodity where the quality of teaching takes a back seat, the teacher’s experience is disregarded and the material reduced to asana only. The yoga industry has turned teaching yoga into a job that offers celebrity status, perks like book deals, magazine covers and a seat at well-known yoga organizations, but there is a catch your ‘mission statement’ has to be line with theirs!

Now with deals like these, how can one resist becoming a yoga teacher, this is where accountability and our voices need to be heard - yes, we the students need to disrupt these standards set by yoga land. As students we have to change the narratives driven or defined by celebrity instagram yoga experts, we need to use critical thinking about who we follow and why. A teacher’s mission statement or agenda needs to be transparent. More importantly, when we as students idolize or place a teacher on a pedestal, we inadvertently give up our sovereignty or self-governance to them.

The more I searched for courses on yoga, the more challenging and confusing it became to choose one. Instagram is a fun platform but when it comes to the study of yoga, it is not the place to learn from. Many times, what you see and what you end up with is not the same. Honestly speaking, it is an echo chamber of several voices…churning out the same content just wrapped differently!

The last two years the Yoga Industry in North America has seen its fair share of trends and definitions of yoga from..(while these are important subjects, equating them to yoga is misleading, harmful and is far from acknowledging yoga's roots).

Cultural appropriation

Honoring yoga's roots

Yoga is South Asian

Yoga is Political/Social Justice

Trending now is Decolonization

Something to think about…individuals from Europe rarely address themselves as Europeans, they identify with the country of origin so why are prominent brown celebrity teachers echoing that all brown people are South Asian? This indirectly erases the collective experiences and traumas of other Indians and or Hindu as myself and ethnicity from that region but more importantly it completely ignores their country of origin. It shows a lack of respect to the different rich cultures that South Asian as a region holds.

Similarly, labeling yoga as, South Asian simply obliterates its origin and authenticity and reduces Indic teachers and their teachings as conservatism, narcissist or being labelled Hindutva. It is quite rare to find an organization that will platform Indic teachings, in fact they will reduce it to teachings that are not viable for today’s living… I put it down to avoiding the truth or being challenged.

Which brings me to the newest trend, the ‘decolonize’ movement which is nothing more than another opportunistic trend and capitalistic in nature. It is the same prominent yoga experts who are now decolonizing everything, especially the Bhagavad Gita. I ask, when were these texts ever colonized? They have been watered down for sure and misrepresented.

Selling courses on ‘decolonizing’ sacred texts is not only appropriating and will become another commodity to make money off! Undertaking the study of this magnitude is a lifelong process that requires a knowledgeable teacher with an un-Abrahamic or Indic lens (you can be brown and still have an Abrahamic lens) view to guide and support the sadahka's journey.

I wonder what 2022 will hold??!! These trends are being created by opportunist yoga organizations to stay ahead of the game called capitalism. The more popular a teacher/organization becomes, the more merchandise and workshops are created to sell and it is these very same yoga activists who advocate against capitalism within the industry they now thrive on. Many have accepted and positioned themselves as ‘tokenist teachers’ within high profile yoga organizations and this leads to nepotism.

Yoga viewed through this platform is both interesting and deceiving. It is filled with messages and reminders of how change is necessary, especially in the way yoga is being taught but hardly any information on what those steps are. Nor is there any information on learning from and connecting with Indic teachers. There are plenty of posts on decolonizing the practices, viewing yoga as everything else but yoga, to "namaste or not namaste", embodying yoga’s roots to equality, equity and inclusivity, but nothing on teaching methods nor its content. No information on requirements or expectations from students, to steps involved or dedication needed when it comes to immersing into sacred texts. What is lacking is transparency and integrity of teachers.

We seem to gravitate towards 1080 x1080 squares that are reactive in nature and shy away from anything that encourages discernment, logic or critical thinking. A little secret instagram algorithms plays a huge part in what we see and don’t see. Personally, I feel the movement of truly acknowledging yoga’s origin has been left to collect dust, because it means relinquishing control of the narratives that western yoga spins!

Hate to burst your bubble, but just because something is trending and being echoed by experts within the US yoga industry does not mean it is correct or even trending in other parts of the world. Do branch out and diversify your feed and who you follow. If you only follow the same echo chambers, then you’re learning and understanding of the practice will be stunted.

Yoga through 1080 x1080 instagram squares

Artwork: Unknown

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