Social media brings us together in ways we never thought possible. With a click, swipe, upload, comment, or exchange of emojis, we’re able to see what friends, colleagues, and even complete strangers are up to and feel inspired. As a yoga teacher based in San Francisco, I recognize it is also a great vehicle to reach a considerably larger audience. Still, my relationship to social media has been conflicted over the years.
While photos and videos of advanced āsanas garner the most comments and likes, social media hasn’t mastered the art of spotlighting the internal aspects of the practice. To a beginner, the practice may seem little more than strenuous exercise, but, over time, the benefits of daily discipline will integrate into the practitioner’s life. While the physical transformation may be most evident, the mental one is less apparent and, often, deeply personal and private. This is why there is such a fine line between sharing yogic achievements on social media.
Despite my reservations, I agreed to Sonima’s request this May to chronicle my time participating in Sharath Jois’ U.S. Tour, specifically his yoga workshop at Stanford University in California. This three-day, social media assignment was an intriguing challenge for me and an opportunity to work behind the scenes. Documenting the tour on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter was not about me or my yoga school or advanced āsana. It was about celebrating the Ashtanga community, coming together to practice, and honoring our teacher.
Tours also make the practice more accessible to those who are unable to travel to Mysore, India, where Sharath, the Ashtanga-lineage holder, is based. I love photography, I love writing, and I love yoga, so I jumped at the chance to share this special experience on this global platform. Being an on-the-ground reporter meant jumping into action to capture a candid laugh, gesture, or facial expression. It meant uncomfortably squatting under students hovering on one leg in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana without throwing them off balance. It meant acting unusually extroverted, asking friends, colleagues, and strangers for spontaneous interviews.
Dozens of videos and hundreds of photographs ate up all of the storage space on my phone. It was only after the assignment was over that I was able to reflect on how exhausting, exciting and exhilarating those three days had been. It pulled me out of my singular world and encouraged me to interact with the larger community as a whole—something I would have been less inclined to do on my own.
Related: Sharath Jois on Being True
Three months later, I flew to England to attend Sharath’s European Tour. Unlike the large gymnasium at Stanford, designed to accommodate thousands, the Camden Centre in central London could hold maybe a thousand. Set in a 1930’s art deco building, the space was void of photography equipment as all photos and videos were prohibited during Sharath’s classes. That also manifested in social gatherings throughout the day. During meals and other Instagram-able activities, phones remained in pockets and purses.
Though totally different, both experiences attending Sharath’s tours were incredibly valuable. My time at Stanford was a whirlwind of activity and action, pulling me out of my shell. My time in London seemed to be the opposite: a reflection, more subdued. Both served their purpose in very meaningful ways, making me look at previous self-imposed judgements and opinions towards social media in a new light.
Over the years, I’ve been inspired by various spiritual teachers that seem to echo the same sentiment. It doesn’t matter what is happening around you or what others are doing. It does not matter if we are in a remote cave under the watchful eye of a guru or in a busy, bustling city, bumping shoulders on the train. Yoga is an inside job. How we react, relate and respond to others is our sole responsibility. I believe this applies to social media as well. We will always have the same mind, negotiating the same patterns, reactions, irritations, and expressions. Love it or hate it, social media serves us each in different ways. Although it can be challenging, therein lies the wisdom and discipline of yoga.