Ashtanga and social media
Images of people doing yoga poses are nearly ubiquitous in yoga publications, Ashtanga included. On my own website, you’ll find images of people in yoga poses. Social media, with its visual focus, is an especially popular place for posting yoga pictures and yoga videos. So why do we watch yoga videos and how is it affecting us? In this article, I’ll continue sharing the results of our recent research project. In that project, we looked at the mental, emotional, and spiritual effects of Ashtanga yoga. Specifically, I’ll look at what our results say about how social media images of practice influence how we feel about practice and ourselves.
Why watch videos of Ashtanga yoga on social media?
Common ways that we might use videos on social media are to learn, teach, or inspire ourselves. As students, we might watch videos to learn the sequences or to try to understand the poses better. We might also use them to motivate us or guide us through a practice at home. As teachers, we might create instructional videos, which include us demonstrating poses, and then share those on social media. And, anyone might view videos of Ashtanga yoga simply as entertainment, in the way we watch a gymnastics or dance event.
Among those who completed our survey, the majority (71%) watched videos on social media of others doing an Ashtanga practice at least sometimes. Only 6% never watched videos of practice. But, no matter how many videos we watch, we still do our practice in our own body. So, how did survey respondents feel when watching videos of Ashtanga yoga on social media? Let’s look at the data.
We reviewed the fundamental information about statistics related to our project in this article: Survey Project Overview. But, if you need a recap of our methods, click the button for the details.
Are Ashtanga videos on social media teaching something?
To better understand how practitioners felt when watching Ashtanga videos on social media, we asked survey participants to mark which of a series of statements they agreed with. Respondents could mark as many statements as they felt applied to them. The most common statement about watching yoga videos on social media that respondents agreed with (82% of respondents) was: “It helps me understand a pose or transition when I watch videos of others’ practices online.” So, it seems that some practitioners find videos helpful as a teaching tool. But, 19% of respondents acknowledged that: “I imitate what I see when I watch videos of others’ practices online.” This could be concerning if practitioners imitate poses or approaches that work for someone else but are not appropriate for them.
Are yoga videos inspiring us?
The second most common statement that respondents agreed with (64%) was: “I feel inspired when I watch videos of others’ practices online.” So, it seems that many people feel inspired by what they see in videos of Ashtanga on social media. But, that still leaves more than a third of those who watch videos of practice (36%) who don’t feel inspired. Additionally, some respondents said that they felt that what they saw was impossible (16%), felt discouraged (11%), and/or felt negatively about their body (10%) when watching videos of Ashtanga on social media.
Who is watching Ashtanga videos on social media?
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, how likely someone was to watch videos of Ashtanga practice on social media was related to how many years they had been practicing (p<.01 Cramer’s V=.25). Those newer to practice were more likely to watch yoga videos. Generally, as years of practice increased, practitioners were less likely to watch yoga videos at all. And, as years of practice increased, those who did watch Ashtanga videos on social media watched them less frequently.
We also found that there was a relationship between how often respondents watched Ashtanga videos on social media and other factors. Those factors included: age (p<.01 Cramer’s V=.13), gender (p<.01 Cramer’s V=.13), and current regular practice sequence (p<.01 Cramer’s V=.15). The greatest percentage of all age groups, except those 30 and younger, said they watch videos of Ashtanga on social media, sometimes. Those 30 and younger indicated that they watch videos on social media, frequently (46%). The percent of those who watched videos never or rarely, increased as age increased. Correspondingly, the percent of those who watched videos frequently decreased with the age of practitioners.
With respect to gender, women watched videos of Ashtanga on social media more frequently than men.
Frequency of watching videos of practice decreased as practitioners’ sequences increased in complexity and challenge. The majority (73%) of those who practiced primarily advanced sequences, rarely or never watched videos of practice.
Are Ashtanga videos on social media an asset or liability to our practice?
So what does all this mean? Is it a bad thing to watch yoga videos on social media? Not necessarily. If you watch a video to guide you through your practice, then it has the potential to pull you out of the felt sense of your body. This is because you’re looking at something outside of yourself to cue you. But, if that’s what motivates you to practice at all, or you need the instructions from the video because you don’t have a local teacher, then it may be important to use the tools that you have available. In this case, videos.
Videos and learning the Ashtanga practice
While the impact of watching videos of Ashtanga practice reported in our survey was not overwhelmingly negative, some aspects of what respondents reported were concerning. Is it responsible of us as teachers to post videos of our own practices online, knowing that some people will imitate what they see when it’s not appropriate for them? And, even when inspiring, is it a good idea for students to be learning from demonstration videos without some in-person guidance?
There are pros and cons to sharing instructional videos of Ashtanga practice. If I share a video as a teaching tool, I can reach a lot more practitioners that are interested in learning the practice than I can with my physical presence. And, hopefully, video content designed to teach is created with an understanding of the limitations of the medium. When I post a video teaching something, I can’t be there to see each individual student and help them understand what applies to them and what does not. That makes it all the more important to convey that in other ways, like verbally, in videos.
Ashtanga videos and body image
Watching videos of Ashtanga on social media can also have negative impacts on body image. Media imagery in general, tends to hold up certain body types as “ideal.” Comparing ourselves to those ideals when we see them on social media can have a negative effect on body image (de Valle et al., 2021; Saiphoo et al., 2019) and increase self-objectification (Cohen et al., 2019). Interestingly, even viewing “body-positive” images on social media resulted in the participants of one study being more focused on appearance than other personal attributes (Cohen et al., 2019). Media showing Ashtanga practitioners is not immune to this. And, in the case of the Ashtanga practice, media can also tend to show the practice in a way that suggests there is one “right” way for the practice to look.
If even body-positive images increase a focus on self-objectification, then watching videos of practice has the potential to take us away from the direction of Yoga. That is if we define going towards Yoga as theoretically less identification with self, greater compassion, equanimity, etc. That’s hard to do when you’re stuck on looking like someone else. And that’s true whether you want your pose to look like someone else’s pose, or whether that translates into feeling unmotivated to practice at all because you don’t look like someone else. It definitely takes us out of the felt sense of our own body when we try to look like something, rather than explore how the practice feels from the inside.
Cohen, R, J. Fardouly, T. Newton-John. 2019. #BoPo on Instagram: An experimental investigation of the effects of viewing body positive content on young women’s mood and body image. New Media & Society 21: 1546–1564.
De Valle, M.K., M. Gallego-Garcia, P. Williamson, T. D. Wade. 2021.Social media, body image, and the question of causation: Meta-analyses of experimental and longitudinal evidence. Body Image. 39:17pgs. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2021.10.001 1740-1445/.