Yesterday I was reading a New York Times article online - can't even remember what it was - and was immediately drawn to an article entitled "The Most Narcissistic Exercise Equipment Ever' which featured a photo of a mirror that projects yoga and fitness instruction to the gazer. Revulsed and curious, I read the article. Apparently it is all the rage with pop culture tastemakers. As I read it, tons of questions popped into my mind. Is this the death rattle for human connection?
When I started in yoga, back in the dark ages of the early 80's, yoga resources were few and far between, especially if you were living in a small town in Vermont. My first lessons were from a college sports trainer in a cold gym at 8 am (it was the winter/spring semester and it was cold and dark—I got a B because I chose to stay in bed one too many times instead of going to class. But I digress) We used Richard Hittleman's 'Introduction to Yoga' as our class book. It was frank and to the point with groovy pictures of unitard clad people. I still have that book. I used it for years to "do yoga" until I found the portal into the deeper realms of the practice. I must add that there were no mirrors in that gym - which I found disappointing since I was a dance minor and had a love/hate relationship with the mirrors in the beloved dance studio on campus. Was I doing it right? How did my form look? How would I know without a visual reference? It was confusing until I figured out that I was going to have to go by how it felt. Still I was a bit off in my judgement, because feeling my way through classical ballet and modern dance in my unlikely dance body always put me into a place of striving, over-stretching, competition with leggy girls, and the inevitable hamstring tears (marks of good effort).
The next books I picked up, years later, were Cyndi Lee's 'OM Yoga in a Box' and 'OM Yoga A Guide to Daily Practice.' The Hittleman book and yoga classes at my gym were not giving me what I craved - I was looking for stress relief and was trying to reconnect to the feel good from dance. In Cyndi's books I appreciated the stick figure illustrations because they gave me direction, and didn't make me feel inferior because I didn't have legs up to my armpits. Even better for me was the breath instruction and the spiritual guidance of the practice being bigger than just a physical gym class.
Zoom ahead to opening my own yoga studio. No mirrors. My direction and my training took me inward and I had no use for external measurement. At that time I had begun studying with David Williams and his instruction was to follow the feel good, not the look good (which was not the message in Yoga Journal). I found this validation comforting and it steered my mindset to a kinder place within myself.
As a teacher, I constantly am asked, "Does this look right?" My response is, "How does it feel?" We work from there. It's a struggle because most people are attracted to yoga through social media channels that illustrate extreme forms of yoga that seem to promise freaky flexibility, beautiful skin and eternal youth.
I can relate to them because I see this depiction of yoga and as a human being, I measure myself against it and determine that I must suck at yoga because I do a shitload of yoga and don't look like that.
When I first joined Facebook, I connected to a lot of yoga and yoga people and eventually figured out those connections were not real and in fact, in many cases, it was a glimpse behind the curtain where I saw unyoga-like behavior. It was like finding out there is no Santa Claus. I shut that stuff down and no longer accept friend requests or request friends from anyone with whom I don't have a personal connection. On Instagram, I have become irritated over the number of half naked people doing extreme yoga poses with the intention of highlighting their more than ample butts. I recently made my personal instagram account private for that reason and I am clearing my feed of yoga garbage.
Still I see the Yoga Industrial Complex expanding beyond clothing into to gadgets and tech that is potentially destructive to the connection of teacher to student. Do we really just want a yoga bot telling us what to do and giving us cold feedback based on how we look? My practice has only thrived when I have been in actual contact with a live, human teacher.
I once bemoaned the franchising of yoga to David and he wisely advised me, "Don't worry. Shiva knows." Shiva, the father of yoga, knows what you do in your practice and how you practice and that was enough for me. It's between me and Shiva and the yoga mat is the mirror.
Between the tech and the Grouponing of yoga, what is the value of an actual, human teacher with training and experience? Does it really matter? People will spend $500 on a mirror that reflects them doing yoga with external feedback and balk at paying $15 for a yoga class led by a trained, experienced teacher. SMH
I've heard purveyors of the Yoga Industrial Complex respond with "there's always room for more yoga!" "If it brings more people to yoga, what is the harm?"
I guess you do have a choice - choices are good…Mirror mirror on the wall to get external validation or Mirror, Mirror of a different kind of yoga that shows you your reflection in how you feel in the pursuit of feeling good. Will the mirror be compassionate about the pain in my back? Will the mirror teach me how to work with short corgi legs?
What do you think about this? I'm old school, I know and I recognize that I have put myself in a bubble of the yoga I like. I knew yoga before social media. Maybe I need to consider more here? Are we headed into narcissism or can this modern view of yoga be used for soulful pursuit? Is Solient Green people?
Looking forward to your thoughts on this.
Peace and love,
(Actual human being with short corgi legs, a bad back and who knows more than a mirror about teaching yoga.)