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In Defence of the Yoga Selfie

Right now the cool kids are saying, Down With the Yoga Selfie! There's an insufferably pious cultural backlash against this pastime. A growing number of holier-than-thou articles are decrying the hobby as anti-yoga. I read them, I understand their viewpoint, and I say, they are the ones who are anti-yoga, and they can just namaste off, dude!

Yoga is anything you want it to be. Most of us can agree that it is a practice, of some kind. But while I started my yoga journey saying “it's a spiritual practice,” today I prefer to call it a “life practice.” Because yoga is a great chakra-balancing tool and calling it a spiritual practice artificially inflates the value of the upper chakras at the expense of the equally-vital journeys of the lower ones. Also because using the words “spiritual practice” gets us into trouble by boxing the yoga into what we think it should be, instead of allowing it to show us, day by day, what it is. And also because as soon as we call it a “spiritual practice” we create the opportunity for the Yoga Police to come along with their Ayurvedic diets, their Lululemon pants, and their vineyard retreats (all nice things, by the way), smearing their opinions of what your practice should be all over you.

Life is spirit. Your life, just as it is, is spirit! My life, just as it is, is spirit. “Spiritual” does not mean you have to spend six months on an ashram, listen to vegetarian music, or fill your bookshelves with beatific new-age pablum. “Spiritual” means the spirit of God is shining through you, and you are doing what you can, bit by bit, to let him shine more fully.

Here are some things I love: cheeseburgers, my motorcycle jacket, loud hard rock, and a great f---. I also love the Tao, pranayama, and small doses of Esalen. I am a real yogini. My yoga practice is spiritual because it is my life practice. I would never dream of telling another yogi what is or is not yoga for them, because I'm not them! How can I possibly know what's right for their practice?

The anti-selfiers say that yoga is an internal practice and showing its external aspects is anathema. They should have gone to the Asian Art Museums Art of Yoga exhibit. I say art is the practice of seeing the unseen and then expressing it. One person's need for self-expression differs from another's because the spirit moves through all of us differently at different times. Sometimes we need to remain private, and sometimes we need to share. Repressing that need doesn't sounds like the quickest route to sitting on our own little lotuses in the sky.

My “Real Yoga, Real Yogini” photo series was born the day I went to YogaJournal Live and faced Yoga, TM, for the first time. I freaked out and left as soon as I came. Everywhere, smooth butts and prayer beads and self-actualized videos and smugness. Enough to make you scream. I came home, bought a cheap mat at the grocery store, and went up to my roof. “I'm going to do real yoga, and I'm going to show my real process, Warts And All. Because for me, expressing and sharing is part of my journey.” I am me. I am where I am in my life. I am where I am in my practice. That's the way things are. That's what you see.

The anti-selfiers complain that yoga selfies are being taken by people with non-population-representingly perfect, young, slim, toned bodies. I say, you can't get much more anti-yoga than discriminating against people because of their external appearance. They also complain that yoga is getting misrepresented because people like to photograph themselves in the fancy-pretzel poses. I can't get much more anti-yoga than discriminating against poses because of their external appearance.

Still...I like a challenge! So here is a picture of me in the most challenging yoga pose ever. To make the anti's happy just this once, I am conspicuously not wearing yoga clothes. Not even one hint of my adorable butt. But I could be. Because yoga isn't about what you wear.

It's about what they say at the end of practice. It's about giving it away.