Comparison is the thief of joy
A look at the fast 'click and scroll' of social media, its effects on our mental health as teachers, and how we can stay authentic to our true yoga selves in a rapidly advancing digital era. By Wendy Buttery
I don't take many pictures of myself. I am not of the selfie generation where it's not adequate to take just one picture, but maybe 10 or 20 in a day. All posing, looking pretty, interesting, successful...fabulous darling!
Perhaps if I was younger, prettier, thinner then maybe I would. Or maybe not. I totally accept that a certain amount of pictures of oneself may be necessary in this vacuum of marketing on social media. In fact, I am always amazed at how many people actually want to see other people's faces and bodies and that this has become quite normal in the yoga world. Not only do people want to see your face, but the next yoga pose – you know, the really tricky one that took you years to attempt and then to complete but not necessarily master. They want to see you looking buff in your leggings, sweatless in your arm balance, perfectly poised in your inversions and achingly gorgeous in your backbends.
That's because yoga has become another extension of the fitness industry where everyone has a goal to reach and body to aspire to. Yoga asana is, and has always been, a great way to maintain a healthy body, but we know this is not what yoga is about. Well we should know this!
It is, of course, responsible for bringing back the body to its natural level of wellness, but most practitioners who are prepared to go beyond the surface layer of yoga realise that yoga has so many more layers than the external. Really, the maintenance of the flesh and bones of this body is just preparation for much more important work – and we could say this work includes the dropping of the ego.
I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I post a fair bit of content. Being my own boss of my own yoga business means this is necessary. But not only that, I have also got caught up in the slight addiction to nosing round other people's businesses through the lens of their camera phones – a bit like modern day curtain twitchers looking in on their neighbours lives through net curtains.
This, I admit, is not healthy. In looking into other people's world we believe what it is they want to show us. We take a picture at face value even though we know that often if we take a picture of ourselves it may have gone through several edits, deletes and filters before we present it to the world.
Long ago, in the age of analogue and camera film, we would take a picture and have absolutely no idea how it turned out until we got the prints back from the developers. Then we would go through each one laughing at the imperfections and poses we awkwardly took knowing we had no idea what a fool we looked like – and not really caring, because we were caught in a moment of fun and joy. The present moment was key. The future development of that picture was a curiosity but not serious (professional photographers aside, of course).
In this digital era of impermanence, whatever picture we take can be sent to the delete folder or tweaked within an inch of its original edition to look presentable enough to be shown to and judged by others under the spotlight of the 'gram. And then move on to the next post to view, judge, delete. I am all for impermanence per se. We are, after all such temporary beings on this planet. We are born, we live, we die. The only real certainty in life is inevitable death. But showing our superficial physical selves to a forever-scrolling market of non-friends seems a little shallow and futile.
Because what are we showing (or showing off) in the end? A glimpse into a concocted life? A gateway into somebody's dreams but not reality? A shiny, happy image so that people can assume (perhaps incorrectly) you are having a beautiful life? Is it real? Is anything other than the present moment real for any of us? I think not. Yet we get caught up in the algorithms of must-haves and must be's by data-eating corporations whose aim is to ultimately make money from us. Let's not be fooled that any of this is our own creation for our own good.
I digress. It was not my aim to curve off into a political statement about the corporate world and what we are fed to believe. My aim here was to write about my own failings and the failings of being a 50-something yoga teacher in a world of beauty and perceived perfection. I write this because of observing my own reaction to two very different yoga teachers (both of whom I know).
My first encounter was with a wonderful teacher who has been teaching for many years, living on Ibiza for much of her teaching. We discussed how her business of being a teacher trainer had dwindled to very little and how she needed to be invited to teach or offer her teachings on mantra and massage in order to attract any business to her these days. She barely uses social media and finds only very conscious and curious yogis were seeking out her wealth of knowledge (my words, not hers). I felt I could relate to so much of what she was saying, that feeling of almost being left behind on the very path we chose to tread.
My second encounter was not physical, but digital. On scrolling through Instagram I saw a person's name (someone I know) as well as another person who had been telling me she goes to her classes. I purposely don't follow this person because I have found myself to feel irritated by her posts. But there I was and she popped up so I took a sneaky peek at her feed. And, of course, I felt instantly irritated again! She is young and thin and has thousands of followers and a kickass yoga practice. She has many people going to her classes and is invited to co-teach teacher trainings all over the world despite teaching yoga for a relatively short period of time. She talks a lot and is ultra-friendly and always has people around her.
So why does she irritate me? Because I find myself comparing myself to her and coming up short. We are not alike in any way. I have no need to compare myself. Our life experiences are vastly different. But I guess I feel this tiny twinge of jealousy when I see how popular she is and how many people want to receive what she is giving in contrast to my clientele. I end up feeling not worthless but less worthy when I cast my eye over her digital world and what she is achieving – and I feel like I am failing. This is absolutely not her fault. This is my ego reacting to her ego in a rather skewed way.
I don't have to like or agree with how she runs her yoga business and what perfect pictures of her in perfect yoga poses half naked with her perfect body she posts on Instagram. I don't need to read her reams of text explaining on each post how much she is in tune with herself, with nature and understands explicitly what her followers' needs and wants are. It's really none of my business and clearly she is giving many people just what they want and need. The responsibility I have is to not look at the things that make me feel like I am lesser, like the not-so-popular girl in school again. My work is to not judge another because it's not how I would be. She is she and I is me.
I might continue to feel a little frustrated that the way yoga is going feels very much dependent on visual stimulation and is beginning to bow down to a fast-click industry of good looking youth performing good looking poses in good looking places. Everything perfectly placed to look natural. The irony of that statement is not lost on me. It appears this is what many people want. My only answer to that is to continue to provide genuine, authentic yoga to genuine, authentic searchers of their genuine authentic selves. And that often does not feel perfect. Often, that feels messy and hard and even ugly and scarred and sad and awkward and a little bit lost.
As long as there are people (like me) so very imperfect and not apologising for it, but willing to try to make their lives a little better through a very old technique of observing and correcting and listening and feeling and being honest with what hurts and what works, then I am here...teaching what I know to those that want to know it. You are all welcome.