Sharath told us that he was glad that he started practicing Yoga before Social Media because he could concentrate on his practice. I started practicing before Social Media as well and there are definitely some differences pre and post Social Media. These are some of the things I feel have shifted in the Ashtanga world post social media. I would also love to hear what you feel has changed.
The Pose that Everybody Wants
When I first started Ashtanga, the skill that everyone wanted to know was how to Jump Back and Jump Through. Whenever anyone did a workshop, there was usually a segment on it. I am not talking about the Jump Back and Jump Throughs of today where people go up into Handstand. I am talking about a basic jump back and jump through where your feet did not touch the ground.
Now, people want to learn how to Handstand which is directly related to social media because Handstand is not a big part of the Ashtanga tradition. Typically, one does not start working with Handstand until somewhere around Third Series. There were people like Lino Miele who did a Handstand during Navasana but that was seen as atypical and not something that the average student aspired too. It is definitely nothing like today where people add floats to almost every transition. Now, Handstands or arm balancing is a frequent part of Ashtanga workshops.
Since I have been in Mysore, not a week goes by that Sharath does not say something in conference or something to a student in the room about overworking the shoulders doing Handstands and floating. He has also said several times that he is not impressed. However, to the general public, floating, Handstands and arm balancing look very impressive and they definitely look impressive in slow motion on Instagram. Due to social media, handstands have made their way into the Ashtanga culture even when they kind of don’t belong.
People Coming to Mysore
I did not attend Mysore pre Social Media but I do know that the numbers are swelling. This could be due to the amount of Authorized teachers and traveling workshops. However, it can also be due to the rising popularity of Ashtanga on social media.
Sharath is constantly talking about how students get confused about Ashtanga because of social media. I notice two things that cause confusion. The use of Ashtanga hashtags on pictures that have nothing to do with Ashtanga and Ashtanga teachers posting pictures and videos and not clarifying when what they are doing is not part of the Ashtanga tradition.
I use a program called Tweetdeck to keep up with multiple Twitter handles, messages from Twitter, mentions, and trending conversations on Ashtanga. One of the columns, my deck keeps up with, is #Ashtanga. Seventy percent of the posts that show up are not Ashtanga. They are usually pictures from Instagram that have been copied to Twitter and hashtaged #Ashtanga and have nothing to do with #Ashtanga.
As a teacher, something I hear more often then I would like is, “well, so and so authorized teacher did it on Facebook/Instagram/YouTube.” “So and so authorized teacher did Pigeon on Facebook so I thought I would add it.” “So and so authorized teacher does Handstands so I want to add them.” “So and so authorized teacher used blocks on Instagram for their jump throughs so I want to add them.” “I saw this cool think that so and so authorized teacher did…. “. The premise is that if an authorized teacher did it, it must be Ashtanga, Sharath must be okay with it or they must have been taught that my Pattabhi Jois which is not always the case. I am not saying that authorized teachers should not have fun. They should. I am just saying, it can be confusing when it is not made clear that, what is being demonstrated, is not part of the tradition. Then the local teacher is left explaining that there is no Cat and Cow or Stag Leg Handstand in Ashtanga and dealing with the student’s loss of trust in the Ashtanga method because they don’t know what or who to believe anymore.
Then these poor people show up in Mysore doing all types of stuff and having to explain to Sharath where it came from. You don’t want to be in that place. Trust me.
How People Get Help
Pre social media, if you wanted help, and you were lucky enough to have a teacher, you would ask them. If you were unlucky, you had to travel to a teacher or figure it out. Now, you can look it up on YouTube. YouTube is where I learned how to do Kapotasana. I had been doing it for years but nothing anyone said was landing and it was this insurmountable obstacle. One day I watched someone on YouTube do it and it clicked. In the age of Social Media, if you have a burning question, you can jump on a Facebook group or message a teacher and ask them.
Many of the people, I have socialized with here in Mysore, I met them on Facebook first. I am an introverted extrovert. I love interacting with people but only in small doses. When I am at home, after a certain amount of time, I log off of the computer and stop answering my phone. I only teach so many classes a day. Alone time is necessary. A few of my friends here in Mysore have told me that they start to feel stir crazy when they stay in their room too long. Not me. As long as I go out like once a day, get my dose of sunshine and socialization, I can hang out in the room for the rest of the day. Without that sense of familiarity that social media has given me with a few of the people in this community, I probably would not have struck up a friendship.
I love that social media allows me to continue my friendships after I leave Mysore. I probably have at least 30 new Facebook friends since I started my trip. Some are people I have hung out with. Some are just friendly faces from early morning lines in front of the Shala or tables I have shared at cafe’s. It is wonderful to bond with people who have shared this experience.
There was a period of time where I practiced by myself at home and I felt like a man in the dessert with no water. I was craving someone to share my experience with. I was starting to lose motivation. My practices sucked because I would force myself to do them and I really did not feel like it. Social media provided a way to connect with other people having similar experiences.
Getting the Word Out
Pre social media, getting the word out about Ashtanga articles, DVD’s and workshops had a lot to do with who you knew. There were websites and newsletters but the average person was not getting the same reach they get from social media. The majority of this blogs traffic, come from social media. Very little comes from organic search. I would go as far as to say that this blog exists because of Facebook.
Teachers no longer have to solely depend on the yoga studio flyers to fill workshops. They can now reach out to the world through social media. I know of people who have taken workshops in different countries simply because they saw it on social media.
Social media has also birthed the Ashtanga celebrity culture. When I first started practicing, there were only a few household names and those people had been teaching or practicing for decades. Now if you are cute, can do fancy poses, have a relatable platform, and are good with marketing, you can be a household name in months.
What ways do you feel that social media has changed Ashtanga? Leave a comment below.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.