"The Kicker" (c. 1870)
I hate to be a kicker,
I always long for peace,
But the wheel that squeaks the loudest,
Is the one that gets the grease.
Henry Wheeler Shaw writing as Josh Billings around 1910 ish.
Rumination won out. I wanted to keep my writing to songs. Damn it. Some people have real problems: children to feed and school, debts, exorbitant rents, long commutes, bad health. Serious stuff. No time for the noise. They don’t need another opinion blog about a niche area. Most of you won’t identify with what I have to say, nor have you ever given it any thought or care. If you are a yoga teacher, you may not like what I am about to say.
It started out with a photograph (see above). The reluctant half of my internal monologue against writing anything other than a song settles on the cliché, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. She tells me to save time and come up with a quick caption for an Instagram post. Don’t sweat it. People will put their own spin on the image anyway. The other half nags me with ‘do-the-right-thing’ thinking. She says I need to explain the picture. She knows I will ruffle feathers but believes I need to mark out my values as a yoga teacher.
As a relatively new yoga teacher, putting yourself out there is a necessary part of getting yourself a class and reminding your students where you will be and what you will be teaching. Many yoga teachers I’ve met, with an established following, don’t need to have a social media account. When we are starting off, it doesn’t cut the mustard to post infrequently with text only. We need images. An effective way to communicate your success as a yoga teacher is in the savasana pic.
I’m beginning to question the grasping nature of image procurement. At what cost do we need the images? Surely if we got the gig and we gave our heart and soul to the teaching (as we do because yoga teaching is a special type of teaching), we have nothing more to prove. Do we have to excessively remind people that we were there when we said we were there? Do we have to demonstrate how relaxed our students were by taking our attention off task, pull out our camera and take the savasana pic? Are we more prone to taking a photograph when the room is packed compared to our 7am class in which just three people arrive? It seems a consistent marketing practice is winning out over a priority to keep our attention on the final resting pose.
Each one of us carries a powerful tool in our pockets. If you walk outside your front door you are fair game. With a photograph we have the power to bully, abuse, lie, unflatter, steal privacy and possibly damage old paintings with flash photography. Politicians need to make sure they are always smiling. Public places such as museums demonstrate their right to ban photography. Photography is banned in life drawing classes. Pope Francis doesn’t want priests or congregations to take photographs in churches anymore. School management do not permit students to take photographs of teachers. Pre-school, primary and second level teachers are warned against putting up photographs of students on social media for child protection reasons. Whether we take photographs or not usually boils down to the norms of an organisation you are in or your peer group. As a community of yoga teachers, I propose we need to question the customs and practice of taking photographs in our yoga classes.
I observe countless examples of the savasana pic on Instagram these days. I’ll put my hands up in the air here and tell you, that I too made it my absolute business to make sure I got an image of my students in savasana after I taught my first ever class. I wasn’t thinking. I just thought this was something you do. And I did it again at the end of my first ever workshop. But then it felt wrong. I woke up. I decided there were other ways to promote. I wouldn’t like it if someone photographed me with drool coming down one side of my mouth, even if you couldn’t see it, even if I was unrecognisable.
You might think I’m being precious but let me give you the context; I had a crisis. Incorporating yoga into my life provided me first with a sanctuary and second with a solid foundation to newly find myself. I didn’t need to sup the nectar of melted ice under the Himalaya’s with a punishing guru who made me get up at 4am, starving, to meditate for two hours before an unfulfilling vegan brunch and share woes of broken marriages and childlessness with strangers on a hard wood floor (but India is on the cards and I can’t wait for it). No, it was under the guidance of an experienced and technophobic teacher in Dun Laoghaire that I found a place where I could let go, sob into my pigeon, wring out my anger, and to be honest, simply find out where my heart was and listen to it for a change. Yoga gave me an alternative way to work out my shit in a safe environment.
The studio became my sanctuary. My teacher, unbeknownst to herself - became my guide. I adored her steadiness, her focus and ability to infuse a sense of humour into the class. I loved how she didn’t try to come across as a perfect person, but stayed perfect to me because she was focused on her job. She kept her students in tune with their breath. She gently encouraged them out of their comfort zones. Her praise and patience was like that of a mother teaching her child how to walk. My biggest revelation during this time was learning how to relax. Had she taken her phone out to photograph the class, the spell would have been broken. My opinion of her would have plummeted. If she were to have snapped us (no pun intended), I would have realised that she was not respecting us. She would have been stealing something from me. And that is not yoga. Further to that, had she put up my image without my consent on social media, I would have had to express my profound disappointment.
“Pointy stone meets chisel”. Korean proverb.
“Hey guys. Welcome to this supersonic yoga workshop. Do you mind if we take a few photographs at the end of class? No?” Looks around. “Okay, well we’ll begin in child's pose….”. At the risk of being a fun sponge, I am guessing some students out there are afraid to say no when asked. As a general rule, if a few people say, ‘Hey, yeah, no problem, sure thing’, it is difficult for one person who feels uncomfortable to go against the grain, to have everyone turn their heads around, looking at them in amusement and surprise. Nobody wants to be a source of amusement at the beginning of a yoga class, especially if they have been brought to that space to sort out a problem in a quiet and reflective environment. I’m also guessing many teachers don’t even bother to ask their students. If you take a photograph in a museum and are asked to leave, you have broken the rules. No hard feelings. Are you genuinely offering a choice or are you manipulating the circumstance so it is difficult for them to stand out from the crowd and say no? How much time do you give them to reconsider? What’s the follow up if they don’t sign your waiver? Would you refuse them onto your program?
To those who think I’m taking this too seriously, let’s summarise the type of things we say to ourselves when we see these savasana pics;
I can’t identify one person in that shot.
Their faces are all blurred.
They’re covered in blankets.
They all look the same.
Bodies on the floor.
Wow! Packed out class!
A young crowd.
An old crowd.
Pack of weirdos.
The letting go.
They look like dead bodies on the floor.
A low camera angle.
Creases under the arms.
Feet hip distance apart.
A mound of Venus.
Rough looking feet.
I hope the teacher remembered to turn off the shutter sound.
In an overcrowded web, some are more skilled then others in the art of seeking attention for our product/service. For mental health reasons alone, we learn how a laptop lid is a precarious door for some to open. Murky waters include compulsively checking status updates, increased rates of depression, the sadness of equating likes with self-esteem, envy when we compare our lives to the edited lives of others. All the while we dodge the bullet of being mentally hijacked by our search history.
We are in paralysis but we are beginning to question the sense of it all. As yoga teachers we frequently promote the benefits of fresh air and a restrained use of technology, with all the mental health benefits both have to offer. But I don’t think we’ve thought hard enough about the fragile internal state some students carry with them into the yoga class. While there can be innocence behind yoga teachers taking photographs of their students in class and in savasana, I think the time has come for us to discuss the presence of our phones in class at all, for reasons other then our playlists. It’s not black or white. It’s not right or wrong. It’s simply questionable – at least that is where my reflection has led me.