I’m a little bit fired up. Well, maybe more than a little bit. Over the past year or so that I’ve been on Instagram, I’ve seen many unsafe, even dangerous, Yoga Challenges. But this week I saw the Challenge that broke this Yogi’s back (figuratively, of course). What is an Instagram Challenge? If you’re new to Instagram, you may not know what a Yoga Challenge is. Allow me to explain. One or more Yogis (typically, but not necessarily, Yoga teachers), and usually one or more corporate or small business sponsors, get together and plan out a calendar of one Yoga pose per day. They announce the Challenge and then every day the Yogis post a picture or video of themselves doing the pose of the day.
All the Yogis (let’s call them Challenge Leaders) encourage all of their own followers to do the Challenge with them and incent them to post pictures of themselves doing the poses by gifting the sponsor’s donated merchandise to a few lucky winners at the end of the Challenge. And they ask their followers to hashtag everyone involved, in order to increase visibility and their numbers of followers. But this isn’t what I’m fired up about.
The reason that I’m fired up is that 9.9 times out of 10, these Challenges are way too challenging for the average Yogi, and straight up dangerous for a beginner who’s trying to learn Yoga through these Instagram Challenges (which is very often the case).
Yoga Teachers Teaching Dangerous and Risky Poses The Challenge Leaders by and large are teaching fancy, upside down, handstanding/arm standing/finger standing, back bending, contortionist-type Yoga poses (because these make cool photos that draw people’s attention), and their followers are trying to replicate these risky poses.
The inherent problem with Instagram Yoga Challenges is that the average Instagram Yogi is not physically prepared to do these kinds of Yoga poses. They may lack the body awareness, core strength, arm strength, and/or flexibility to do the pose safely.
But often the Challenges are called “Beginner” Challenges, and usually they are hosted by a big name, popular Yoga teacher, who *appears* to be an expert on Yoga (because they post high quality photos of themselves doing fancy Yoga poses while wearing cool Yoga gear), and the Challenges are sponsored by a company with high value merchandise, so people follow.
Non-Yoga Teachers Teaching Injurious Misalignment Making matters worse, now non-teachers who have big Instagram followings have attracted sponsors and are leading their own Challenges and “teaching” Yoga. They are not trained Yoga teachers and do not know how to teach Yoga safely, yet they are demonstrating and teaching advanced Yoga poses to hundreds or even thousands of online followers.
Often non-teacher Challenge Leaders “teach” risky poses and bad alignment, a dangerous combination which can easily cause injury to a person who doesn’t know better. I cringe at the misalignments of the neck, shoulders, spine, and especially low back.
Challenge Followers Propagate the Cycle Sadly, and dangerously, the thousands of Instagram Challenge Followers are propagating the cycle. When they post their hashtagged photos, their own followers see them, become intrigued, start following the Challenge Leaders, and a whole new crop of Yoga Challenge Followers is born.
Risks of Learning Yoga Through Social Media To give you an idea of the kind of risk we’re talking about, let’s consider one popular type of Challenge Yoga pose: the backbend. A Backbend is any sort of pose in which the practitioner bends their back - they could be standing on their feet, on their hands, on their hands and feet, or even balanced atop another person.
When it comes to backbends and social media, people seem to think “the bigger, the better.” And that is so not the case. Sometimes a teeny tiny backbend is more than enough work for a person’s body because it’s critical to make sure one’s core is strong enough to support their low back in a backbend. When we see a person in a handstand, touching their toes, or worse, their butt, to their head, it’s important to know that this kind of pose is not safe or even appropriate for every body.
It takes a specific anatomical structure, the right training, and years of experience to even think about getting into a pose like that. And more often than not, a person’s body is not even meant to make that kind of shape.
Regardless, when it comes to “advanced”, risky poses, it’s best to practice under the careful guidance of a skilled instructor. And you simply cannot get that kind of instruction from a photo or a 15 second video and a short written description.
Lack of Accountability No one is going to come back to an Instagram Challenge Leader and say, “Hey, I did your Challenge and I got hurt!” Usually the person would assume it was their own fault for not being strong enough, practiced enough, skilled enough, etc. It wouldn’t even occur to them that the Challenge Leader was being negligent by encouraging their Followers to practice risky poses on their own without supervision and without having any knowledge of their health or fitness level.
There is no accountability. It would be pretty difficult to successfully sue a person for providing bad Yoga instruction on their Instagram page.
I have started to unfollow Yogis on Instagram who are leading or participating in this type of risky and dangerous Challenge. As a Yoga teacher whose teaching philosophy is customizing the Yoga practice to be safe and beneficial for each of my students, it really stresses me out to know that people are leading and participating in these Challenges and very likely getting hurt.
Call to Action But rather than just bury my head in the sand, I’m going to do something about it, in my own small way. And I hope you will join me.
Next month I’ll launch my own Instagram Yoga Challenge, the #yogaforeverybody #yogachallenge, with the help of my friend and our Director of Teacher Training, Emily Loupe, and my friend and our Director of Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training, Stacy Wooster. We’d love if you’d follow along on Facebook or Instagram.
This Challenge is not about fancy yoga poses, increasing our number of followers, or gaining sponsors. It is about practical yoga poses that are appropriate, safe, and beneficial for EveryBody. Yoga that will help you manage your stress, reduce your aches and pains, and increase your ease and energy. It won’t be flashy, but it will be awesome, and it will provide you tools that you can use in your real life.
Here’s how it will work. Every day Emily, Stacy, and I will post a photo or video showing our own versions of the pose of the day. In the comments, Emily and I will include several options and modifications so that you can find a version that works for your body, and Stacy will demonstrate and comment about how to do the pose safely during pregnancy.
We’ll do some popular poses like down dog and triangle, we’ll do some restorative poses that will be beneficial when you’re tired or sick or achy, and we’ll do some chair poses for when you have no choice but to sit (like at work).
You’re welcome to post your photos of your own version of the pose of the day (if you do, please tag and hashtag so that we can follow you and provide additional guidance to you if you have any questions about the poses), but you absolutely don’t have to.
We do encourage you to actually *try* the poses (rather than just read about them) so that you can experience them in your own body and figure out which poses feel most beneficial to you. You can even take notes about the poses if you’d like so that by the end of the month you create your own customized guide for your home Yoga practice.
I’d love to hear your thought about all of this! Please feel welcome to comment or email me, and I look forward to seeing you online in August.