There is nothing like sitting back and watching a really crazy movie.
Before I became a yoga teacher, I studied TV and movies. I studied screenwriting at Emerson College, where I was exposed to all kinds of film and television. The professors asked us not only to watch, but to analyze, discuss, and write at length about these narratives. There was an entire class about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Buffy Studies.” It sounds silly, but pop culture reveals so much about class, gender, race, and ethics in society.
Though I did not ultimately pursue a screenwriting career in LA, I maintained a passion for stories and how they are told. I still watch movies with a critical eye. Every movie, even the “bad” ones, teach me something about human nature. The characters, the actors and directors who bring them to life, and the viewer all play a role in the experience. The movie can provoke fear, excitement, anger, hope, or just boredom. It is not so different that the way many students absorb a yoga class sequence and the teacher who delivers it.
One movie really got me thinking recently: Ingrid Goes West. The story hit me hard like a colorful, recklessly driven bus. Aubrey Plaza (a DE native!) stars as the titular character who travels west to LA in order to find (re: stalk) and basically con an Instagram star, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Ingrid’s motive does not seem to be anything more sinister than befriending Taylor and being part of her shiny, social media-posted world. Still, Ingrid is unstable and her voracious need for inclusion makes you wince. The two start to become close until Taylor’s sociopathic brother Nicky comes to visit. It is not long before he attempts to sabotage Ingrid’s plan. Taylor, though sandwiched between two very troubled people, is not exactly the innocent victim. The sunny, chic, clean-eating flower child persona she projects on Instagram does not tell the whole truth. The rapid fire of glossy posts, perky hashtags in this film, along with the slow burn of nervous breakdowns and narcissism is enough to make your head spin.
My husband summarized Ingrid Goes West half way through: “This is a train wreck.”
The big takeaway for me was the danger of FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out--the sentiment so widely felt, it is now in the dictionary. Granted, this movie is an extreme case, but how many people have agonized like Ingrid does about social media? How many of us have felt that twinge of envy, panic, the desire to be somewhere else, maybe even someone else…
We could blame it all on those dang millennials with their upspeak, ironic sweaters, and their avocado toast (guilty as charged on all accounts), but every generation has known discontentment. People of all ages are also now capable of using and abusing social media.
Yoga is supposed to be an antidote to FOMO. It is supposed to help us find santosha, or contentment. Santosha is one of the five Niyamas (Observances), which is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. (It is easy to forget that ansana, or physical posture, is only one of the limbs.)
I am unsure about the role of yoga within social media or vice versa. I do not think it is strictly a good or bad thing. I do think it is a thing we should be mindfully observing as teachers and students. Take Instagram—there are so many inspiring, beautiful photos of people doing asana. Jessamyn Stanley is a positive example of yoga inspiration. She embraces her body and shows people that you do not have to be a sinewy white woman to rock a strong practice. She admits that she only started posting those pictures to track her alignment, but it became an inclusive movement. On the other hand, can a person truly practice while projecting an image? Is the person doing headstand by a waterfall aiming to inspire us, or are they “humble bragging”? Also, those rocks look slippery. Do they have health insurance? I feel a mixture of awe and concern. Maybe the issue is not with the person posting these daring acts of nature yoga, but with those who scold it as superficial. You could turn it around and simply call them jealous. As a yoga teacher and practioner who has posted a pose or two, I see both sides. I have to say that I truly admire—often “LIKE”—a strong headstand on a beach. Assuming their cervical spine is healthy—how cool! It makes me happy to see the simple yoga posts too—like someone folding with ease in a wide angle forward fold, even if I miss out on that experience in my own practice. Why should I begrudge them? Really though, it does not matter if I am content or not with their practice. The key, I believe, is contentment with my own yoga journey, camera-ready or not.
Yoga teacher Rachel Brathen had a very big social media presence until recently. She was quoted in Yoga Journal (March 2018):
For me, yoga is now about connecting people so they can create community. That’s really hard to do online and through social media. I kind of hope everything spins back around and drops off the Internet—that people loop back into the practice of student-teacher relationships and being in the room with other people. Social media still has a place—for example the #metoo movement. I just wish more teachers, especially younger teachers in the online space, would think of social media as a way to help the world, instead of just as a way to become a big name. There is so much work to be done.
There is caution, but also hope in Brathen’s message. Social media is the way many people find out about a local yoga studio or teacher. Informative articles about yoga anatomy or philosophy can be shared as well. These posts of pictures and articles are not yoga, but they may spark a light in someone to try the actual practice. Once someone decides to walk in a studio or work with a teacher, the community that Brathen mentions can actually be built.
Social media aside, what’s the real cause of FOMO? It will always happen in a class, too. So many of us have rubbernecked around and thought, Why can’t I look like ___? His/ her ___ is so perfect. The difference in an actual class is that we are seeing another person, not just their image on a screen. We have the opportunity to connect with that person face to face. If we talk to this person we idolize or envy, we might learn that they are human like us. Maybe that is the thing that disturbed me most about Ingrid Goes West—the failure to connect in an honest way.
I’m going to note feelings of FOMO in my own practice. Where do they come up? What triggers it? How can I be more content with the body, mind, and emotions that I have right then? If we try this, it could make for an interesting journey instead of a train wreck.