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A conversation about photos in Savasana (and in Yoga class in general)

If you teach a yoga class and you don’t Instagram it, did it really happen?—Alexis Marbach

The popularity and success of social media could be said to be mirrored in many ways to the wellness industry. The boom of social media in the early 2000's has been so far reaching (expected to have a net worth of £242.49 billion by 2025) it has helped many industry's flourish, one major one being the wellness industry. (4)

Social media lends it's self to the promotion, advertisement and encouragement of wellness practices given the aesthetic qualities of say a gong bath in a woodland or a yoga class on the beach. These images are able to encourage a sensory and emotional response from the viewer, as show something of an 'ideal' way to live, feel and be.

Given the wellness industry is currently estimated to be worth £3 billion (despite the fact that recent studies have found the use of social media has a detrimental effect on mental health and 'wellness,' the irony is not lost on me here) I'm assuming pretty much everyone will have seen an advertisement for a yoga class, course, retreat, article or image at least once.

How we advertise wellness has always baffled me, the amount of spiritual bypassing used, the seemingly natural yet staged peaceful photos (aiming to show someone in practice and oblivious to the fact they have a camera directed at them) and yes please look through my social media, you will see some perfect examples of this.

I enjoy studying the trends that come and go - the use of overexposure, the long exposure, the fonts, use of language, colour palettes, the use of seafronts/woods/natural spaces, the asana/position that is now most popular. This may be (probably one of the only uses I can put to my art degree) an analyzing eye on design and semiotics on my half, however given I work within the industry and display myself (albeit reluctantly and with a pinch of salt) on social media, I questions how I have been influenced to advertise my own classes.

Looking back it's always pretty cool to see a brand/company evolve in their visual display and use of visual language, if I look back my first 'logo' was an image I made out of a marbled book cover, sewn into the silhouette of someone in a bound low lunge (or 'Baddha Anjaneyasana' in Sanskrit, nice aesthetic pose) which I printed out via vistaprint on postcards, debating whether rounded corners, glossy coating, and paper weight.

Social media wasn't a thing then which to be honest I feel so grateful about, there was no Instagram, Facebook was just kicking off, Bebo was still Bebo, My space was for the cool kids. So it was a case of me putting these postcards in the local shops, cafes, bars and chippies.

Being fresh out of my yoga training and not really having much critical awareness of what I was getting into, the use of imagery and language developed over time into me not having a logo, removing myself from the Yoga Alliance (this is referred to in a post I'm currently writing called '200 hours TTC'), not using social media, and all in all detangling myself from the sticky and uncomfortable situation which is wellness, especially on digital platforms.

This brings to my mind a BBC article written in 2023 by Pritti Mistry, which described how a yoga class was mistaken as a mass killing and the class was raided by the police, this may sound funny (I had 4 people forward me the link to this article) and a balls up, but I think it's a good example of how abstract it is to see a group of people laying down with their eyes closed, completely still, let alone see a picture of it circulating, to someone who isn't constantly bombarded with the whole Savasana photo craze and what their natural response is (even if this example is bearing on the extreme side of reaction, possibly).


So why has this become a normal thing to see on social media?

The way in which capitalism has swept over the yoga industry has meant that there's been a quick turn around (especially during and since the pandemic) whereby there is huge encouragement and advertisement for individuals who fall under the algorithum of the 'wellness and yoga' audience (and preferably female, white, physically able) to take their yoga teacher training.

However do teaching sylybus' cover use of visual imagery and consent? If not why not? 

In more traditional trainings students have to read and are taught such texts as The Bhagavad Gita or Yoga Sutras, but why is it that the norm for people talking about their practice or traning or knowledge of yoga, is attached to an image of them doing a position/asana (Handstands (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) have really been popular in recent years followed by the classic Headstand (Sirsasana), Dancers pose (Natarajasana) or Tree pose (Vrksasana)) or you've got it, a photo of a class they have taught or attended where students are in Savasana. 

Why is this? Perhaps this is rightly so a way of the individual celebtrating their achievement and practice to work on this form/asana/teaching, but also perhaps this is because we are part of an industry that is encouraged to perform, advertise and sell an ancient practice.

So if we are seemingly accredited at professional standards (joining the YA, British Wheel of Yoga etc) then how are we not taking into account people's personal details and right to privacy.

As teachers, we ask you to do two things that would be totally irrational in any other context: to lie in a vulnerable physical and emotional space with your eyes closed, and to trust us. Taking photos of you while you are laying it all out there violates the trust and safe space we’ve promised to hold for you. If savasana becomes an opportunity for a photo op, I wouldn’t be surprised if you either covered yourself entirely with blankets and rolled to one side or opted not to return to class at all.

‌My assessment of your feelings could be completely off. You could be lying in savasana thinking, Wow, this class did not give me what I needed. Meanwhile, I’m posting a picture of you with a caption that reads: “This class was magical and transcendent! #blessed!” I’m inserting my own assessment, my own story, to promote the class instead of being present with you and holding the space for you until the moment you walk out the door. I am here for you. You are not here for my social media posts. (1)

-Alexis Marbach

Speaking to my partner who has only done the odd dodgy yoga class with me at home, he said he thinks taking photos of people in Savasana in class is lovely and he sees no problem with it. Bearing in mind I have always been very rigorous with consent, I think I used to feel the same, it was a good advertisement of how relaxing and seemingly quiet and restful yoga can be, however when I was recently photographed multiple times in a gong bath I attended, without consent and published, it made me feel very differently about sharing images in such environments whether there has been consent or not.

In my most recent experience of this there was was no consent form issued, no mentioning of the use of photographs or recordings being taken throughout the class, and it was even encouraged at the end whereby the instructor said that the person that shares the most photos of the gong bath on social media will get a free ticket to the next one. This really didn't sit right with me.

Why is it we see these moments as the perfect photo opportunity? People are laying down, they have their eyes closed, they are resting so are probably unaware they are part of a photo op until they see the photo pop up on social media etc afterwards. Is it because we can get the correct angle, we can show people how busy our classes are, we can show others the vibe of our classes and teachings and the gorgeous environments we get to teach in? Is this ethical, is it considerate, is it yogic? I'm not sure to be honest and that's why I stopped doing this last year, and quite frankly annoyed at myself for not stopping before that.

I realise I am fortunate in the fact I started instructing yoga over 10 years ago and it is a very different industry now, I question whether someone could create, start and maintain a yoga instructing role without the use of social media today - I have no idea and worry it may not be the case, maybe it is just another sign of how capitalised yoga has become and how removed from it's roots, or maybe not and that's the cynic in me.

If this has struck a chord with you the amazing Alexis Marbach has some advice to share:

Demonstrate to students that the real practice is much more than the asana practice by staying present—without attachment to the effect of the practice and the teaching on your career.

Teaching a class without posting about it will not lessen in the least your influence on the people in the room. And those are the people who ought to matter most. (1)

How do you feel about photos being published of a yoga class with all the students in Savasana, whether you were in the class, knew someone in it, recognised someone, were trying to check out the teachers class size and environment or otherwise?

What do you think?

Hannah x


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