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Social Media – A Navigational Guide for Yogis

There are three hot topics one never brings up in any social gathering of yogis: teacher trainings, handstands, and social media – specifically, Instagram. I quickly learned this lesson after writing my own tongue-in-cheek bit about teacher trainings – to which I received more praise and death threats than perhaps any other blog to date. (Luckily, the handstand piece stood up much better, so to speak).

Now, when it comes to yoga teacher trainings and handstands, it’s easier to draw the line. You either love ’em or you hate ’em. If you are for trainings, then you do trainings. And if you aren’t, you don’t. Same with handstands.

But that’s where social media is different … it’s what is often called a “necessary evil.” Or as in the voting booth, a place to hold your nose and hit the “post” button.

That’s because most of us think of social media as marketing (Oh! The horror!) and either believe no one can make it as a teacher if they don’t show their face – or conversely, believe just because they do, this makes them a teacher. So lets just get one thing straight … likes and followers don’t make teachers. Actual STUDENTS make teachers.

But that’s why social media gets a bad rep – because it’s misunderstood. And too often misused by the very group that loves and hates it: Yoga teachers.

So when I read Genny Wilkinson Priest’s description of walking the line “between self-indulgence and dogmatism” in the latest edition of Pushpam, I felt it was time to weigh in. Because really, the line isn’t all that fine!

Actually, social media is more like this forever-long, multi-lane bridge – connecting us with people and places we’d otherwise never get to know. Problem is, there are also a few fairly large potholes where too many teachers find themselves stuck.

So here’s a five spots you’ll want to avoid along with some teachers you might want to follow:

1. Fake News
Because people can tell the difference.

YOU are all you have to share. Not the Alternative You – the REAL you. Marketing experts will tell you, everyone loves the redemption story. You know, the kind where one goes from rags-to-riches – or in the yoga world, from the “I never thought I could” to “Look at me now!” But actually what everyone loves are REAL-LIFE redemption stories. So don’t make one up. In fact, don’t make anything up!

Besides, people know when you’re being sincere – and when you’re not.

Listen, finding your voice takes a while. I know, it’s certainly taken me a ridiculously long time – and I’m not done yet. But YOU are worth exploring and certainly worth sharing. So just do you. And that’s the most and the best you can offer anyone – anywhere.

A Real Example?  Carson Clay Calhoun. Carson is an outrageous performer of asana antics; he is wickedly talented, quirky and funny. This is who he is, even if not all who he is. And while you may think he’s over-the-top (as I have at times), friends and followers will attest – he ain’t making his schtick up!

Others who keep it real: Harmony Slater, Jessica Walden, and Eddie Stern

2. Dead Ends
Missed connections.

Don’t let this be for you on Craigslist:

I saw your post on the very morning I decided to quit practicing. It had been 6 months since I promised myself that if I didn’t nail that jump back, it was time to hang up my mat.

Overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, I was ready to give up. And then I saw your post. There you were, posed on a beach, looking beautiful as ever – talking about the time you too, almost gave up on you. I know you felt my pain. You gave me the words I needed to keep going. But when I commented to let you know how much your post meant time me, you were gone. On to the next daily challenge. No response, No like. Nothing.

Social media is a communication tool – and communication is a two-way highway. I admit, I’ve not always been the best at responding to every comment. There’s one post I put up a month or so ago that garnered an outpouring of thoughtful and heartfelt responses. So many, I got overwhelmed. Although I read every single one and was truly touched – I failed to respond. Or rather, I failed. These were my missed connections. One day soon, I’ll go back and change that.

Image by Meghan Powell from the Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine

Who is engaging? Kino MacGregor. You can chalk it up to great hair and a pretty smile, but there’s a much bigger and far more meaningful reason Kino has over a million devoted followers – because she makes her posts into conversations. Her pictures are awesome, sure. And her words really inspire. But what sets Kino apart is that she does more, she engages.

Other first responders: Jen René and Tara Mitra

3. The Numbers Game
What counts?

If you asked me a year ago what brings most people to Ashtanga Dispatch, I would’ve said social media for sure. And I would’ve been dead wrong. Because on David Keil’s recent visit, he opened up my Google Analytics – something I didn’t know much about – and what he showed me left me stunned.

More than 60% of the people who find the website do so through a Google search – with only about 35% referred through social media. Of which less than 10% is Instagram! Are you surprised? I sure was! Yet guess how much time I spend writing content for my website versus the time I spend making Instagram posts? (I won’t dare tell you!)

Lets just say, I need to lay off those challenges for a bit!

But again, if you think social media is only marketing – you have sorely misunderstood this medium. Sure, it’s part of an overall way you are able to communicate, I’ll give you this. But as my daughter said to me yesterday, “I may follow a lot of teachers on Instagram, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to their workshops.”

So instead of counting followers, here’s something more meaningful to keep track of: How many of your friends and followers comment? How many share and bookmark your posts? Because numbers don’t count – people do. Namely, YOUR people.

Whose numbers add up? David Garrigues. I hope he wouldn’t mind me saying so, but the number of followers David has is pretty modest in comparison to other teachers of similar name recognition. But what is impressive is just how many from his online community open up in response. In other words, his messages resonate with those who matter – and that’s what really counts.

Another numbers scruncher: David Keil (Actually, I started his account for him!)

4. Marketing
Instead of teaching.

Yes, I mean TEACH. Isn’t that what teachers do?

Think about it … every post is a way for you to communicate a message – your message. It doesn’t all have to be tutorials, of course. I’m also not saying online teaching replaces the in-person kind. I’d still rather a phone call over a text, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ignore my son if that’s all I get at the moment.

Besides, in a world that is becoming increasingly more and more disposable, creating media with lasting value with posts that stick and others can learn – that’s how yoga teachers can really rock the social media world with meaningful content!

Who rises to the occasion? Mark Robberds. Mark methodically went through primary, intermediate, and (I believe) advanced, breaking down the postures for anyone who follows. Besides brilliant instruction and his willingness to offer contrasting technique – Mark’s post demonstrate just how generous he is as a teacher, in how generous he is in sharing. Come to think of it – that is good marketing!

Others who model: Taylor Hunt, Krista Block, and Kiki Flynn

5. If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit …
For goodness sake, don’t wear it.

Social media is not evil but also, social media is not necessary either. There are plenty of successful, thriving, amazing teachers who do not have or operate an Instagram account. There’s Dena Kingsberg, Mark and Joanne Darby, and Hamish Hendry just to name a few. Tim Miller and John Scott have accounts, but theirs are run by students. And none of these teachers are lacking in any way from their lack of presence, online. They simply prefer to keep company with those who will come by for a visit rather than just send a text.

Who else can’t you follow? Rolf Naujokat, Manju Jois, and Andrew Tillman

Finally, one last piece of advice from our esteemed photographer: edit your photograph, but don’t over-edit.

And always give credit where credit’s deserved.


Of course, you can always follow Ashtanga Dispatch on Instagram.

And now even Sharath Jois!

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