I feel the need to have a rant. I’ve just searched #yoga on Instagram to research this piece. I don’t do this very often because it leaves me exasperated and full of concern about how the images I see on Instagram influence how people perceive yoga.

It doesn’t start or end with Instagram. Yoga has had an image problem for decades. When I was starting my yoga business, I was creating my webpage and looking for images, perusing a well-known image website. Thousands of photos available, but finding images that fairly represent my style of gentle, mindful yoga or the diversity of my client base has proved far more problematic.

Search for “yoga” on whatever platform you like and you will see a plethora of:

  • Skinny / young / sexy,
  • White,
  • Women,
  • Doing acrobatics / gymnastics.

Skinny / Young / Sexy

Ah yes. The yoga leggings and crop tops. The bare midriffs. And that’s if you’re lucky – on Instagram some women appear to have forgotten to dress beyond their underwear. Now I am no prude, but yoga is definitely not represented by bare bums and a cleavage that says more, “hello boys” than “om shanti”. I’m pretty sure there is nothing in the yoga sutras to suggest that hyper-sexualisation is part of the path to enlightenment. I had to scroll through 30 photos on Instagram to find someone who I would consider to be a normal, regular kinda person wearing normal, regular kinda clothes.


Since yoga came over to the West at the turn of the 20th century the original practice has become increasingly diluted, westernized and white-washed. Of course we all know that yoga originated in India but you’d be hard-pushed to work that out from Google Images. I nearly gave up scrolling before seeing a South Asian face.


Yes, more women do yoga than men. Well, they do now – go back to the origins of yoga and women were not even ALLOWED to do yoga. I am more than grateful that we’ve moved on from that but guys, yoga is for you too!

(And the men that are on photographed doing yoga seem even more likely to be barely clothed, oiled and buffed. Men shouldn’t be hyper-sexualised either).

Doing acrobatics / gymnastics

OK, the danger here is that I open up the whole “what is yoga?” question. So I shall try to make my issues with the kind of yoga you often see on social media and depicted in media photography succinct – maybe the easiest thing is to discuss what yoga isn’t. Yoga is not (necessarily) bending your body into a pretzel. Yoga is not contorting your body into pain. Yoga is not pushing into hypermobile joints just because they easily bend that way. Even after 20 years of yoga I’m a pretty unbendy person, and a lot of what I see just makes me say, “ouch!”. I have had back pain and yoga has really helped me with that, but certainly not by bending myself in half, either forwards or backwards! When I see someone’s neck thrown right back or crooked at a funny angle it makes me wince. Where you might see an impressive demonstration of a leg wrapped around a head or a shoulder, I see a future hip replacement.

Why is all of this a problem? Firstly, as a white woman myself I am acutely aware that what I am teaching is not from my culture. That doesn’t preclude me from teaching it but I think it’s important that we respect and acknowledge our sources. Western practitioners and science have improved some aspects of the study of yoga, especially from an anatomical perspective but we mustn’t lose sight of where yoga came from and the full breadth of it’s teachings. A very small amount of yoga is in the posture pracatice but in the West we appear to have cherry picked that element and left the other 7 limbs of yoga behind.

You don’t need me to tell you that the hyper-sexualisation of anything is a bad thing. All of those photos of skinny, young, white women create a completely false impression of what yoga is for, what it can do and why you should do it. Yoga teacher Peter Yates once told me that, back in the late 90’s when Madonna led the celebrity fad for yoga, he would say to his students, “I can’t teach you how to look like Madonna but I can teach you how to not want to look like Madonna.”

And imagery is where yoga gets difficult. Because yoga is not about an external image. Yoga posture practice is not about making shapes. It’s not about copying the moves your teacher or the latest Insta-yoga star makes. It’s not about peak postures and “yoga goals”. It’s about how YOUR body feels, right here, right now. When I teach I try to guide my students through how they feel rather than where their body should be. We take things slow and repeat them over and over. Sometimes we even make it to standing up. It’s not sexy. It’s not dramatic. But it is yoga.