Like “self-care,” the word “yoga” has become so commodified, that we’ve forgotten what it actually means. In her new book, Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance, Jessamyn Stanley reminds us that it’s more than a series of poses and disciplines. It’s taking the flexibility, strength, and grounding energy we create and channeling them in our most challenging off-the-mat moments.
Through a series of honest and hilarious essays covering race, sexuality, self-love, and more, we discover how the VOTY 100 honoree embodies this “yoga of everyday.” It may just transform the way you approach your own practice, too.
In an exclusive excerpt, Stanley writes about how social media has impacted her personal identity, as well as her work as a yoga professional and creative.
Teaching yoga on social media means fighting with your ego every day. Praying that it doesn’t eventually swell so large that you turn into a blimp. It means checking, constantly checking. It means posting, constantly posting. It means creating, constantly creating. But always with the other person in mind, always with your followership riding shotgun. The follower begins to color your inner sight. It becomes hard to see yourself without them. It’s hard to know yourself without them. It means constantly thinking of ways to do better, to do more than the other guy. It’s a never-ending state of comparison—no amount of work is ever enough and the idea of “good enough” becomes a fantastical myth. I don’t think it’s possible to work in social media without these feelings eventually rising to the surface. Frankly, I don’t think you can engage with social media at all without eventually arriving on this page.
But cave drawings and hieroglyphics were the original social media feed. And if Instagram had existed in pre-Partition India, B. K. S. Iyengar would’ve been the OG IG kid. Social media is an evolution of the show-and-telling that has pretty much always been a staple of human behavior. In social media, I’m embedded in the world of my people. Me and my people are obsessed with what we look like. We feed off the adoration of others. We look outside ourselves for the home that already exists within. We tranquilize and intoxicate ourselves to dull what it feels like to be alive. We’re taking the edge off our constant repetition of lies and conflation. Our digital avatars become yet another mask atop our light. Me and my people are strangers to ourselves. In response, our children are absorbing this behavior and now their selfworth is irrevocably tied to the impact of social media.
I’m always reminding myself to question the internet, question social media, question the art of curating my digital avatar at the expense of understanding my actual identity. We’re in a digital war, and the mind is its battlefield. I think I expect my digital avatar to somehow be a better version of myself. I expect her to be better than the me I embody in real life. Against my better judgment, I respect royalty and expect hierarchy. I expect to be represented by who I hope to be rather than who I know myself to be, and I admire the avatars of those who pretend to be what feels just out of my reach, rather than what lives beneath my surface.
I think the internet has dramatically evolved how spiritual rhetoric will be conveyed, just like how the written word changed and evolved spiritual discourse. Everything changed when bitches got access to pen and paper. What had previously only been conveyed orally could suddenly be spread and shared with the masses. But I think mystics and skeptics of earlier generations would’ve needed to write fewer books if they’d had access to the internet. Fuck the number of people that can read your book. Think of how many people can casually engage with your Instagram posts. It becomes possible to influence an entire generation before breakfast with the same energy you’re using to take a shit.
It’s true that sometimes yoga can become solely about followership but, if I’m being honest, I think that’s probably fine. I think every version of the practice is probably fine, because the message always ends up being the same. The destination is always the same. Vapid as it is, tap dancing for Instagram likes still got me to self acceptance. Social media provides an accurate, shocking, and embarrassing mirror in which to view my truth, and by standing on my internet soapbox, people I will never meet are still introduced to a practice that will inevitably introduce them to themselves as well. It may seem like the digital age trivializes yoga, but is anything about the spread of compassion ever really trivial?