Be the change you wish to see in the world: Yoga in the digital age
Life as a pre-internet traveller
When I started travelling around the world as a “traveller” and yoga practitioner in the 80s, I didn’t use email or mobile phones. Back then, these didn’t exist. All the social media channels, like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, were still a long way away. The internet was abstract to me, something I never thought about.
Instead, I packed my bags – with my yoga mat being the most important item – and said goodbye to family and friends. I left them some Poste Restante addresses and knew that it would take months, if not years, before we saw or heard from each other again. A collect call to the parents at Christmas was mandatory. Otherwise, I wrote letters without knowing if they’d be received or if I would get a response.
Of course, that didn’t mean these people weren’t there for me. The closest one I always held in my heart in a deep and inner way that was only meaningful for us. When letters did arrive for me at the addresses I’d given my friends and family, it was like Christmas Eve. A holy moment where the closeness was breathed by the long-awaited letters from them.
I missed the direct contact with my loved ones, but at the same time there was a calmness in being with myself and totally present wherever I found myself. Focussing on the moment gave me the quietness and time to immerse myself in what I took on and to live fully in whatever I found myself doing.
Every experience was for me or shared with those directly around me. Something that strengthened and deepened the depth and scope of the experience itself.
There was something beautiful in being undisclosed to myself and those close to me in each moment. Not knowing anything about anyone was a freedom which strengthened its own integrity and also my inner and outer focus. A freedom in many ways! The soul had time to just be and a rare calm was present.
The rise of social media
When I started teaching in the mid 90s, I never did any marketing. I didn’t advertise myself as a yoga teacher or Yogashala Stockholm, which I founded in 1999. That same year I got my first mobile phone, which was unfortunately destroyed a few weeks later in my handbag with the help of a leaking hand cream. It took another year before my second mobile landed in my hand and since then I have been through a few more. Nowadays, the mobile is a small computer and I’m easily connected with my loved ones and many others in my network.
Today I’m skeptical of how social media and marketing of yoga teachers have evolved. What happens to us with all the information we constantly receive? What is social media doing to our minds and brains? All the trends, opinions, motives and sometimes witch hunting runs out there! Who is behind it all and why do we feel so compelled to broadcast our innermost thoughts to an audience without a direct receiver? I’m thinking, in particular, of our underlying need for confirmation, which is expressed in so many different ways. Who takes responsibility for where everything lands? All these questions make me bothered, and sometimes quite worried. I believe that, as an individual, I am responsible for what I’m giving out about myself and others. What is my purpose, my intention? It is important that I understand for myself why I want to give out this information, before opinions and marketing take place in social media.
Being on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter is a life beyond my heartfelt life with my family and friends. It is a life out there in the ether without direct recipients and without responsibility for what is said about myself or others.
Yes, I use these media to inform people about my courses and briefly about where I am in the world. And sometimes I post a status with a beautiful picture or something that makes me happy. To be greeted on my birthday or to greet someone else is a pleasure, and keeping in touch with current friends or connecting with old friends is a pure joy.
Certainly, social media is a joy at times, but exposing my inner private self, my demons, or putting out various images to create or sell a product is not my melody. I will save that for my loved ones, where there is trust, proximity and follow-up.
Making real connections
As far as my role as a yoga teacher is concerned, Facebook is great at spreading information about my courses, but many students still come to me through recommendation or through my website. I still believe that word-of-mouth is the best method. If something is good – if a yoga teacher is skilled and experienced – those who know about it will pass on the information. Having millions of followers on Instagram or doing handstands on Facebook has nothing to do with the quality of a yoga teacher or a human being.
To meet in real life with open eyes and an open mind is still the most beautiful for me. This is life in its very closest and intimate form – and its most beautiful; I want to live there as much as possible.
A major model for me is Mahatma Gandhi. He affected so many people simply by being who he was and living his values and what he believed in. He was the embodiment of ahimsa – non-violence. If this was used with awareness on social media and in real life, the whole world would look and develop completely differently.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi
Life is an adventure of our own design, intersected by fate and a series of lucky and unlucky accidents - Patti Smith