The dark side of being an Instagram yoga influencer
Updated: Jan 11
Erica Tenggara / @ericatenggara_
Yoga instructor, a few days away from giving birth (at the time of our interview), a little bit famous on Instagram
"If I can put my foot behind my head, I better be posting it on Instagram. And if I can’t, then I better kill myself trying to get that foot behind my head so I can post it on Instagram."
As a (currently pregnant) yogi of seven years who famously declared that I fell in love with yoga during my first class and haven’t looked back since, one of the last things you’d expect to come out of my mouth is that there are many things I hate about yoga. But the truth is, as much as I love yoga and all it has given me, such as the ability to adapt and a no-bullshit mindset, there are many things I hate about yoga. I hate the stereotypes surrounding yoga. Yes, I practice yoga, but I do not wear mala beads. Yes, I practice yoga, but I’m not about good vibes all the time – if you’ve practiced for long enough, you’ll find yourself using more swear words than you can imagine. Yes, I practice yoga, but no, I am not vegan. When I could finally stomach food after the nausea from my first trimester subsided, a green juice was not the first thing I reached for.
But most of all, I hate how yoga has become a commercialized circus show that everyone wants to participate in because it just looks so cool (and can be profitable if the yogi becomes well-known). I know; hypocritical, coming from someone who occasionally shares her practice online with 122 thousand other people. But I hate how, in my attempt to establish my presence in the community, I lost myself within the endless cycle of posing and posting. After all, how do you get people to come for your classes in this day and age? Show them how impressive you are on Instagram, of course. If I can put my foot behind my head, I better be posting it on Instagram. And if I can’t, then I better kill myself trying to get that foot behind my head so I can post it on Instagram.
The 151 thousand followers I amassed at my page’s peak did not come cheap; I injured my wrists, neck, shoulders, psoas and groin for them, the agony of which finally made me stop so I could find my breath again. Injuries suck, but you learn a lot from them. In my case, they led me to the age-old question: What is this all for? My body was in so much pain, and I was so sick of taking photos of myself and nitpicking every little thing, things that didn’t have anything to do with yoga like whether my hair was in place. It was ironic that while practicing yoga was teaching me acceptance and self-love, digitalizing it was making me more self-critical. After four years of aggressively promoting myself and my practice online, I slowly stopped taking and posting photos of myself, and at some point, completely gave up - a similar route that many other yoga influencers I know personally took as well.
The pain taught me that if I want to enjoy the things that I do, I have to do them on my own terms. If my first trimester insists on confining me to my bed, then I will listen to my body and let go of my practice while I’m pregnant, even if I become the most unfit I’ve ever been in my life. If I’m going to post on Instagram, it’s going to be the memories I want to remember, which is what I post now, even if it results in a dip in followers. It may seem contradictory to marry the practice of yoga with the performance of social media. But I’ve learnt that the more honest you are on Instagram, the less you’ll have to bridge the gap between your act in the circus show and your practice in reality. If I cannot be mindful of and open about my own limits, then how am I supposed to stretch my students to their fullest potential while ensuring they do not tear muscles in the process of it? This, I feel, is especially important in Singapore, where, compared to other countries I’ve taught in, students tend to be go-getters who crave intense workouts that they will go hard at to perfect - and then some more.
Yoga is not a marathon you have to go to extremes to complete, and you certainly do not have to be able to do the poses you see on Instagram (or be vegan, while we’re at it) to practice. People always proudly show off their poses without talking about the pain. So here I am, telling you about mine, having realized that even in the spotlight the only person I have to please is myself (and maybe my son, after he is born).
We are happy to share that Erica has since given birth to a healthy baby boy at the time of publication. Congratulations, Erica, we’re so happy for you!