To Yoga Porn or Not to Yoga Porn?

Hot yoga is not my favorite.

I appreciate the value of a good sweat, but there’s something about closed rooms swelling with expired air that makes me feel claustrophobic. 

That said, sometimes it’s the only class I can get to, so I handle it. I focus on my practice. I focus on pressing into the ball of my foot, on balance. I focus on my breath. Sometimes it's a long draw, other times small sips of air. And sometimes I just distract myself. I look around and wonder if anyone else feels uncomfortable. 

It’s hard to tell. Hot yoga is sweaty and gritty and in some ways more exposed: hence the not uncommon tight tops and tiny bottoms. Holy fuck they’re confident, I think through distraction. But are they? 

Is barely-there fabric a sign of true confidence or fashion flash? Is it just practical? Or is it another form of “yoga porn”? 

I don’t think all of this during class, of course. If I did, I’d be spending more time on the floor than my mat, but I’m thinking about it now. I’m thinking about it because I’ve been reading an influx of articles circulating on yoga-themed websites and blogs about this seemingly wild and infectious thing called yoga porn.

First, let me just say, I don’t know who coined the phrase “yoga porn,” but it’s pretty funny. The salacious suggestion makes me giggle. The yoga community isn’t as prudish as some might like to believe. But, I suppose to some degree, whether that’s “good” or “bad” is what’s being debated. 

Second, know that I don’t personally care what other yogis wear, or more accurately, what they don’t wear when they practice. Their choices are not about me. When I’m distracted and looking for an excuse not to meet my edge, my mind wanders – true. Yet at the end of the day, all that matters is how I show up for my practice. I’m just so unbelievably curious.

Why has “yoga porn” generated such a dynamic call to action when the cheeky, potential classroom show-and-tell just really hasn’t? 

Let’s start with: what is yoga porn? 

In a word: images. 

In two words: asana images. 

In more words: yoga porn is what’s said to happen when yogis pose for the camera in various, often challenging postures and in various, often exotic locations, and in various, often negligible clothing, and then share those images on the web.

The word “porn” implies the images have pornographic intent. That is, basically, the intent to emphasize the sensuous or sexual potential of the image’s subject to evoke further interest and/or a specific response. 

Are there yoga pornography websites? I don’t know. I haven’t looked. In my mind, that would really just be “regular” porn. Right? So, is the intent of calling these images populating the Web “porn” to say that they are in fact pornography or to imply that, according to yogic principles, there is something morally, ethically wrong with posting these images to the Web?

Obviously, when you intimate the potentially illicit or sexual in a headline you grab readers’ interest. But, my assumption is this has nothing to do with porn, not really. My assumption is that this conversation is as much about the yogi image (not an image, The Image) as it is about philosophy or “right living” on and off the mat. And I think that’s the chief conundrum. This conversation—to yoga porn or not to yoga porn—is full of projection and assumption. 

Consider this: when we look at an image on the Web, in this case, a yoga selfie or snapshot, it feels like we are looking at evidence of someone’s behavior, of their choices, captured. But, really, it is only a moment in time and pulled out of context. Which is to say, unless the image expressly comes captioned with an explanation of the yogi’s intention or purpose for the photo, all we Web surfers see is what we want, or can, see. It’s a projection of what we understand. It’s an assumption. 

So, I think it’s fair to ask: can you look at an asana selfie sailing through your stream and say, definitively, that it’s out of alignment with that yogi’s “right living,” with how he or she lives yoga on and off the mat? Can you say, definitively, that it’s pure ego, exploitative, intended to elicit a specific or sexual response, that it’s violating to all of Yoga (capital “Y”), that it’s porn? Can you say, definitively, that it is or isn’t someone’s version of Sadhana  an extension of meaningful spiritual practice, transformation, and connection  through technology? 

It’s like the tight tops and tiny bottoms I mentioned earlier. If I look at the beautiful yogi practicing in the row in front of me, wearing only a sports bra and booty shorts, sweating like a beast, and I say to myself, Damn, that outfit is ridiculous; she must be seriously confident. Does the implication that she is dressed inappropriately plus the assumption of her confidence (both projections that come from whatever’s going on within me) make them true? It just feels yucky. 

It’s judgmental. Yes. But, it’s also out of alignment with ahimsa, one of the core yogic principles. The practice of ahimsa, non-harming or nonviolence to our hearts within and to the world without (physical, mental, and emotional), creates the space to release anything, really, which stands in the way of peace. “Anything” means overt judgment, yes, but it also includes more subtle habits and attitudes that keep you separate, that keep you from peace. 

Patanjali gave us ahimsa, one of many virtues, in the Yoga Sutras, but he didn’t dictate how to interpret or apply any of them. That’s up to the practitioner to determine. Why wield them to introduce greater separation into the community, our community, or the world at large when yoga is a lifestyle, a practice of union? (Yoga: to yoke, to join or unite.) And since we’re all subject to our own interpretation and vulnerable to the interpretations of others, it just feels like the only answer to the question — to yoga porn or not to yoga porn — is the one staring us in the face.

Maybe I was a little more than curious. Maybe I had my own attitude to explore and didn’t realize it. Maybe my own path to peace is a little more cluttered than I realized. 

What is the truth? 

I don’t know the universal truth of what is right or wrong, good or bad. But everything about my yoga shows me that when I am willing to free myself of the habit or need to police others’ choices, I have much more space to discover my own truth. And once I hear that call, the call of my own pulsing heart, above all other noise, I can see my path much more clearly, whether that path leads me to share my truth publicly in words or images or not at all. 

"To thine own self be true."

It just makes damn good sense. You have to go with your gut. Only you know your true motives, whether they are non-harming or egotist or otherwise. We all know there are a lot of assholes in the world, people whose motives are not pure. But what they do doesn’t matter. What matters are your motives and whether or not you can live with the answer to the question, to yoga porn or not to yoga porn? When you ask, what do you hear? 

Photo Cred: Engaged Bloggers


Author photo ljs2

Lauren Shapiro is a writer, blogger, and certified yoga instructor. Offline and off the mat, you can find her photo frenzying, rock hunting at the beach, or learning to cook for her friends and family. Find her latest nitty gritty on writing and living an authentic life on her blog at www.laurenjshapiro.com or @laurenjshapiro.com