Faux-gis: The Problem with Instagram Yogis Who Don't Walk the Walk

by Rachel Cantave

I’ve been going to yoga classes since my sophomore year of college. I go about twice a week and I love it. It is a part of my mental health and self-care regimen; but don’t get it twisted… I may go, but I never drink the Kool-Aid.

I am well aware the exercise that we in the West call “yoga” has little, if anything, to do with the historic spiritual and philosophical practice in India. While I enjoy doing (for lack of a better word) “yoga,” I am not about the appropriation of actual yoga. I am not about the hokey “Om,” or the Putumayo sitar mix, or the speaking in Sanskrit. I don’t say “Namaste!” to greet people or go to spiritual yoga retreats in Costa Rica. I don’t feel the need to “find myself” by misrepresenting someone else’s sacred practice. Again, I don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

But I did get into following the Instagram pages of people blending yoga with photography.

If you follow @laurasykora or @lamise, you know all about the cool photos of bendy women and men in colorful pants. I dig it. I was following at least 10 of these Instagram yoga celebrities. I even appreciated the Oprah-esque quotes they would post below pictures of them balancing off a rock in the middle of the ocean or folded into a square on a park bench during sunrise. I loved the silhouettes and the quotes, ranging from Paulo Coelho to Dr. King, offering insights on love, self-care, perseverance, and health.

They were giving me some serious life!

But then something started happening that I could not shake. Actually, to be specific: nothing happened. As I mourned Trayvon Martin’s death and then Zimmerman’s acquittal, no one said anything. Nothing. These people so dedicated to peace that they have Ghandi quotes on hand and proudly claim that they honor all life, including those of animals, had nothing to say about young Trayvon’s life, about Michael Brown’s life, about Tarika Wilson’s life, Eric Garner’s life, about Yvette Smith’s life, about all these lives…

While the rest of us are struggling to comprehend the brutalization of our children and communities, nothing had changed in IG yoga land. They were still sipping green tea out of colorful mugs, stretching on the beach, giving us silly headstands next to the Eiffel Tower, and quotes from Bhagavad-Gita. It made me sick. It wasn’t just white Instagram yogis either. I always look for diverse representations on my IG feed (check @frosandbeaus!). Even some of our sisters had nothing to say. And when someone finally had something to say—during the height of NYPD’s indignation towards Mayor DeBlasio and its refusal to take responsibility for using excessive force—it came in a picture of brown and white arms lined up, with a comment about how we need to stop making everything about race, because if everyone were more dedicated to respect and not hate, these issues would not persist… Um, no.

There were people in the comments talking about structural violence and institutional racism. And there was a defensive yogi talking about “her opinion…”

That was when I’d had enough.

I know that human beings are complex and complicated, but I can only handle so much hypocrisy. At that moment, I had crossed the hypocrisy threshold. How can someone purport to care about love and self-development and when push comes to shove, be totally obtuse to the blatant injustices within our society? I called bullshit on all of it and un-followed at least ten people I now refer to as “faux-gis.” Fake ass yogis. FAUX-GIS.

Faux-gis are inspired by convenience and beauty, basking in the willful ignorance of anything that doesn’t fit their pretty and “colorful” lives. Meanwhile, people are dying, y’all. Our communities are being terrorized. Change is happening and faux-gi’s are on the sidelines, drinking kale on a beach quoting the Beatles.

I started to find people of color engaged in the IG yoga community who were more thoughtful and critical. I found women and men not afraid to ruffle feathers by condemning the kinds of violence and micro-aggressions that could lead to nine black people being shot to death during bible study. These people used yoga alongside activism and art. That, to me, is truly inspirational.

Recently I unfollowed a yogi that I fell in love with a few months ago. We are name twins and her page was filled with some serious natural fierceness, simplicity, and strength. This sister was strong! Like, lifting her body into a handstand over monkey bars strong. I loved it. I felt inspired. I even forced my friends to follow her. Then I found out she was the worst kind of faux-gi: one who gives no fucks about things that surely deserve them.

Recently, she posted a photo from Santo Domingo and the very first comment under it read, “I guess you didn’t get the memo? #boycottDR.” Naively, I thought surely she will explain that she got these tickets before knowing about the DR’s forced evacuations of Haitian immigrants and their children. Surely! Surely, she would say that she does not support “ethnic cleansing” or the long, hateful beef of the Dominican government against Haitian migrant workers, but just had to go for … I don’t know… a funeral?! Something?! Instead, another comment asked her how things were “on the ground there,” since American media is not always trustworthy.

And her vomit-inducing response? “The Haitian’s I’ve met are just fine, ‘don’t believe the hype.’”

WHAT?! Hold up, WHAT did you say?! That’s like a Swedish tourist coming to Washington, D.C. and telling their friends back home, “Met some black folks in D.C. They’re doing just fine. Don’t believe that Baltimore hype.” I left a comment calling her comments “irresponsible” and “insensitive” before I unfollowed.

I sometimes wonder, “What difference does it make?” I am just one person unfollowing her. But as a person with money power (a consumer), I have the right to not support things that I do not agree with. I am also vocal about why I don’t support certain things. I support black businesses. I support movies with diverse casts. And now I support yogis who use their Instagram platform for more than a barrage of pretty posts. It may never make a difference in the grand scheme of things, but it makes a difference where it counts: in me, in my peace of mind, in my spirituality.

I can’t support faux-gis and their self-interested platforms, superficially engaging with others (see: messiah complex). It seems absolutely disingenuous to present yourself as a peace advocate or life guru, and yet completely ignore the messy and tough parts of human life. It’s also extremely short-sighted. Living a meaningful life is equally about doing cartwheels with your dog or holding your breath in a pool as it is about standing up against genocide, sexism, poverty, institutional racism, political corruption, and police brutality. And while those things may not seem to be an important part of your life (*cough cough* privilege! *cough*), they do have a large impact on many other people’s lives. Ignoring it only reinforces the status quo—and the status quo equals rich, white supremacist misogyny. Maybe that’s exactly the kind of followers faux-gis are looking for?

Either way, I personally won’t follow any more kale smoothie drinking, “downward dog with my mini” IG yogis if they are not willing to openly stand (or handstand, for all I care!) on the side of JUSTICE.

If you are looking for socially aware yogis on Instagram, here are some that I follow:
  • @Devi_rebecca
  • @Iamreneewatkins
  • @Hippie_heathen
  • @Ifcukgurlz
  • @Dade2shelby
  • @Spirituallyfly
Photo: Shutterstock

Rachel Cantave is a researcher, anthropologist, and proud descendant of Haiti/Ayiti.

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