Mountaintops are littered with them. They’re found on beautiful hikes worldwide, pointed at trees and terraces. Almost every waterfall and body of water is surrounded with them, and there are few sunsets that go unmissed. They’re phones, equipped and ready to post photos, tweets, and status updates to whatever social network that manages to receive enough cell service. But what place does social media have in the woods?
We’ve been taking photos of our adventures for centuries, and there’s no doubt the tradition will continue. Where it’s going, though, is often to our Facebook walls, our Instagram feeds, and our Twitter timelines.
The difference between taking photos for memories and taking photos for show ends at whom the photo is actually for. Is a photo of a beautiful hike through the Rocky Mountains, edited and cropped just right and sent to Facebook, really for the memory, or for the show?
Moosejaw customer service member Carl Peterson thinks it’s for the show.
“It’s showing your friends where you’re at, and where they’re not,” he said.
Peterson said sharing photos and updates are ways of connecting to people, and ultimately that is the biggest change with the rise of social media use.
It changes the way humans interact with one other. Instead of re-telling a story about the hike, the photo is right there on your timeline. Peterson said this doesn’t necessarily make hiking worse though, but it definitely changes the conversation about the activity.
If it did make it worse, we probably wouldn’t be doing it so much. But how much does taking a photo interrupt taking in the scenery? Even though it may not be much, the time wasted trying to figure out how to do a panorama and then scaling the beach for service can add up after a while.
Ultimately, it’s about the negative connotation that social media has—and being on a phone in general. Much of this has stemmed from the narcissistic quality social media is associated with.
Yoga instructor Thomas Anton summed it up as experience shopping, saying that people often have experiences in the outdoors and are spending the time just to post the photo later.
“Have you ever been to a wedding where the photographer takes over?” Anton asks. He went on to explain how the two situations are similar, worrying about getting the right photo takes time, and takes away from the experience itself. “Your mind gets taken away from being in the moment of what you’re there to do,” he said.
He posed another question: “What’s driving it?” Are you taking the photo to post to your grandmother’s Facebook, are you posting it on Instagram with 16 hashtags hoping for a few likes, or are you just saving the photo to look at later?
None of these options are necessarily wrong, one isn’t better than the other, but the intention can surely change the experience.
The yoga community on Instagram has definitely taken a different route over the past year in this regard as well. Yoga teachers, students, beginners, and novices alike have started to participate in what they call yoga challenges.
For a set amount of time, the hosts, usually more than one person, will post photos of poses and how to do them. The hosts invite followers to try the poses each day, tag their photos with the hashtag that corresponds to the challenge, and follow along throughout. Usually the challenges last for about a month.
Masumi Goldman has been hosting challenges since they first started popping up, and continues to do so. On her website, Two Fit Moms she gives a few reasons why she continues to do the challenges.
She participates in them because they create a daily habit, they’re inspiring and can be done from home, they document progress, and they introduce you to other yogis.
There are of course, other reasons to do these challenges. They are a good introduction to the practice, they often provide a source of inspiration and motivation, and the aspect of camaraderie is evident with all of the participants.
It’s a community, and a small bubble in a big social networking world.
Erica Dodt, a yoga instructor in Chicago, thinks that in general it helps people find a community online.
In yoga, the practice is often taught with the intention of focusing only on what you are doing. The mind should be quieted and connected with the body, not with a phone.
Is this possible when trying to hold the pose for a camera? Is some of the practice lost while trying to hold a smile? Do you always have to have a photographer on hand do take photos for you, or download self-timer applications on your phone? There are a lot of variables, none of which are silently doing yoga without any other thoughts on your mind.
“I think everyone needs to find teachers outside of Instagram and make sure you’re getting alignments, not just trying to learn online,” Dodt said. She mentioned the worth of actual feedback from instructors, as well.
Dodt thinks taking photos of yourself is probably taking away from the moment. “Those on Instagram are probably taken several times and I don’t really think you can doing a pose and then continue trying to get the photo a certain way,” she said.
Another shaky aspect of yoga challenges is the teacher themselves. Most challenge hosts will post instructions on how to do a pose, and if the instructions are anything less than clear and correct, this could lead to injury.
“I think instructors have a wealth of information and take a lot of time coming up with their practice,” Dodt said. “The more students are engaging, the better they will be—and have more authority over their own practice.”
Before starting a challenge, it’s important to make sure the hosts are reliable and will provide the right instructions so as to avoid injuries.
Whether a photo is a keepsake, a bragging right, or a yoga challenge, it’s your distraction and your tool to use whenever, and wherever.
Images by Chelsea Hohn