Are the Yogis of Instagram Contemptible Narcissists?


I follow a few very physically gifted yogis on Instagram: bendy, strong, inevitably thin and young and long-haired nymphs whose command of yoga poses is stunning and enviable. They have thousands, hundreds of thousands, or in some cases a million followers.

When I first found some impressive accounts, I felt conflicted about adding to their instacelebrity. Is this yogic? I thought. Isn’t yoga about looking within? If yoga philosophy tells us to practice non-attachment, aren’t these women demonstrating vain attachment to their physical prowess? Are these accounts less about yoga and more about ego?

Maybe. But maybe they aren’t so bad.

The history of asana in Indian tells us that traveling bands of talented yogis would often hold exhibitions and shows to demonstrate poses. For over 200 years, there have been yoga competitions in Indian, and today we have them here in the United States. Although many of us who participate in the practice wish to leave competitive feelings out of it, there is a place and tradition for exhibition and evaluation in yoga.

It is my opinion that the sexy, gifted yogis of Instagram are not in violation of yoga tradition, nor are they doing a disservice to the practice.

No one blinks an eye when a tattoo artist’s page is full of his creations, nor do we fault florists for posting photos of their arrangements. We are living in a media culture of sharing, and a yoga lover whose account is full of poses is simply sharing her work.

My feelings when I browse their pages tell me more about myself than they do about the gorgeous creatures in the photos. If I feel glum and inadequate, it reflects my dissatisfaction with my own mastery of a particular pose. If I feel inspired, it reflects a sense of hope in me and a drive to move forward with my own practice.

Advanced poses are a radiant celebration of health and vitality. I’m sure that there are some Instayogis whose intention it is to garner attention and be perceived as talented and attractive, but I venture to guess that the majority of them genuinely want to share their successes and inspire people.

It is easy to call out narcissism when we feel that someone is being a show-off, but in the case of Instayogis, I believe that what they are showing off is the amazing things we are capable of with patience, practice, dedication, and time.

Keep the handstands coming, ladies. I will be cheering you on!


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Sautéed Turmeric Spiced Cabbage

turmeric cabbage

I’m still not feeling 100%, but on the bright side, I now know the correct spelling of loogie.

In an effort to speed the healing of my chest cold, I’ve been taking it easy in my home yoga practice and eating lots of nutritious, traditionally medicinal foods.

Starve a fever, feed a cold, right?

(Makes 3-5 servings.)


1 large white onion, peeled and chopped

2 lb. head of green cabbage, chopped

2 jalapenos, chopped

5 medium whole carrots, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons safflower oil

teaspoon ground turmeric


Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok on medium flame. Add veggies and stir in turmeric, plus a few tablespoons of water. Saute, stirring occasionally, until veggies have reached desired tenderness.

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How I Learned to Stop Being a Judgmental Prick About New Age Stuff

new age

I am having tea with an intelligent friend I respect and love. We are talking about things that matter: our families, our fears, and our dreams. Then, the conversation takes an unexpected turn. She is telling me about her crystal collection and how certain stones are charged with energy. I continue to smile and nod, but in my head, I think, “You’re an idiot.” I resolve that as soon as she asks me what I think, I will tell her that crystal energy is nonsense.

One of the consequences of being a yoga teacher is involvement with yoga culture, an amalgam of New Agey stuff that involves alternative healing and spirituality. Yoga culture is not necessarily yoga, but it is an inescapable component of being involved in the practice in this country.

I have friends who study star charts before making major life decisions, aural spiritualists, Wiccans, gluten-free/lacto-free/nut-free/soy-free/paleo/vegetarian/vegan/freegan/superfoodian friends, juicers, numerologists, acupuncture devotees, past life regressives, herbologists, tarot card readers, clairvoyants, lucid dreamers, reiki masters, drum circle lovers, chromotherapists, essential oil obsessives, and on and on.

I am none of those things. I’m a natural-born skeptic, and I don’t do New Age. I dig yoga, meditation, and healthy eating, and the buck stops there for me. At yoga conferences and retreats, I steer clear of the swirly whirly stuff at the market booths. Too many purple tapestries, too many weird smells and price tags on spirituality and snake oil. So that’s where I come from.

Back to my crystal-loving friend though. I am patiently waiting for her to ask for my opinion when she offers to show me her stones. I enter her bedroom, where there are various beautiful rocks on a shelf, and she proceeds to pull them off, one by one, and explain what each one is and its use.

She gets to one crystal and starts telling me about a painful miscarriage she experienced. She tells me she used to lay flat on her bed with the crystal cool and hard on her belly. She says it helped her find peace with what had happened. The memory makes her a bit weepy, and she quickly switches to the next stone. I look at her bed and imagine her lying there on it, crystal on her stomach, healing herself.

She never asks for my opinion about crystals. Apparently, she isn’t interested in it.

It occurred to me then that people find the things that work for them, and it is not my job to determine what comfort objects or means people use to heal themselves or feel closer to the divine.

I believe that the vast, vast majority of New Age stuff is effective only as placebo, working to do what the user wants it to do by the force of the user’s desire. The thing about the placebo effect is that although it has nothing to do with the medicine, it does work sometimes. So does it matter that the pill is sugar?

It’s a different story if what you are doing is dangerous or harmful, and I feel responsible to speak up when this is the case. But if you aren’t hurting anyone, who am I to judge?

No one ever appointed me the master skeptic and expert debunker of the yoga community. In fact, the more judgmental I am of the ways people seek to heal and find spiritual satisfaction, the more sick and spiritually alienated I end up feeling. It is okay for me to think that most New Age stuff is bullshit, but it is not okay for me to think that you are stupid for experimenting with different objects and techniques that may or may not work for you.

I no longer call people idiots in my head. Instead, I say, “Good for you, not for me.”

And I really mean it.


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Seriously the Best Soup I Have Ever Made

red lentil soup mandy learo

All winter I have bragged about the fact that I “never get sick,” and as my friends and family fell one by one to the sniffles and aches of flus and colds, I smugly stood by, convinced that my healthy steeled me against illness. I should have knocked on wood while I self-congratulated, because for the last week I have felt like garbage. I’m congested, coughing, headachey, and tired.

Yesterday, I wanted to make a soup that was not only nutritious, but medicinal. I put my own spin on this NY Times recipe, and I was shocked by the results. All winter I have been making rich, creamy chicken soups, but this one blew those away. I know I need to step up my food photography game, so you’ll have to trust me on how delicious this is. Enjoy!

(Makes 8-10 servings, and leftovers freeze well.)


1/3 cup olive oil

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced

2 small yellow onions, peeled and diced

4 medium whole carrots, peeled and diced

3 stalks celery, diced

thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and diced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and diced

6 oz. can tomato paste

1/2 tablespoon cumin

1/2 tablespoon chili powder

teaspoon tumeric

1/2 teaspoon saffron powder

tablespoon red pepper flake

tablespoon Sriarcha sauce

1/2 tablespoon salt

4 quarts chicken stock

2 pounds dried red lentils

1/2 cup lemon juice

bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped


Heat stock pot on medium low until warm. Add olive oil and wait until oil is same temperature as pan. Add sweet potato, onion, celery, carrots, garlic, and ginger. Stir to coat with oil. Cook until fragrant and onions begin to look transparent. Add 2 tablespoons chicken stock, tomato paste, and spices. Stir to coat and let simmer 3-5 minutes. Add lentils and chicken stock, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft. (You might be surprised- red lentils cook faster than their green cousins!) Once lentils are soft and flavors are incorporated, turn off the burner. Let the soup cool down a bit. At the very last minute, stir in fresh cilantro and lemon juice. Eat it and get well!

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Invigorating Yoga Playlist

invigorating yoga playlist mandy learo

Tomorrow I will take up a new class in Skaneateles titled, “Yoga Flow.” Although I enjoy teaching gentle classes, challenging vinyasa yoga is my favorite format because it is in this style that I feel most alive. “Invigorate” is defined as “to give life and energy to,” and that is what Core Strength Vinyasa does for me. Very excited to embark on a journey with new students and help bring vitality to their bodies, minds, and spirits!

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Sautéed Spicy Kale!


Kale is a superfood that’s here to stay, and it doesn’t get much better from a nutrient-density perspective. Although I occasionally blend my kale with fruits to make smoothies, stir-frying the crisp leaves is my favorite way to enjoy the veggie.

(Makes 2-4 servings, depending on how much of a kale monster you are.)


2 tablespoons canola oil

large white onion, sliced

2 jalapenos, sliced

4 whole carrots, sliced

4-5 cups chopped kale

soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid


Heat up a wok or large skillet on the stovetop on high heat. When the pan is hot, add oil. When oil is hot, add onion, jalapeno, and carrot and stir to coat with oil.


Let cook, stirring occasionally, until onions just begin to caramelize.

onionsandcarrotscookedFold in kale and continue cooking on high until kale has reached desired tenderness. Expect the kale to cook down and shrink in size, as most greens do upon cooking.


Serve with a drizzle of soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos.

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New Yoga Playlists!

Music, for me, is an important component of crafting a great yoga class. I hope you enjoy these playlists as much as I do!

mandy learo yoga playlist

mandy learo yoga playlist

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