Yoga on YouTube: What to look out for when following yogi Tim Senesi's videos
The California-based instructor who hosts his own YouTube channel Yoga With Tim, will be in Singapore on Apr 21 to conduct a free mass yoga session.
Go on Instagram and chances are, it doesn’t take much scrolling to spot a beautiful picture of a yogi in an elegant pose and smiling serenely.
If you haven’t already scrolled on to the next food or dog post, you might click over to the account and hit “follow” – and perhaps, roll out your mat, too.
There’s no doubt that social media has inspired more people to take up yoga. These days, you don’t even have to sign up with a yoga studio to practise your asanas; YouTube can be your instructor.
Tim Senesi, 33, is no stranger to this phenomenon.
The California-based instructor of YouTube channel Yoga With Tim started teaching yoga in 2008 when Instagram hadn’t even existed; Facebook had just begun four years prior and YouTube was only three years old.
“There was really no platform for yoga back then, other than being asked to teach at yoga conferences and festivals in the US,” he said.
This was a time when yoga teachers had real followers, instead of virtual ones.
“It used to be that people would look to the masters who had dedicated their lives to studying yoga, instead of people who were fairly new on their yoga journey,” said Senesi, who is known for his blend of vinyasa flow.
He added: “This is important because we understand so little at the beginning of our journey, and even though we're excited to share, we haven't developed the wisdom and maturity that only come with years of study and practice.”
THE SOCIAL MEDIA JOURNEY
In the early days of social media, Senesi and many of his fellow yoga teachers regarded Instagram as a “waste of energy”.
“Around seven years ago, someone showed me what was becoming popular to post on Instagram and I felt pretty troubled by what I saw,” he said.
“It seemed like people with very little experience, but who were able to do dramatic things with their bodies, were marketing themselves as yoga experts or self-actualised gurus.”
And therein lies the rub. Just because something is popular doesn't mean it's good for you, said Senesi.
“When looking for someone to follow, we should look at where that teacher is getting his information from. Did he have a guru? Is he properly trained?
"Does he understand the body and its anatomy, and is his foundation solid? Or is he just pulling quotes from spiritual books to make himself seem spiritual?”
His tips on deciding whose online yoga videos to catch are similar. “If a teacher hasn't taken time to understand the body and he hasn't been practising long enough to know the repetitive strain injuries that come from long-term practice, it's comparable to the old idiom of the blind leading the blind.
"Make sure your teacher has a background in alignment based on yoga and/or anatomy.”
For someone who has built a following over the years the old-fashioned way, that is, by teaching group classes, Senesi does find it “difficult” to invest energy into social media “because of the lack of human contact and feedback”.
At the same time, Senesi, who has close to 37,000 subscribers on his channel and 24,500 Instagram followers, conceded that there is a place for yoga on social media.
“It has helped to spread yoga to people who wouldn't normally find yoga.
"One follower, who suffered a back injury and used the videos to get stronger, recently shared that yoga had helped him not only to get physically stronger but also helped to encourage a deeper understanding of the body and mind.”
Senesi got the idea to start a YouTube channel as he enjoys practising yoga at home. Five years into teaching, he launched his videos for viewers of all levels for free.
But the avid skateboarder and surfer hasn’t always been so fit.
Growing up in California’s surf city that is Huntington Beach, he was “overweight, lacked self-confidence and had an overall negative self-image”.
“Physically, my upper back, neck and shoulders were in pain from the years of poor posture caused by my attitude toward life.”
The turning point was during a psychology class he took in university, where a fitness expert lectured on the merits of stretching.
Inspired, Senesi signed up for a yoga class. The student soon became a teacher, and he taught yoga in college.
After graduation, he trained to become a master yoga teacher, and apprenticed with yoga instructors and took workshops.
In fact, Senesi’s own blend of vinyasa flow that he teaches comes from understudying Iyengar teachers, who are held to a rigorous standard of yoga knowledge and training.
WILL INFLUENCERS GO AWAY?
Senesi felt that “the future of advertising is through social media and influencers”.
“Anyone who uses Instagram will tell you that he gets ideas about where to travel, stay, eat, or where to go out from the people he follows. People don't trust commercials or marketing like they used to. People trust people they follow,” he said.
“It's a pretty interesting time we're in. I'm glad I got a headstart and am able to help guide others through the process,” he said.
One of the tips Senesi offered to grow a YouTube channel is to post quality content regularly.
He is also an advocate for collaborating with other yoga teachers, who can help to introduce the channel to new audiences.
Other than finding a unique voice and carving a niche for themselves, Senesi believed that it is important for influencers to identify how they can “offer something to help others with authenticity”. “People can smell a phony,” he said.
Despite the influencer scene growing quickly, Senesi felt that there is enough room for everyone.
“This is why I started helping other teachers, or aspiring social media influencers build their following through coaching services.
“It's such a confusing world when you first step into it, and it's helpful to have a guide who's been where you are and knows how to get you where you want to be.”
In fact, he is developing a programme for yoga influencers, which is based on his two-year-long, one-on-one interactions with them; he hopes to finish by July this year.
Tim Senesi will be in Singapore on Apr 21, 7am to 9am, to conduct a free mass yoga session at the Singapore Sports Hub as part of its FIT-Sessions. There will be 150 slots available. Registration is required. Yoga mats are not provided.