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You post your favorite yoga selfie on Instagram, and the comments are overwhelmingly positive … except for that one person who called you something mean. Like ugly, fat, old, or whatever. That’s a hater. A troll. Maybe you feel hurt, or maybe you feel really mad. What should you do? We asked 6 of the most social media-savvy yogis about how they brush off the hate, cope, and keep on posting.
With more than a million followers and international fame, MacGregor has dealt with her fair share of online haters, as well as constant sexual harassment (e.g. the sexually charged eggplant and splash emojis she gets in comments on her posts and live broadcasts). One common troll-y topic is, “People will tell me I deserve to get injured because my practice is too advanced,” she says. “Or they make snarky comments like, ‘Oh there’s another picture of a girl in a bikini on the beach.'” Haters tend point out things you already know about yourself, or your pick on your sore spots, MacGregor says. “They’ll say you look old, tired, or you’re so dumb.”
How she copes:
“I learned that haters gonna hate,” she quips. “Don’t negotiate. If someone decides to judge you, there’s no amount of reason or logic that’s going to talk them out of their conclusion.” She rarely responds to negativity. “You give it energy if you reply. You make it bigger.” You can always block someone who’s too aggressive or sexually suggestive, she suggests. She also advises sitting with a negative comment that hurt you, and asking yourself: “What can you do to work with it?”
But if you want to put your voice out there on social media, you have to be strong enough to take the bad with the good, MacGregor adds. “I used to say I was going to take my message to a billion people, and I’m OK if half of them hate me and half love me. If I leave the mark of yoga in their mind, I’m happy.”
Stanley, the author of Every Body Yoga, has grown her Instagram following to 365,000, but dealing with social media and “fat-phobic” comments wasn’t always easy for her. “I didn’t always just ignore the comments and not say anything,” she explains. She had a turning point when she was in the thick of her book tour. “I was extremely stressed out doing four cities in three days. I was at the airport, and I looked on Instagram, and someone said something troll-y.” The comment was something like, ‘A fat girl shouldn’t be doing a Headstand.’ She took a screenshot of the mean comment, and she posted it on her feed. “A minute later, I deleted my post. I’m like, ‘This is not good use of my life,” she says. “These people hate themselves, their work, their lives. I don’t know what kind of day they’ve had.”
How she copes:
“Trolling is just a part of the internet,” Stanley says. “If you’re going to get hung up on it, you can’t get on there.” If you know the negativity is going to bother you, make your account private, she advises. But she understands that a lot of yoga teachers have to be on social media publicly to promote their services and classes. “If you can get past the trolls and haters, social media is an amazing way to communicate with a large group of people.” Stanley encourages people to log their practices on social, see the changes over time, and show what a real yogi looks like. “For me, this is my real practice. It’s not Photoshopped or curated. I have the opportunity to broaden the definition of what a practitioner looks like and what we go through.”
Since losing his legs in the war in Afghanistan, yoga teacher and motivational speaker Nevins has become an outspoken supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), which provides free programs and services to address the needs of wounded warriors. This affiliation tends to spark negative comments like, “How do you teach veterans or active duty soldiers when ahimsa (non-harming) is a major tenet of yoga?”
How he copes:
“I take it with a grain of salt most of the time,” Nevins says. “When people lash out and say something negative based on something they heard, they’re in an emotional state.” Even when people mean well, he tends not to respond to negativity. “I don’t want to go into an emotional battle with someone. Really, it can’t be won,” he says. “And if they’re attacking or name-calling, [I] remove the comment and block them.” To cope, Nevins comes back to his breath and vows to move on. “If I let social media derail me from my life, it’s time to delete social media,” he says.
Nardini says that 98 percent of the comments she gets are glowingly positive, but there’s always that one. Most recently, a fellow yoga teacher kept commenting that Nardini was satanic and a witch. He didn’t approve of her rock-n-roll mudras. He also said, “You’re annoying AF.” She suggested he see a mental health professional, and then she blocked him. Another common comment is that some of her popular programs, such as Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga and Yoga Shred, “are not yoga.” But Nardini takes it in stride. “If you’re being true to yourself, and your creations and expressions match your truth, your authenticity can trigger those who are still hiding and insecure to lash out,” she says.
How she copes:
“If someone has a helpful suggestion for me, or a kind dialogue about something, I welcome that,” Nardini says. “But I do keep my forums clear of disrespect and abuse.” Her tribe tends to jump in and protect her before she can, and that always feels good. “Realize that when someone who drinks Haterade runs into your life, bumps into you and spills it all over, that they are actually describing themselves. It has nothing to do with you,” Nardini says.
Nardini also tries to respond to any negativity with respect. “Disrespecting haters back will only cause bad mojo to rise up in your body and life, so have some compassion for what they are saying about themselves, for the fear and loathing they must have and for their jealousy within.” But it’s important to set boundaries, she adds. “Usually I say something like, ‘I am happy to have positive conversation and critique, but until you can come to me with respect, don’t come at all.’ And feel free to totally disengage, she advises. “Say nothing, ignore, block, and cancel that energy. Negativity in any form is usually not worth another second of your time.”
Yulady Saluti is a popular yoga teacher who had breast cancer and a mastectomy, as well as other health issues like ostomy surgery. She posts photos that show the reality of her life, and sometimes gets comments like, “Ewwww, that’s disgusting.” She used to do a lot of Handstand photos (not so much anymore due to health issues), and people would say, “Oh, you’re too skinny!” More than anything, the negative comments she gets are about her “sponsored” posts for companies like Jockey, with haters saying she’s “sold out.”
How she copes:
Saluti never deletes comments, no matter how out of line they are. “What happens is a lot of followers come to my rescue,” she says. She created the hashtag #bekindallthetime, and she says she lives by that when she replies to comments. “Sometimes, they hurt my feelings, and I have to just think they’re having a bad day. You have to let it go.” She’ll respond with, “I’m sorry that’s the way you feel.”
Saluti even admits she’s been guilty of some troll-like behavior herself. She posted something unkind on her Instagram about something Rachel Brathen (@yoga_girl) had posted. After some back and forth with Brathen, Saluti took her post down. When Brathen came to her New Jersey town for a book signing, Saluti waited in a long line to apologize in person. Brathen said something to her that stuck: “It’s very easy to hide behind the screen and be mean.” After Saluti apologized in person, they went out for coffee, and now they’re close friends who stay at each other’s houses! “So be kind to people who troll you. Be the bigger person. It pays off,” Saluti says.
Sagun, the author of Big Gal Yoga, wants her 154,000 Instagram followers to know that women of color and those who have bigger bodies can live their lives however they want. “I try to make people understand that you can still love your life being in a bigger body,” says Sagun, who enjoys yoga, hiking, and rock climbing. But haters—even people who used to be bigger—give her grief because of her size, and question her ability to do yoga. “I encounter a lot of former fatties who say, ‘Now that I’m skinny, my life is amazing, and I love it.'”
How she copes:
Sagun actually likes to respond to commenters when she feels she can set them straight. “Sometimes you need to have a conversation with the haters to change their mindsets,” she says. Even if she doesn’t like the comment, she’ll respond if it’s thoughtful, and the person is trying to provoke a conversation. “I’ll talk to them. It’s about breaking down their insecurities.” Her goal is to try to update people who believe outdated information, like “fat people die before they reach the age of 40.” But if you aren’t getting anywhere, or the conversation is getting too toxic, it’s time to end the thread, she says. “I won’t give them energy. I’ll leave my comment there, and it will be what it is.” And it helps to have thick skin. “Don’t take anything personally,” she advises. “Go out there, and create more change.”
About Our Writer
Kristen Kemp, an E-RYT 500, loves to teach yoga, do yoga, and write about yoga. She’s doing a #handstand365 challenge on Instagram. She constantly bribes her 12-year-old twin girls and 10-year-old boy to take her daily picture. She’s been a longtime writer for Scholastic, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, The New York Post, and many more. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, and guinea pigs.