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A picture might be worth a thousand words, but in the world of yogis on Instagram, a photo could mean a whole new career. Over the last two years, yoga enthusiasts have flocked to Instagram to document their perfected planks, lunges and handstands. As the movement grows at an exponential rate, so do the business opportunities.
Take Laura Kasperzak, a New Jersey mother of two who documents her yoga practice on the Instagram handle @LauraSykora. Kasperzak had been practicing yoga for 17 years, and although her photos have rendered her nearly a million followers, she says her initial days of posting were just to track the progress of her practice.
"I started my Instagram in March of 2012 at the suggestion of my niece—she wanted me to 'follow her.' I didn't really get the whole Instagram thing until June 2012," Kasperzak wrote to Racked in an email. "I was shocked when people started following and becoming interested in what I was doing."
Two years and 717,000 Instagram followers later , Kasperzak posts some 40 yoga poses a week, paving the way for her new business TwoFitMoms, a health, yoga and wellness website she runs with Masumi Goldman, another yoga Instagram star and friend from high school.
Laura Kasperzak and business partner Masumi Goldman. Photo via Laura Kasperzak's Instagram.
Caitlin Turner, a 28-year-old Arizona native who goes under the Instagram name @GypsetGoddess, joined Instagram less than two years ago but her incredible yoga poses shot in exotic destinations around the world have helped her score almost 200,000 followers—and her own TV show. One of Turner's fans on Insta happened to head the content of Indonesia's English television network, The Indonesia Channel and tapped her to star in Yoga Bliss, a new yoga show on Indonesia's first 24-hour English network.
"Instagram has definitely been a huge career chance for me. It's connected me professionally to different brands and people I wouldn't have found before because I had no reason to. This is my career now," Turner told Racked in a phone conversation while she was filming her yoga show in Bali. "People used to ask me why I spent so much time and energy posting photos to Instagram and I would say, 'hey, you never know, maybe I'll land my own TV show!'"
While not every yogi on Instagram is scoring such deals, many have social media to thank for wardrobe upgrades and income contributions. Various athletic apparel companies send swag to yoga stars and merely ask them to tag their Instagram handle in the hopes of exposure. Often, yoga brands like Glyder Apparel, Zweet Sport, and Liforme will also give yoga-grammers a discount code with their name, and they will profit when followers use their code.
"GypsetGoddess" Caitlin Turner doing her thing. Photo via Turner's Instagram.
"[With my partnerships] they send me stuff to promote but I have to love the clothes. If I don't like the clothing or the quality, I won't promote them," said Laura Hubschman, the yoga-grammer @silver_cloudss. "Honestly, it's a dream come true. I never thought anyone would want me to model their clothing and I never thought I'd build such a following. The funny thing is I used to be against social media but I've come to see this community as so supportive and encouraging. It's definitely put me on a different path in my life and hopefully, a career too."
Yogi Instagrammers are even passing freebies down to their followers. Hubschman, amongst many others, hosts weekly and monthly Instagram giveaways as part of organized "challenges." An Instagram yogi will kick off the challenge by posting a photo of a pose, and then encourages followers to try the pose and post their photos. The Instagrammer leading the challenge chooses a winner, who receives yoga swag (as well as the inevitable boost in followers from being tagged by a yogi with a strong Instagram presence.)
"The challenges are really fun," Hubschman said. "We don't necessarily choose whoever did the expression, but someone who is working hard and trying their best."
Laura Hubschman aka Silver Cloudss. Photo from Hubschman's Instagram.
There's also an aspect of free yoga tutoring. Many yogis often post information about local and free workshops, and their daily posts also include specific instructions on how to do the pose properly.
Ronen Yaari, a 55-year-old partner at online marketing firm Open Moves, said he found the movement intriguing from a marketing perspective, calling the success some yogi Instagrammers have in engaging their followers "astounding."
"It's a brilliant business. These companies sponsor giveaways, so people will end up on their Instagram page," he said. Touching on what some might see as the movement's manipulation, Yaari added that the medium is "very powerful because you have yoga babes doing beautiful handstands in exotic places and you, as an average yoga schlub want to be able to do that and so you buy the apparel. It's almost like picking up a glossy magazine."
Yaari said he was originally skeptical about all the self-promotion that came with yoga Instagrammers and that he saw the whole movement as narcissistic. But he recently tried a 30-day yoga challenge and sheepishly admitted he'd hopped on the bandwagon himself.
A photo of Laura Kasperzak taken by Robert Sturman.
"It's helped my community grow and encouraged me to be more active, in yoga, in outdoors activities. I'm engaged to try new things and sharpen my sense of composition," he said.
So how does one rise to yoga fame on Instagram? Some say there isn't an exact science but actually, there is: it's the Instagram algorithm used to calculate what goes on the popular page. Based off an estimated formula of likes and comments per minute as well as likes from at least 20 percent of their followers, an Instagram photo will be pulled to the social media's popular page. Irene Pappas, the 23-year-old Instagrammer @FitQueenIrene, with almost 300,000 followers, said each time a post of hers makes it to the popular page, she gains about 1,000 more followers.
"When I first joined Instagram [a year-and-a-half ago], I tried everything to build a following. I used every yoga hashtag, I commented on a lot of posts, and connected with bigger accounts," Pappas said. "I played it smart and looked at it as a business aspect to build my brand."
Irene Pappas showing off her yoga skills. Photo via Instagram.
Currently based in Arlington, Virginia, Pappas is in school to become a holistic life coach. She hopes to build a business working with high-profile clients to enhance their life with meditation, yoga, and better food habits. She said her Instagram account has already given her mass exposure and she believes it will lead to future business opportunities.
Other users point to engagement as key in gaining followers.
"I try to answer as many questions left on my pictures as possible. I think that sets me apart from other big accounts," Kasperzak said. "I read everything and try to engage with my followers as much as possible."
An Instagram shot of Kasperzak and her daughter, which has over 60,000 likes.
For Robert Sturman, a Santa Monica-based photographer who teaches classes and online courses on yoga photography, the key to taking the best shots is to "get low," use plain backgrounds, and focus on highlighting limbs.
"You want to create an illusion that they are statue-esque. In that way, what you are doing is giving importance to the pose and turning it into something magnificent," Sturman said. "Avoid complicating backgrounds so you can see all of the limbs and make each posing limb separate. Also, angle yourself so you can see space between each body part—that will create clarity."
Robert Sturman giving a yoga photography class in Venice Beach, CA.
Of course, not everyone is a fan of the yoga Instagram phenomenon. Pappas admitted she's torn about it because sometimes her followers cannot learn the pose properly from just seeing photos and not getting the full instructions.
"It's something I struggle with because Instagram isn't really a platform to learn a yoga pose," Pappas said. "You can't learn from watching a 15-second video, and most followers don't read the caption with instructions. I don't want to teach on Instagram, I want to be an inspiration."