Yoga and photography. Such strange bedfellows.
The most fundamental yogic principal is to be present, yet the simple act of snapping a pic puts the present both into the past; it’s already happened and the future; as an object with a life of it’s own.
Photographs have the weird power to appear to freeze time. This, of course, is an illusion. The moment the photo was taken, now passed, is co-mingled with the many subsequent observations of it.
Thus, layers of emotion and thought are built upon the foundation of something which was perhaps never even fully experienced in the first place (I’m the first one to admit that when someone is taking pictures of my poses, I am not in a particularly yogic state of mind.)
The longer the photo exists, the more stories and layers build up around it (think of vintage Elvis images) and the more distorted the original moment becomes.
This is not to say that photography is inherently bad, but only that it has an effect on how we perceive reality. It can be, of course, a wonderful way to communicate…a picture is indeed worth a thousand words…and can serve to educate, enlighten, and inspire among many other things.
I would be hard pressed to imagine a Yogi who hasn’t taken pictures of their practice, or at least entertained the idea. I am among them. But I often wonder what purpose these pictures serve.
For others, it’s about promotion, either of themselves or a product they are trying to sell. It could be about anything really; money, celebration, teaching or sheer curiosity. What does my body look like when I’m in this mysterious place of yoga, where everything seems to make sense for once? (Though as I said, when you put a camera in front of a Yogi, their practice is necessarily altered. It’s kind of like having sex in front of a mirror…you can’t help but feel self conscious. Unless you’re some kind of Yogi superhero, but that ain’t me, babe.)
Having contemplated all of this, when I finally decided once and for all I was going to book myself a yoga photo shoot, I had to ask; what am I trying to accomplish here?
The answer was complex. There was ego there, yes. Pride. At 43, I had transformed my ex-couch-potato, scoliosis-brace-wearing, doubting Thomas self into a woman who could stand on her head. I wanted to celebrate that.
Also, it felt like a challenge. More frightening to me than a shark with an attitude, is the prospect of having my picture taken. Because I always think I look fat. And then I always feel sad. And I didn’t want to associate this beautiful thing that happened when I did yoga into that terrible thing that happens when I look in the mirror.
But if I could do it and not feel bad, victory!
Finally, contradicting all the things I know to be true about yoga and yogic philosophy, I wanted a record of my achievements for posterity. No one lives forever, and the idea of my great grand kids seeing this old timey gal, a precursor to their own flesh and blood and bones, kick it in Wild Thing, sort of made me smile.
So, I did the shoot. I got back the pics. I didn’t look fat and I didn’t feel sad. In fact, I loved them! Oh look at me, I thought. I look strong! I look happy! Such fun.
I proudly showed them around to my mom, my husband and a few others. And they all said the same, unexpected thing—even the photographer herself.
“My favorites are the one where you’re falling out of that whats-it-called Astravakrsahnasaana (their way of saying “eight angled pose”) and that other one where you’re just laying on the ground, (which happened at the end of the session when I had collapsed with exhaustion and started laughing for no reason.)
Really? Those were their favorites? I took another look. And I saw exactly what they meant. It wasn’t about the poses. It was about me. Those moments when I was wiping out or just letting go were the real me. That light I feel inside when I practice was showing through then, not when I was all cranked up in extended side crow.
Turns out that light is the most beautiful thing about me—and I’m so glad I have a picture to remind me of it.
In comparison, here are a few of my “hard core, I’m a kick ass Yogi” shots. If you look at my face, (the ones where you can see it anyway), it’s clear that I am performing. It was such a revelation to understand the difference.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise