Absence and Presence

 

I have a complicated relationship with yoga photos. On the one hand, I love them. My Instagram feed is full of pictures of beautiful yogis, the vast majority of them white women, very thin, and very young, bending themselves into incredibly complex and beautiful shapes that just aren’t available in my body at this time (and may never be). I love looking at these photos because they are gorgeous and inspiring.  I also hate looking at them, because they are incredibly lacking in diversity and don’t represent the yoga that I know and practice every day.

Still, when I began teaching yoga, I knew I wanted to have a website at some point. And I knew I wanted some yoga photos that would hopefully capture my love of my asana practice. 

The incredibly talented Rebecca Puretz and I spent some time goofing off in the studio a couple of months ago, and a wonderful day frolicking in the woods near my house. I practiced yoga until I was completely exhausted, and she snapped photos of it all.

 

I love the pictures she took so much. I believe she really captured me in them – my love of this practice, and my body exactly as it is in this moment. I look happy. I look healthy. I look free.

 

So why is it so damn hard to actually share any of these photos? Why do I feel so self-conscious when I imagine them out in the world?

 

For one thing, I tell myself that I’m not exactly contributing to an image of diversity in yoga. I’m a white woman too, relatively thin. Does it help that I’m over 40?

 

But really, what’s happening is that I’m slipping into comparison. My yoga photos don’t show me balancing in perfect forearm stands or incredible backbends. My poses aren’t perfect.  I’m not young. I’m not exceptional.  

 

And yet, as I was looking at this photo the other day, I realized that every pose has a story. Here’s the story of this one:

 

After my son was born, I could barely do side plank (Vasisthasana) at all. I needed to drop to one knee to hold the pose, and even then I would shake and silently pray that the pose would be over.

 

Even before kids, I hated side plank. It hurt, and I struggled to hold it.

 

About a year ago, I began taking classes with a new teacher who just loved Vasisthasana. She loved it so much it seemed like we were doing it every damn class. I would grit my teeth and power through it, determined to get me knee up off the ground. Eventually, I did.

 

Eventually, instead of gritting my teeth, I started breathing deeper.  My body got lighter. And lighter and lighter. My hips got higher and higher, until one day, they seemed to float so high that the only natural thing to do was lift my top leg and find tree pose in my side plank. It was

 

A shape that held felt like torture for so long suddenly became an expression of joy.