There’s a meme that goes around once in awhile comparing “what I think I look like doing yoga” and “what I actually look like doing yoga”, drawing out both laughter and attention to our posture perfection obsession. I’m not sure you can ever accomplish a yoga photo shoot that’s only ego affirming, though we’d have to check in with more athletically inclined yogis.
In the photo shoots I’ve had, it’s much easier to achieve a desired outcome with another yogi present to draw attention to that which I can’t feel in the pose: “squeeze your right hip down, stand up taller and retract your left shoulder back”. With their guidance, I fill the posture with as much perfection, light and presence as I can, and hopefully it both feels and looks good and then, and then, and then…
You hold poses for much longer than you’d like to, which makes it a potentially dangerous practice. You’re used to sitting with a range of emotions in your asana practice, but it can be strange to look blissful long after the emotion has passed or was never present because it requires concerted effort. In many ways, you’re trying to capture the aesthetic of how you can experience your practice… when no one’s snapping shots of it. Since you’re on the clock with the photographer, you’ll hold a unilateral pose on your better side for as long as they need. You’ll leave feeling wonky and need to get on your mat to correct the imbalances of a heavily asymmetrical practice, and many yogis have incurred injury from taking a pose to publication caliber.
It’s exciting when the proofs come in, and I’m learning to be gentle with myself when I go through them. There was one last year of Virabadhrasana III, a standing balance, that had felt so, so solid, but there was a rolled forward shoulder and a serious face of hyper-focus. Sometimes there’s real disappointment because it is pure joy on my face, but it’s joy that has made me look maniacal and squinty.
Being gentle, I remember why I practice. I remember that it’s not a show, and there will be no grand performance to cap off my career. In fact, things I can do with my body now in youth will slip away long before my retirement from teaching. I remember that I live in a culture that asks us to treat our bodies as scrutinized parts of an unworthy sum and that I’ve spent too long cultivating self-criticism and it’s time for self-compassion. I remember to see myself as I see my students: tremendous, accomplished, daring human beings in their vulnerability and strength.
I remember that it doesn’t matter a whit how it looks, because the outside is not a reflection of my work or my worth. My wonky, maniacal joy yoga photos are a testament to my acceptance of my whole self. And that’s a practice that will last.