I had the good fortune to take yoga from world-class instructors who owned a posh little yoga studio in San Diego, California. I would hurry there after work, eager to join the other students, many of whom were years into their yoga practice and all of whom were remarkable to watch as they moved through the various postures. Human beings are quite beautiful when they are moving as a concerted herd with quiet, precise, muscular intent. I was well into my fifties, I do not have a yogi's body, but I was patient, strong, flexible, and fluid in motion, so I managed well enough. I consider myself to be a lesser yoga practitioner and I am content in that.
I was delighted to "discover" yoga and I wanted to learn as much as I could. The owners of the studio traveled to India each year to renew their own studies at a renowned yoga ashram, and those two young women were athletes at peak fitness with impressive skills. The problem was that their world-class instruction was worth much more than I could pay, so we came to an agreement. They waived my yoga class fees, and I designed a newsletter for their studio that they could produce monthly on their office computer, and I took photographs for it. They also wanted to create a coffee table photo album about their yoga studio to show to potential clients, so they invited me to photograph them and their students during a weekend yoga retreat in the nearby White Mountains. The retreat was high up in the mountain, at a large, private training facility for Olympic athletes. During the off-season the facility rented out space for retreats such as ours and other training events.
The very plain facility had beautiful, gleaming hardwood floors and high, wide-open spaces that invited human movement. That weekend I did a lot of bending, stretching, balancing my poses, and steadying my breathing, but a lot of it was while I maneuvered into position to take the best photographs possible of those remarkable yoga practitioners. I took the yoga classes myself, but I frequently stepped to the side of the classes to take photographs whenever I saw something that should be captured, a beautiful posture or an illustrative interaction; then I slide back into class. I have photographed many different types of groups in life, and most people are completely accepting of my moving among them to take photographs, even when I lean in close up and within their personal space. Perhaps people accept me working around them so readily because they see how careful I am to capture only their most beautiful and skillful moments. To reassure them I begin any photo session by telling them that I will never take unkind photographs of them, and if anyone objects to any photograph of themselves, I will delete it for them. They seem to intuitively understand that I love to photograph their abilities and accomplishments, and that I would not show them in a bad light.
Overnight after a full day of yoga practice, the yogis paired up and shared small, plain, wooden cabins which were located a ten-minute walk away from the training facility and into the fragrant pine forest which rose at a very steep grade up the mountain. However, the yoga studio owners arranged for me to have my own cabin so I could work in the evening, digitally processing the hundreds of photographs that I took, sorting them, cropping them, correcting lighting, labeling them, and so on. I got all of the photographs done for them before going back to work on Monday, to my usual work as a technical writer/photo illustrator. I did not keep copies of those yoga retreat photographs. I have only my photograph of a man who was so strong and balanced that he could walk in a circle on his elbows while standing on his head*. He made it look effortless.
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* “Headstand is the king of yoga poses; and it is great for increasing blood flow to the brain, building strength in the arms, shoulders and core muscles, and it helps with energy, stamina..." Sorry, I lost the attribution. Forgive me as I am old now.
Caption: He Could Walk In A Circle On His Elbows While Standing On His Head.
photograph by Annmarie Throckmorton 2000