16 Jun The obligatory yoga portrait
Okay, so here I am in Central Park in April, doing this thing under a cherry tree. It had just stopped pouring rain, and the ground was soggy. It was also cold. I’d planned on performing my personal yoga-class showstopper, the side splits, but did not want to get friendly with the muddy ground, so I improvised. (I just checked, and this pose is called Utthita Hasta Padangustasana, or Please Hurry and Take the Photo Because I am About to Fall Over and Also I Am Freezing Pose.)
Yoga exhibitionists get a lot of contemptuous press. I understand why. The yoga portrait is just the latest iteration of the Glamour Shot, the boudoir photograph and the nude pregnancy portrait: We pose for these photos in the name of empowerment and body-positivity, but secretly we really just want to show off. And few things are less enlightened than Instagramming a snapshot of yourself doing yoga in an inappropriate location, like on Fifth Avenue, as if you were just strolling past Bergdorf’s and got the urge to bust out a handstand. Yet, now I, too, pose for yoga portraits in public places. So who am I to judge?
The thing about yoga is, it is a solo pursuit. You get on the mat, and go deep inside your own body. You aren’t supposed to look at other people or even really look at yourself (most studios don’t have mirrors). The point is to just be, without judgment and definitely without applause. But every once in a while, I wish my family or friends knew exactly what it is I do three or four times a week. It isn’t so much showing off as sharing this increasingly important part of my life in which I engage completely on my own.
That’s especially true when I find myself in a complicated pose I have never before been able to hold. That’s how it happens: You practice and try and fail and fall on your face (in the case of crow pose, literally and often), and then one day you’re suddenly upside-down on your own hands with your shins on your triceps, thinking, “Hey! No way! You guys, check this out!”
So when I heard that Robert Sturman, a yoga photographer whose work I admire, was doing a shoot for charity, it was hard to resist signing up. The funny thing is, as tickled as I was to pose for this portrait, there are a dozen little things about it that I would like to correct. To my own critical eye, this is not even close to being a perfect expression of Utthita Hasta Padangustasana. And to my picky editorial eye it’s not a publishable photo.
Perhaps it’s unwise to get too hung up on one’s own yoga photos. “Ideal” is rare and fleeting, and the chance of capturing an instant in which everything is exactly right—the lighting, the facial expression and the posture itself—is pretty remote, even when you’re not an amateur who’s bought herself five minutes in front of a camera on a wet, chilly day.
That said, if I ever master this bad boy, I will absolutely post a photograph of it.