I am standing on a beach in Burma, gazing through a lens at a tree emerging from the water. The tree seems to be defying the laws of nature. Looking at it, I am taken out of myself, captivated, totally in the moment. I use my breath to keep my hands steady so that I can frame this exquisite image. I adjust my posture to become more stable and with a click the image is captured and I feel a sense of peace and gratification. As I freeze the moment with my camera, I am struck by the similarity between yoga and photography. Yoga teaches us to come into the present, to capture each moment. Throughout our practice we learn to use our breath to become more mindful, calm and stable. We learn to experience the present moment and to let go of the past, observing and connecting to ourselves in any given moment.
As a photographer I observe the world around me. I contemplate light and shadow, reflections in puddles, cloud formations and the array of textures in nature. When we take photos we are considering the world from a range of different perspectives and choosing a snapshot of reality that best conveys our perception of that moment. Yoga shifts our perception both literally and metaphorically. In inversions we turn our world upside down. Standing on one leg we try to find balance. Challenging the way we look at things forces us to pay more attention to our perspective.
I remember standing on a high rooftop of a temple at dusk in Bagan a few days ago, waiting for that golden moment during the setting of the sun, when over ten thousand temples would gloriously be illuminated, seemingly framed by a celestial light. I patiently waited surrounded by a group of keen photographers from all around the world. A feeling of calm and focus rippled across that rooftop, just like the feeling of a group of yogis preparing for their asanas or meditation practice. When the moment finally came, the clicking of camera shutters grew in intensity, pulsing like a kapalabhati pranayama practice as the fire of the sun started to bend on the horizon, hazy like a mirage. As the pagodas were set on fire by the golden light shining from all directions, the sky spread into a haze of pink and purple hues, I found myself gently holding my breath, just like in my pranayama practice, and then steadying it in order to take the perfect shot.
And the similarities don’t end there. I can’t count number of times I have seen photographers contorting themselves into a variety of weird and wonderful positions in order to capture the perfect moment, squatting in a version of utkatsana, lunging in a warrior stance, lying on the ground in a salambasana style, all the time precariously balancing the camera. I often find myself crouched in the grass, balanced on one leg or contorted in an obscure position, waiting for the moment my children emerge from a bush so that I can capture them unnoticed. My yoga practice has given me the ability to move my body to create more interesting angles and capture things more fully, and in turn my photography has shown me how to use the movements of the body to access something much bigger.
One of the goals of our yoga practice, is to translate our experiences on the mat and extend them into our life off the mat. To realise the beauty and the essence within ourselves that is unchanging, no matter what is thrown our way. Once we feel more connected within ourselves, we are more able to perceive the beauty that surrounds us and feel gratitude.
There is a beautiful quote by T S Elliot about finding the still point of the turning universe and it’s this feeling that we should all aim to experience, whether it’s whilst stood on our head or holding a camera... or both!
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, “Burnt Norton” (1935), II
Tara Lee has been practicing yoga and photography for over 20 years and has been teaching yoga for 12 years.
Tara Lee has a range of yoga DVDs available from Amazon.co.uk
Tara currently teaches yoga at The Life Centre, Notting Hill Gate in London.