Do you get annoyed seeing other yogis in class floating through their vinyasas or doing a one handed handstand while you’re just trying to touch your toes without pulling a hamstring?
When you see photos of yogis in gravity-defying inversions or arm balances, do you feel intimidated? Or do you feel inspired?
Maybe a better question is: How do you define an advanced practice?
Is your practice only considered advanced if you can do a handstand or fold your legs in a full lotus? Or is your practice considered advanced because you can stay focused on your breath or that you can practice mindfully through injuries? Many yoga teachers will even say that an advanced practice is a student who is not attached to what pose they can do or not do.
All of us have different practices. We all have different bodies, different injuries, different degrees of dedication to fitness and nutrition. We all work with what we have. Nothing more, and nothing less.
As a new practitioner of yoga and a photographer, I decided to start a new series on a subject I was inspired by. I create portraits of yogis doing their asana practice. The purpose is to celebrate and honor their practice exactly how it is on the day I photograph them.
I recently photographed Lamonte Tales Goode, who is a yogi here in Los Angeles. He happens to be capable of doing quite advanced and even enviable postures. His specialties are inversions and arm balances. He has a 5’11” tall frame that is lean and muscular with very little body fat. I watched, with camera in hand, as he walked across the stone studio floor where we were doing the photo shoot and folded his body in half at the waist, stacked his shoulders over his wrists and floated his legs off the ground and into the air as if he were levitating.
It was so obvious that his body had plenty of muscle memory to go on because his movements seemed effortless to someone watching. Like he had done this very move over and over until it was a part of him. It was second nature, like driving a car or riding a bike.
Did he just learn how to do this yesterday? Of course not. He has a background in break dancing, dance, acrobatics, and, of course, yoga. He has a dedicated daily practice, and at the age of 36 is capable of some fantastic advanced inversions and arm balances.
Lamonte wasn’t born able to do those poses. He grew up in Southern California and spent his teenage years practicing hip-hop dancing and tumbling. He admits that he wasn’t very flexible, and frequently experienced pulled muscles and minor injuries. In his early 20s he also began to competitively break dance.
Coming across famed yogi Richard Freeman’s books and articles was the catalyst that began Lamonte’s yoga practice. It wasn’t until he found yoga that he finally understood how to properly stretch his body to keep from getting injuries and sore muscles. The more he did yoga, the more flexible his body became. The more flexible he became, the more he was able to develop his talent of inversions like handstands and complicated arm balances.
New dance moves aren't just encouraged in break dancing, but demanded. That’s how you're established as a dancer and an artist. So when Lamonte transitioned into practicing yoga, that creativity carried over into his asana. He developed several poses that Lamonte calls his “signature poses.”
When I shared one of these images on Facebook I received several negative comments saying that this isn’t yoga, but just a bunch of “circus moves.” Someone else also claimed that images like these intimidated newbies (especially men) from ever trying yoga. Really?
As a beginner yogi and an artist, I take issue with that. What’s wrong with celebrating yogis who are able to do these postures? If seeing these images makes you feel inferior or intimidated, then there are several valuable lessons to be learned:
1. Make peace with your body’s abilities TODAY — not what you will be able to do later.
2. There's no need to compare or compete with anyone’s asana practice in yoga. That goes against the very teachings of yoga in practicing non-attachment and honoring your asana journey.
3. Being able to do ANY pose doesn’t make you a better person ... just more flexible.
I like looking at these images and knowing that it’s even possible for someone to do these kinds of postures.
Ultimately, that’s why we all practice isn’t it? Yoga helps us to become our best selves. It opens the door to possibility.
These images aren't meant to be intimidating or to discourage anyone from trying yoga. Jut keep practicing.
Photo via Amy Goalen