For some background on restorative yoga, read this post.
In order to get my Relax and Renew© restorative yoga teacher certification, I had to complete a project which involved teaching private classes and then submitting a report that included a write up of our sessions, student feedback after a week of independent home practice, and photographs of the students in their poses.
I found photographing people at rest to be a deeply sweet and profound experience.
How often do we look closely and lovingly at people doing nothing?
As I took snapshots on my phone, I would notice details on the screen that eluded me in real life. Oh wait, they still have some tension in their jaw...with my new insight I would go back and adjust a prop, witness the muscle let go, and photograph again. In that way, my phone screen became a learning tool for me.
But taking the photographs was more than helpful instant feedback. It gave me another way to interact with the sacredness of quiet.
Photographing someone at rest is totally different than photographing them active. No saying "cheese," no giggles, no rushing to get the shot before the opportunity passes. I had time to be slow. I set my phone on silent so they wouldn't hear the sound of a clicking shutter and be self-conscious.
There is an art to being around people at rest, a way of maintaining your personal energy so as to be a reliable presence but not overbearing. I have spent a lot of time in this space while teaching savasana over the years, but as I hold that space I often close my eyes, or leave them half-closed. That experience is more about sensing than seeing. With this project, I was in a similar quiet space but now had a camera in my hand: it required me to look at the student in ways I hadn't previously.
As they rested, I would notice the light on their face, the gentleness of the curves and angles of their body. Muscles soft, eyes closed...we may watch babies sleep, but I am acutely aware that seeing an adult surrender to rest is a rare experience in our world.
More than once I got teary as I saw how beautiful this person was in front of me: so complete, so whole.
I saw them for a few minutes as I imagine God does, and in that seeing saw myself that way too.
I felt so much love, sitting there in the quiet with them.
After our session, I would email the students photos and notes so they could practice on their own. I realized that I was sending them something even more rare than rest - an image of it. A portrait testifying to their inherent worth and dignity, a worth that no uncompleted To Do list can ever take away.
I am by no means a skilled photographer, but since we are such visual creatures this experience made me want to share some of these photos. Images have impact. How would our lives change if we were inundated with photos of beautiful resting people everywhere we looked?
For instance, what if rest took over social media for a day? Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and their brethren are filled with images of activity: "Look at what I'm doing. My life is awesome!" Psychologists have noticed that high rates of social media consumption leads to lower self-esteem and the related anxiety has its own acronym, "FOMO" - "fear of missing out." During my imaginary day in which rest takes over social media, I imagine everyone coming off of Facebook a little less anxious and a little more calm.
So while these were not art house quality photos to begin with and haven't improved much with my amateur editing (everything is classier in black and white, right?), I share them with you anyway. You know those gorgeous artsy yoga photos out there, all striking skinny beauty and bendy limbs? I now have a craving for equally beautiful shots of restorative yoga. (I'll add that to my To Do list.)
In the meanwhile, I will rest, and invite you to join me...
Many thanks to my students for giving me permission to use their images. Please respect them and me but not re-posting them. Thanks!
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PS Did this post get your brain gears crankin'?
Feel free to start a conversation below (it's okay, you can be anonymous)!