By: Guest Blogger, Octavia Raheem
If we let the essence of our yoga practice penetrate who we think we are- we get close to our own hearts. We begin to see ourselves as we actually are. For me (at times) that’s jelly rolls and folds, moles and perfectly misplaced hairs, scarred knees, wild needs, endless desires, judgments and acceptances, ashy elbows, calloused hands, bruised open healing heart, a wandering mind and then some. My personal practice beckons me to love…all this and then some.
I say all this to say that when I signed up for my first official yoga photo shoot, I was seriously concerned about having all my “flaws” documented, especially the jelly roll and elbows part. Little did I know, that within my perceived flaws lay my greatest treasure, story to be told, my deepest beauty- the places where the most light had collected.
Enter the Photoevangilist
From the moment I encountered Saddi Khali’s “Pieces of Peace” exhibit at http://saddikhaliphoto.com/pieces-of-peace/ I was struck by the clarity of vision, the purity of intention, the wholeness of each subject, the simple unedited beauty of it all. How delicate those stretch marks looked. How mango like that belly seemed. How free and unfettered that natural hair coiled. How much light shown through his work.
I wanted to see the eyes behind that light.
I knew that what I was bearing witness to had nothing to do with “extra hardware” it had nothing to do with the camera. It was soul.
As an artist, Saddi has a mission, that we see our selves beautiful, again. Us brown folk, black folk, scarred folk, healing folk, broken folk, medicine folk, lay folk- all us people folk.
His mission and my vision as a yoga student and teacher match, an unforced harmony.
I often end my classes by saying “yoga brings us to a place where we can restore, release, rejuvenate, relax, revive, renew and especially a place where we can remember. We remember that bliss (Saddi would call this beauty) is our birthright.”
He and I both believe that to remember ALL that we are, we have to trip, stumble, fall, and rise through our own sensual journeys to arrive at our blissful beautiful centers. He carries a camera. I, a mat. Both hold space for this vision to manifest as reality.
I talked to Saddi the morning of my shoot. Within one minute we were laughing and cutting each other off mid sentence. He told me about his three times stepping foot on a yoga mat in a hot room. (I’ll spare you the details). Later that day we connected for the shoot.
We paused. We chatted. We politic’d. He told me how folk laugh, cry, inhale slow, exhale deep, fall in/out of love, get angry, get ecstatic, fight themselves (demons, angels, and all), dress and undress, doubt and have faith- circle through seasons of emotions in a single photo session.
This mirrored my experience, mostly- exactly. On and off the mat. In front of my eyes and his. Behind his camera and within my own lense. It reflected the transitions that I journey through-each practice.
In a quiet way, he spoke volumes, simply bearing witness and capturing the myriad of ways that I vinyasa with myself through this journey. All the while he hummed and rocked along to Jai Uttal’s chants like he’s known Gopala and Nataraja (them) all his life.
Throughout this whole sequence he didn’t lose his drishti (gaze). His focus did not shift from the present. He didn’t stop shooting. He didn’t miss an asana. He stayed, capturing light. To his eyes, to his camera, the pose never ends (yogis know how yogic this truly is.) He directs- in subtle ways like the best yoga instructions: “look here. lift head, heart, eyes, there. keep moving, pause…wait. nice. Beautiful.”
At some point there was no camera, no external or others’ eyes.
There was just a space full of incredible truth and beauty.
No separation between his art and mine or his camera and my lens. There was no more “my practice” or “his practice”. Jellyrolls became luminous portals and ashy elbows, radiant joints. All ultimately undeniably beautiful.
The only thing left was an all encompassing and powerful light that we both could sense and hold- the meaning of Namaste.