Yoga is an essential element of island life for many Nantucketers...
...So why not practice it out in the wild.
Yoga in the wild
By Peter B. Brace
Balance, strength and love.
For me, those three things give flight to my seven-foot frame in the practice yoga.
I’ve been a yogi for more than nine years now. My joints, specifically, my hips, but also my knees, knuckles, back and ankles can attest to the benefits of my practice. My heart center, where my love comes from, can speak to the warm, communal and supportive salve applied to my soul during each class and which lingers inside me from one class to the next.
The physical strength gained from continued or, in my case lately, a semi-continual yoga practice, is considerable and significant, and can be measured when I stop practice for a period of time, say, three weeks or longer because when I return to practice, I’m aware of the strength and flexibility that I’ve lost by not practicing. When I am back on track and have been so for several months, which is where I hope I’m headed with this latest re-entry into sweating and wobbling, I still can’t imagine practicing the postures on anything but the hard, level floor of a yoga studio or some similarly stable surface, so yeah, yoga on a standup paddleboard, not so much.
In October, one of my instructors at the Nantucket Yoga Room, Caitlin Marcoux invited me to take photos of her and her partner, Burr Tupper, and some of their friends doing poses and being photographed by a nationally known photographer named Robert Sturman based in Santa Monica, Calif. Sturman, a self-described artist using a camera, does portraits of people practicing yoga in outdoor settings. Having traveled around the globe to, as he says, celebrate different cultures in such places as Europe, Cuba, India and Nepal, using his camera, Sturman advanced his yoga practice beyond the mat by capturing yogis and yoginis posing in the wild.
“It started because I ultimately wanted to bring a yoga practice into my life because I had noticed that a lot of artists live very self-destructive lives and I wanted to find a way to rewrite that script and create much more of a positive experience for myself, so I started practicing yoga and I started to change a lot of things.
There’s a great quote by Picasso, which says “art is the elimination of the unnecessary” and I found also that when I was practicing yoga that I sweat so much out, I let go of so much while I was on the mat that it was also a process of eliminating the unnecessary. So, as soon as it started to make an impact on my life and [allow me] to create the kind of man I wanted to be, I started to look around and I saw how beautiful and poetic the asana’s looked, and it was so beautiful to me that I just started to make art of it.
I feel like I’m an artist and I’m a figurative artist, and having people in the midst of beauty doing beautiful things just makes more beauty, and yoga is an immensely beautiful poetic practice and so is the world, so that’s what my work is about; celebrating that.”
Before his celebration of yoga through a SLR digital camera began, eventually leading to his becoming an official artist for 2005 Grammy Awards and for the U.S. Olympics, Sturman took Polaroids, manipulating the image right out of the camera by carving up the surface and accentuating the lines and the forms while the chemistry was still viscous.
“When Polaroid went out of business, they divided up their film between artists that had done some nice things with their products and I happened to be one of those artists and so that’s when I made the transition into another medium, just straight photography. At the same time, I transitioned into really studying yoga.”
Following Sturman’s culture quest with his camera was the next stage in his career, a more in-depth study of yoga through his lens that perpetuated his photographic career theme in which he celebrates the poetry of life. Marcoux, who got her yoga instructor certification from the White Lotus Yoga Foundation in Santa Barbara, Calif., connected with Sturman via social media. She then invited him to come out to Nantucket in October to shoot her and other yoga practitioners, including her sister Arial Marcoux, Tupper, and friends Juliet Loranger, founder of New Bedford’s Yoga on Union and Petra Ledkovsky, a yoga instructor at Power Yoga of Cape Cod Marcoux met at Shiva Rea teacher training in 2009, pulling poses in scenic locations around the island.
What this meant to me when Caitlin dangled the making of the making of yoga in the wild, in addition to returning her many favors doled out on the mat by the imparting of her knowledge, was affirmation that building my poses should only happen on level mediums. Think it isn’t a challenge to cop a pose on a beach, near a lighthouse with distractions such as foghorns, passing boats and swarming gulls or out in a thick forest with muddy terrain? It’s every bit as tough as one might surmise. Though as yogis we’re taught to inhabit a boundless realm, I know the limits of my muscle-bound and heavy, massive body. But, I’m glad to have something to push back on too and was delighted to get the chance to witness the grace and skill of those advanced well beyond my own current station on the mat.
Sturman shot Caitlin and her friends out in some of Nantucket’s most beautiful locations and I had the pleasure of watching and photographing them wriggle into poses I aspire to perfect. I was amazed at Caitlin’s focus and balance on a short, narrow piece of plywood just beneath the surface of Miacomet Pond and equally impressed with Burr’s poses on a log suspended several feet from the ground in Squam Swamp.
Of them all, the sequences at Miacomet Pond where Tupper had submerged the platform in the pond, seemed the most challenging for Caitlin, considering the limits of the platform and the water temperature in late October.
There were poses at sunrise on Brant Point, a session at Miacomet Beach and then the Squam Swamp shoot, which was sublime with Caitlin and Burr posing individually and with each other against the backdrop of twisty black tupelo trees, the ground carpeted with a rainbow palette of summer’s leaves and my dog wandering in and out the shots.
So, check out the photos with this post, as there are many, maybe explore Sturman’s web site through the link near the top of this post and definitely look into beginning your yoga practice at the Nantucket Yoga Room here on the island.
Thank you to Robert and Caitlin for including me in the fun.