Archive for the 'Yoga' Category

Life will break you..but..

1604untitled351

In all my work I am incredibly privileged.  I get to meet and spend time with an amazing variety of people.   With my camera in hand I meet newborn babies and happy people.  I get to photograph people doing what they love with the people they love.  There is often laughter,  there is often joy and I get to capture it and give it back to them so that they can look at it forever.  Life however is not just filled with happy smiling moments.

There is laughter in my yoga classes too.  Lots of it.  There is laughter and joy but there are also tears.  There are tears and great moments of fear.  There is anxiety and anger and for some reason yoga brings it all out.  People come to class for all sorts of reasons.  The come in search of something, often not knowing what that thing is.  They come thinking they want to do a few asanas, touch their toes and sit in relaxation.  This happens, oh yes this happens, but shit happens too.  Last week a student touched her toes for the first time in her life and along with that moment came floods of tears.  Tears of joy.  Tears of release. Tears of achievement.  In that same class a student who could not find her balance instead found floods of tears in savasana (relaxation).  I held her head as her body shook with the weight of it all.  I watch as people release deep sighs in meditation.  I get to be part of their process of peeling back the layers of themselves.  I get to witness their ahh-aha moments.  I get to be part of their journey and it’s beautiful.

A while back I was asked if I would spend some time doing relaxation and meditation with a lady who was terminally ill.  The sweet, kind, beautiful person was understandably very anxious about the road that lay ahead of her. Once a week I would go to her apartment and for an hour we would talk and then we would sit in quiet meditation with me guiding her to find just a few moments of complete peace.  We would talk of life and death, of fear and trying to really live in the few moments she had left.  I witnessed her sorrow and pain.  I held her hand when she cried and helped her breathe through moments of unease.  I was witness to her most intimate fears.  I heard her stories and sat with her when she needed to find space in those stories and it was a beautiful thing.

Life will break you.  We come into the world devoid of fear or judgement, but life will break you.  Along our journey we bump headfirst into heartache and pain.  We suffer intolerable sickness.  We loose people we love and are brought to our knees by uncertainty.  We fix ourselves with pretend plasters and glue.  We hold it all together with imaginary layers that we think will keep out all the pain….but it won’t.  Life will break you.

I had the incredibly privilege of getting to know a person intimately in the last months of her life.  During our hours together I got to ask about living.  I got to ask her where her breaks had been and where she had built her walls.  I got to see where she had put her plasters and glue and I got to see her layers peel away.

At the end of the day all those layers of ours will come undone.  In the last days of your life each and everyone of those plasters will come unstuck and the glue will melt.  We put them there because we don’t want anyone else to see our pain.  We don’t want to be vulnerable.  We want others to only see the happy pretty parts of ourselves.  What people don’t realise is that underneath all the pretend fixing is where all the real beauty is.

When I see the layers fall and the personal first aid fail I smile.  When I watch in class as the quiet person in the corner finally lets go, I smile.  I smile because the real beauty of a person is in their vulnerability.  The real beauty of the human race is in our connection and when we are vulnerable we connect deeply.  Our beauty is in the layers of who we are.  It’s in our stories and not just the good ones.

It’s hard though.  Taking off the plasters is hard and it hurts.  Something happens though when we do.  When we show another person our pain we free them up to do the same.  When we gut vulnerable we let them get vulnerable too.

Here is the best part of it all.  Like a baby or a person in their last hours where there is a serenity and grace that is breathtaking, a person without all their plasters and glue is the most beautiful thing.

 

 

Advertisements

On love….

1601untitled081

I find that themes seem to run through the weeks of our lives.  I overhear one person talk on a topic, then another will mention that same thing in class, then yet another will approach me for advice….and so it goes.  Commonality between us.  Shared energy that bounces from one to another invoking all sorts of stories within us.  A collective energy that brings issues to the surface alerting us to the fact that we are not alone in dealing with them.

It seems that the shops are filled with red.  Red hearts and cute white bunnies with red heart shaped ears.  Red negligees that are made from whispers of material and heart shaped chocolates that wink at you as you walk past.  Desperate reminders of love.  All these commercial trinkets, pretty as they are, remind us only to love others.  They sell us the story that we will be complete once we have a person to love.  That we will be whole when we can fill our shopping basket with all things red and sweet waiting to be passed on to another.  The flaw in all this is that we have forgotten to love ourselves.  Somewhere along the path of our lives we stop loving who we are.  I am not sure where and when it happens but I do know that we do not come into this world full of self criticism.  We are not born thinking our legs are too fat or our hair the wrong colour.  We do not stand as children in front of the mirror and inhale deep breaths of self loathing.

So here we find our common theme.  I can no longer count the number of times a client has told me that they do not like themselves but over the past few weeks this issue has risen to the surface like bubbles in a pot of porridge.  One after the other I hear their words and feel their anger.  A vast number of them living in a state of perpetual self disappointment.   Awash with self loathing they pour their love into others and hide their inner neglect behind layers of denial.  I hear the words echo around the studio.  I can’t…. I will never be able…. I am no good at…. I am no good… I am too short… I am too tall…. I am to weak….I don’t like myself.  Oh so many ‘I don’t like myselfs’.  I see the ‘help me’ in their eyes and I feel the ache of sadness in their hearts.  At the end of class I ask them to think of things they are grateful for and then I ask question ‘did you put yourself on the list’?

I see it when they stand before my lens.  I look terrible in photos they say…. I am so ugly… I hate my hair…. I am so fat… I hear an endless diatribe of I am not good enough, I’m not pretty enough, I am just plain not enough utterances.  Kilos of criticism and hearts heavy with the weight of it all.

Stop being so hard on yourself.  Just stop.  You are all beautiful.  Every single last one of you is beautiful.  How do you expect anyone else to love you if you do not love yourself.  Stop hating your arms that you believe are imperfect.  If they can hold and hug then they are good enough.  Stop hating your legs that you believe are not long enough or thin enough. They carry you where you want to go…thank them and be grateful for them.  So when people ask me how to stop hating themselves I say this.  Stop standing in front of that mirror and criticising everything you see.  Start by liking one thing.  Be thankful for that, whatever it may be and how ever insignificant you think it is.  Then tomorrow find another thing. If you can’t find something to like then just find something to be grateful for.  You may not love your eyes but you can be grateful that they enable you to see.  You may not love your feet but you can be grateful that they carry you where you want to go.  Keep doing this and one day the dislikes will turn into likes and the you will slowly start to see all the beauty that others find so endearing.

I am not suggesting for one moment that we don’t all have room for growth and improvement.  Without doubt we all have areas we need to work on be it in the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual planes of our lives.  There is always work to be done but you can start by being kinder to yourselves.  Get over that initial hurdle and then start working on the things you can change and gradually accepting the things you can’t.  Go back to being that kid in front of the mirror.  The one who believes in his reflection. The one who believes he is invincible and strong and just perfect the way he is.

Loving someone else will never make up for not loving ourselves.

 

 

 

All the lovely lulls in life

1508untitled117

I was recently reading something I had written long ago in which I had said that yoga was about getting the inside right while working on the outside.  I was glad to have gone back and read this as I have been feeling, over the past few weeks, that my own personal yoga practice had hit a plateau.  I have been watching the students in my classes make leaps and bounds and taking much delight in their individual journeys.  It is in enormous privilege to be part of this.  To watch them blossom and expand.  To see them face their fears and overcome anxieties.   To engage with them as they make space in their bodies and lives.

Within my own practice I have become frustrated with seemingly little progress over the last month.  I have felt tightness in my hips and this has resulted in not finding the depth in my flexibility that I desire.  I have found that I have not mastered a new challenging pose for a while.  Watch my ego talking here.  Ego ego ego.

So upon re-reading my own words I am reminded that plateaus are okay.  That they are an inevitable and necessary part of life.  More than that though, I was reminded that reaching a lull in my physical practice does not mean that work is not being done.  Everyday when I roll out my mat and use that 6 x 2 space to twist and bend my body into unimaginable poses I am wringing out my stresses and engaging my heart.  I am making space in my body and mind. When I go upside down I am listening to my breath and finding stillness. I am pausing.  I am reminded that, with all things in life, we need these lulls and plateaus.  We cannot be seeking, growing and expanding every day.  That there will be times when we go forward in great leaps and bounds and then time when we pause and reflect.

It is during these pauses and reflections that we do most of our internal work.  Imagine for a moment it is a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon.  You decide to tackle a moderate mountain or hill climb.  During the climb you concentrate only on putting one foot in front of the other.  You are engaged with supplying your muscles with oxygen and with the process of moving your muscles.  Then finally, after much effort you reach the top.  The plateau.  Here you pause.  You inhale, expand and your heart fills with joy and pride.  You stand for a moment or two just taking in the beauty of this exquisite planet we call home.  Deep breath after deep breath you fill yourself up.  You smile.  Perhaps you sit for a while in quiet thought and contemplation.  You made it and now you are full of pride and happiness.  As your breath becomes calm you lose yourself in all that is.  You think about how you have just challenged yourself.  How you did not think you would make it but you did.  You begin to think about the meaning of life.  Your mind wanders to some of the challenges in your own life.  Somewhere there on top of that mountain you find answers.  So you begin the slow gently climb down.  It seems easy compared to the climb.  Your heart is happy and your soul content.  Your mind is quiet and you feel a new sense of peace.

So it is in life and yoga.  There are lulls in everything as there was on top of the mountain and it is here in these lulls that we do our contemplation.  We cannot only be doing the physical work.  We need the lulls and quiet to make sense of it all.  So I am reminded that this lull in my physical practice is similar to that time on top of the mountain.

There are lulls in all areas of our lives.  In our relationships and in our work.  I cannot possibly be constantly creative in my photography.  I need the time of the lulls to retreat back into myself.  To find the quiet contemplation that is the seat of all our creativity.  The lulls and plateaus are when we do our internal work.  It is when we turn inwards and apply what we have learnt.  It is a little like dreaming.  We cannot be awake all the time.  We need to rest and sleep and during our sleep we dream.  During our dreams our minds are sorting and making sense of what we learned during our waking hours.

I think to some degree we fear these lulls.  We fear that we will not move forward again.  That it is not a lull, and that it is perhaps a wall.  This is rarely the case and if it is we simply feel our way along the wall until we find the edges and a new way round.

So remember to engage fully with all the beautiful lulls in your life. Sit in quiet contemplation until such time as it is done.  Do not rush this process for it is here that all the answers will find you.

 

 

How the universe gave me a lesson in humility

U82A9431-Edit

Last week I was taught a big lesson in humility by the universe.  Life lessons are rarely easy and often sent to us with such impeccable timing it is hard not to laugh at the synchronicity of it all.

I arrive at the national gym chain where I teach my yoga class.  I go to the studio to prepare my music  (I like to do yoga to the likes of George Ezra and Phillip Phillips).  I plugged in my iPhone, rolled out my mat and glanced at the clock.  Exactly seven minutes before class is due to start.  I love the number seven and was feeling pretty good about life.

If I have not already managed my own practice that day I like to spend a few minutes before class warming up so that I can at least touch my toes!  I also like to spend that short time thinking about what I will say at the beginning of class.  It is nice to start the lesson with a few words about some aspect of yoga philosophy.  I decided that I would talk about how there is no room for ego in yoga.  How it is about your own particularly journey back to yourself.  That it does not matter what the person on the mat next to you can do.  That you should not compare yourself to them.  I have a deep belief that ego is a very dangerous thing and responsible for so much of our worlds destruction so it is a matter close to my heart.  Now I say this but somewhere in the back of my mind is the awareness that there is a degree of ego attached to teaching.  There you stand in front of people, knowing something they do not and being able to physically do things they can not.  I am acutely aware of this and yet it still sits there in me.  I admit I get a kick out of the fact that I am probably well past my half way mark in life and able to do things with my body that most of the class cannot do despite being decades younger than me.  I hope I use it to inspire but I suspect that at times it feeds my ego.  It is a human thing.

Inhaling deeply I stretched up in Tadasana (mountain pose) and folded forward to Padahastasana reaching to place my hands flat on the mat in front of my feet. Something I do every single day at the start of my practice.  As I did this I felt a sharp and rather excruciating pain in my lower left back.  I collapsed onto my knees and muttered some exceptionally non yogi words under my breath. Actually I think I said them quite loudly! I tried to stand and could hardly straighten up.  I am sure you can imagine some of the very unpleasant things that were being uttered by me at this time.  I stayed on all fours and tried to roll my spine.  This was not good.

Only minutes to go and no time to call in another teacher.  Deep breaths Niki.  Deep breaths.  Keep calm and carry on. The doors open and bright eyed students appear with all the eagerness of the sun making its way into a new day.  Meanwhile my eyes are watering as if I have been peering into that sun for far too long.

I welcome everyone and go with what I had planned for this particular class.  I inhale deeply and talk of ego and how there is no room for it in our lives…and so we begin our practice.  I was able to do forward bends and most of the balances, however there was not even the tiniest hint of hope that my back was going to go past the vertical.

Humility.  I explain to the class that I had hurt my back and how yoga teaches us to be aware of our bodies and surrender to what they cannot do and rejoice in what they can.  I then tuck my ego firmly where it should be and ask a student to demonstrate all the poses that are quite frankly completely inaccessible to me right now.

Believe me when I say this was not easy. I admit I had to dig deep to find that humility.

Those guys upstairs must have been listening to my every thought and delivered that message to me with astonishingly beautiful timing.

What have I learnt from this.  I have learnt to show a certain tenderness to those students that find poses difficult.  I have learnt that I too must surrender to what my body cannot do and love it for what it can.  Most of all I have learnt that lessons will come to you at a time when you least expect them and you might not always like it but you really have no choice but to be as graceful as you can possibly be in that moment.

We are here to learn and grow.  To always try and be a better person tomorrow than we are today and   to try to do that with as much grace and kindness as we can muster.  When we don’t be sure that the universe will come along and give you a big flat slap as a reminder.

 

 

 

 

 

Making space in art and life

U82A8927

Space is one of my favourite words.  I love all that it implies and how it relates to our lives and our art.  Do you carve out space for yourself during your day?  A few moments of silence.  It might be with your early morning cup of coffee when you take time to smell the scent of the morning breeze and all that the day has to offer.  Or perhaps when you go to the gym or for a run or maybe even just when you drive to work.  Or in the last few moments before you go to sleep when you utter the last few sighs of your day.  It does not matter how you find your space – just that you do.

In yoga we talk of making space in our bodies.  Before I go into a pose I think about where in my body I need to make space.  If I am doing a backbend I need to make space in my spine and perhaps my shoulders.  If I am doing a forward bend I might need to make space in my hips and between my ribs, and I always, always need to make space in my mind.  I carve out space for myself everyday on my mat or when I go for a run.  With each inhale and exhale I release the old, the cramped and the clutter from my mind and body and make space for the new.  Old thoughts, old patterns and old habits are let go and then there is all that beautiful space for creativity to unfold.  Space allows room for dreaming.  It is when the stirrings of new ideas begin and images already dreamt can evolve towards reality.

I like space in art.  It allows the viewer to linger and imagine.  It allows the viewer to dream.  What they dream of does not matter.  It only matters that they do.  Allow space in your photographs for a sigh from the viewer.  Space for their gaze to wander and wonder.  Make space in your stories so that the reader has room to imagine.  Space for those inhales and exhales to happen.  Even if you are shooting stock, as I do, allow space for words in your photographs.

Space, is to me, one of the most underrated of modern day concepts.  Parents and schools fill their children’s lives and give them no space to breathe.  Children need space to dream.  They need to lie under a tree and look up at all that beautiful space in the sky and imagine.  They need to be allowed to make space in their bodies with movement.   They too need spaces in their stories.

Space is not necessarily meant to be filled.  It can be just space.  Let it be that.

 

 

 

Be open and go with the flow

U82A2322

Sometimes in life sweet little moments come along that surprise us with their unexpected delightfulness.  Moments that make you wonder about the synchronicity of things and leave you with a warmth in your belly that carries you through the day in a sort of satisfied state of awe.

I had one such moment this week which I feel inspired to share with you.  I was in the yoga studio at the gym as is usual at some point during the day.  No one else was in the studio and I was half way through my practice, standing on my head and feeling pretty at peace with the world.  A young Indian man came into the studio looking for a skipping rope.  He left and I continued with my upside-down meditation.

A few minutes later the young man returned and approached me.  He asked me about my yoga and what other exercise I did.  We ended up talking for an hour.  We talked of life and diet and living well and work and all that makes us grow as human beings.  Here I sat on my mat and openly engaged with a young man I had not met until that very morning.  He, it turned out, is due to get married in a couple of months and being a little overweight had decided he needed to take some fairly drastic steps regarding self improvement.  Being of Indian decent he was acutely aware that their diet of curries and lots of sweet cakes was not ideal, but that is not really the point here.  The point is that we were both willing to give and receive there on that studio floor.  He it turned out works with a lot of Bollywood stars and I being a portrait photographer would well get some really amazing introductions.  He wants to work on himself and I, apart from my photography, am actively drawn to helping others do exactly that.

We exchanged numbers and I encouraged him to come to class.  A little while later this sweet young man rang me.  He rang to thank me for being so open, engaging and friendly.  For helping him on his way.  He was telling me how much he had got out of the meeting but I had left feeling that I had got the better deal.  Isn’t that sweet!

I never finished my yoga practice but what I gained from that meeting was far greater.  I left the studio that morning feeling a tingling delight that stayed with me throughout the day.  It was the simple joy of being open and giving and receiving.  Of making a new friend from a completely different age and ethnic group.  My practice had expanded beyond the physical in that time.

You never know what little surprises await you and what rewards they might bring.  Be open to receiving and giving.  Following this through into all areas of your life.  The more you give the more you receive and it really is that simple.

 

 

 

You are going to fall…do it anyway!

Suitandsurf

Yesterday  I was working on a yoga pose called Scorpion ( Vrischikasana).  This is a very challenging inverted pose.  It involves balancing on your forearms, head raised and a strong backbend so that your feet touch your head.   This pose requires strength (particularly in the upper arms and shoulders) a supple back, a strong core and a great sense of balance. When executed properly this pose is like a work of art.  It has a beautiful flow.  It has curves and balance and is exquisitely beautiful to look at.

Before I attempt an advanced pose such as this I spend a few moments finding my breath and my centre.  It requires all my concentration to find my balance once I am inverted and before I move into the backbend.  I know that it is going to take me many many attempts to master this pose and that before I do I am going to fall, and fall again, and again.

There are so many beautiful parallels between yoga and life and the lessons I learn on my mat I transfer to my life.  I am going to fall in life too. Again and again, but thats OK so long as I keep trying.

I was alone in the studio at the gym on a quiet sunday afternoon.  I don’t suppose anyone even knew I was in there.  There was no one to catch me when I fell…but I faced my fear and did it anyway.  It took a huge dose of courage and intense concentration to even get myself inverted as I am not used to balancing on my arms in that way. It took an even bigger dollop of courage to bend and lift my head.  There is an immediate tendency to fall down as you lift your head as your centre of balance has shifted.  The only way to stay in balance is to bend in the opposite way to that which our bodies are used to.  I concentrate on my breath.  If you don’t breath you won’t have the strength to stay inverted.

Some people use props when trying a new and challenging pose like this.  Support from a wall or perhaps a block or a strap to keep the arms in the correct position.  Personally I don’t like the use of props in my yoga or in my work.  I like to just go ahead and fall, over and over, tumbling about in all my beautiful ridiculousness until I find my way.

So how does this pertain to life and our work as an artist.  Well it’s pretty simple really.  You are going to fall.  Probably a lot of times and if someone is always there to catch you then you will never really master things.  It’s OK for a bit but eventually you just have to go ahead and do it on your own.  You are going to make mistakes that’s for sure.  You are going to mess up and and look silly for a while but guess what….no one is watching.  They are all too busy messing up and falling over themselves.

You need to keep doing it until that sweet moment arrives when you find your balance and your work of art is finished. If you don’t keep trying you will simply never master it.  Go ahead and fall.  It doesn’t matter how many times.  Take a thousand photographs before you find one that has all that perfectly balanced light.  Write a thousand pages until the one before you has all the right curves and sweet spots.

You are all alone in your studio and no one is watching.  Go ahead and fall but but please just do it.  Face the fear and fall because one day you will master that art and the world will gasp at it’s beauty.

 

 

 

Loose the ego, roll out the mat and improve your art

U82A0456

 

I love yoga.  Not a day goes by when I don’t roll out my mat and hit those poses.  Yoga is a journey. It’s a journey into yourself.  It strips away the layers and moves you into a stillness so quiet can hear your soul whisper.  You will not succeed on this journey if you are holding onto your ego.  It’s a journey about un-becoming who you are at present and becoming who you are meant to be.  It’s about getting the inside right while working on the outside. It’s about being as conscious of where your body isn’t as where your body is.  It’s about being aware, totally aware, in a way you never imagined possible.

When we create we need to loose the ego.  How can we create when there is an ego in the way?  True art comes when the ego is laid down and we move into our quiet place.  When we dig deep and peel away the layers.  There is not room for ego in art.  If you try to create with your ego in place you will fail.  People won’t hear your whisper.  To make people see your art you need to whisper to them, get them to pause a moment and turn their heads.  When they pause and listen, they will see.  You need to give of yourself,  your real self in your art.  If you write, dig deep and find your stillness.  Create from there. If you paint loose the layers and become aware.  If you, like me, take photographs.  Loose the ego.  People will see that ego.  I see it all the time and skim past those photographs so fast I don’t even have time to blink.  If you create from your centre it will whisper so sweetly people will hear, I promise.

Shooting this yoga studio, was for me, such a privilege.  The joy of capturing someone else’s stillness as I too found mine.  Of the quiet breath of the moment and a room devoid of ego.  Of the exquisite soft light of a winters morning.  Of sharing knowledge and learning.  Of watching someone practice their art as I practiced mine.

Loose the ego and lay down the mat because if you do I promise it will take your creativity to a new level.   Get people to turn their heads and pause a moment.  They will hear your whisper.

 

 

 

On the beach with Ellen

U82A7580-Edit-2

 

This is my beautiful eldest daughter Ellen.

She is currently living in Cape Town working the modelling season there.  She is represented by Ice Models in Durban and Cape Town.  The Durban office asked me to take some natural, no make up photos of her for her portfolio.  Now I don’t normally get to shoot Ellen much so this was a rare privilege.

For the months that Ellen was home before her move to Cape Town we would head down to the beach every morning to do our yoga.    I have cherished this time with her. Our quiet mornings watching the sun rise.  So many moments of laughter and joy and an equal amount of moments with tears.  It has been an absolute privilege to have watched her grow and mature during this time into this amazingly self-contained, self-assured beautiful young woman.  Yoga has a way of doing that to people but more on that in another post.  Always beautiful on the outside I have seen her inner beauty develop beyond that which I thought possible at such a young age.  I envy her this journey.  I wish that I had travelled this road years ago.

After our yoga we headed down the beach to near a lagoon where there are some wooden steps coming down from the dunes.  The light was already quite harsh by this time so we did not have ideal shooting conditions and she was facing into the sun.  Most of us would look dreadful right!  No make up, post exercise, harsh sunlight and facing into the sun.  I love this photograph for many reasons but mainly because of all those reasons.  This is Ellen in all her glorious bare beauty.  She has, in her eyes, a look of such contentment and determination.  What a wonderful combination.

Her sandy coloured cardigan blended beautifully with the wooden steps and her hair naturally bleached from our mornings on the beach just added to the muted tones.  I did a Scott Kelby process on this photo.  If anyone wants to know how to do this it is in Scott’s photoshop book and is a lovely, slightly desaturated look that works so well here.

I still do my yoga every morning, continuing with my own journey through this messy thing called life.  I miss her presence beside me.  She pushed me to achieve things I did not think I would, she encouraged me to be more, as I hope I did her.  We have both grown enormously in those hours side by side in the exquisite morning light.  She has far to travel and what an incredible journey it will be.

 

 

 



%d bloggers like this: