Jyoti and I were driving to the DevaTree photoshoot, on the road somewhere between Toronto and Kitchener when I turned to her and said, “Did I mention that I hate having my picture taken?”
It wasn’t 100% true. I’m not one to shy away from candid shots taken with friends or family in the spirit of fun; I don’t hide my face if someone is snapping pictures with their cell phone. But the idea of a true photo shoot with a professional photographer—where for part of the time I would be the only subject, the sole centre of attention—made me cringe. A part of me wanted to “call in sick” and skip it altogether. Nope, can’t do it, was the conclusion I had come to only the night before. Too out of my comfort zone.
At the same time it was an honour, and a generous gift from Tamika and Jyoti. Having a photo shoot with Robert Sturman, the California-based photographer and artist, was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But my efforts to convince myself it would be a great experience only served to deepen my anxiety. I read about Robert on his website, but in retrospect, reading about the amazing projects he has worked on and the plethora of celebrities he has photographed was not the most soothing thing I could have done. I didn’t exactly feel like I fit in.
Like anyone, I have my insecurities about my physical self, which being photographed can heighten. And a yoga-themed photo shoot is something entirely unique. In my practice, I am not used to thinking about what I look like in a pose. There is mindfulness of alignment, but mostly it is about how it feels. Suddenly I was being thrown out of that, and the postures were taking on new dimensions. Did my leg look funny from that angle? Did my arms look better in steeple or in prayer? Why were my fingers pointing in that weird way? Was I making a face? This new sensitivity to the visuals of the posture was doing anything but grounding me.
But it still felt like there was more to it than that. There was also a deeper feeling of insecurity, a sense of not being worth it—worth the time, the effort, the money that was being put into this experience. And then there was the anticipation of that moment when I would be alone in front of the camera. There are old superstitions about the camera stealing your soul, and in some ways I can understand that—it is a moment of extreme vulnerability.
Amidst all of this anxiety there was one strong thing that was grounding me: the knowledge that I wasn’t in this alone. With the exception of perhaps one or two people, nerves were strung rather on the high side as we descended on the site of the shoot. The location was lovely and perfect—green and vibrant, a still and glassy pond surrounded by spiky rushes and wet, rich earth, a rippling stream of ice-cold water, and a tall blue sky piled with clouds. To my surprise, I found myself relaxing into the beauty of the place and the playful and loving energy of the group.
Together we joked and laughed and shared as we supported and held space for each other, and one by one, we stepped forward for our turn. In such a powerful energy of acceptance and fun, I was free to let all of that other stuff go. Fears about worthiness and judgment melted away so naturally and quietly that it wasn’t until after, upon reflection, that I realised how completely they had gone.
The Sanskrit word for community is kula. The power of a kula to support growth and change is extraordinary, and something that connects us straight to the Universal energy of love. When I look back on the day, what stands out for me is not those few moments when I was in front of the camera, but the joy I had being in community with this group of amazing women who were willing to be vulnerable, honest, giving and playful. Their love and laughter helped a feeling of being more at home with myself settle in that day.
I have so much gratitude for this kula; I am honoured and blessed to be a part of it.