I recently stumbled across an image from my very favorite yoga photographer, Robert Sturman.
Sturman is well known for his soulful portrayal of yoga which seems never to arise from ego, but from the heart. No matter who his subject is; prison inmates, yoga teachers, pregnant women, playful children, and every yogi of every possible size, color or incarnation, he teases out the wild spirit within them, frames it in light and energy, and releases it into the world like a rare bird.
Though I have seen an enormous amount of Robert’s work, this latest picture stopped me up short. It was of a man with the most beautiful face I have ever seen. Everything about him radiated joy. Instead of immediately scrolling down as I (and the rest of my postmodern ADD peers) would normally do, I just sat and soaked in his being. It poured forth from the picture in a torrent of goodness.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this was a man who believed he was ugly.
David Maina, a 200 hour certified Kenyan yoga teacher, photographed by Sturman for The Yoga Africa Project, a group that trains Africans as yoga teachers and makes the practice available to people who otherwise might never experience it, has a painful past.
As a child, he was trapped in a house fire and severely burned when the roof caved in on top of him. He bears the permanent scars of this accident on his face, hands and arms. Afterwards, living with relatives, he was forced to remain hidden in a room alone when visitors came. The shame and despair he felt were profound.
What amazed me was that I read his story after I had been unable to look away from his beauty. I hadn’t even seen the scars. As I went back and looked at the first picture again, I did see—there were the damaged fingers, the old wound on his forehead.
Yoga helped David Maina release his pain, and what is left behind is pure wonder.
As I thought about it, I figured out how Robert makes his pictures so special. He realizes a very simple truth; in yoga, everyone is beautiful.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise