“Before you judge those OM/mandala/Sanskrit tattoos, consider this.”
Tattoos turn the body into an expressive canvas, painting a picture of the story unfolding within as well as symbolizing significant moments or life lessons. In this way tattoos can serve as an external reminder of one’s inner journey, a permanent souvenir from the path you have walked.
The experience of being tattooed varies widely from person to person, but regardless of the way one describes it, the temporary sensations slowly give way to a beautiful memento of one’s strength and resiliency. If one can remain detached from the uncomfortable sensations and stay steady within their breath, getting a tattoo can actually become a powerfully meditative and transformational experience.
It is much like the practice of yoga, in the sense that one is challenged to maintain steady focus and often endure discomfort in order to receive the lasting rewards and lessons of the work. Ram Dass explained this challenge well when he said: “The art of life is to stay wide open and vulnerable, yet at the same time to sit with the mystery and the awe and with the unbearable pain—to just be with it all.”
For many, the journey of yoga begins with the physical practice of poses or asana. Asana introduces us to the concept of maintaining an even breath and a detached awareness despite being pushed to our limits, both mentally and physically.
By encouraging us to stay observant and present, yoga becomes an honest and real exploration of our own personal habits, reactions and truest selves. The challenge is just to be present with what we observe, not judging it but instead being willing to learn from it. This way the work lingers and lasts as an enduring reminder of who we are and what we are capable of—much like a tattoo.
For many Yogis, including Megan Nolan (Yoga Instructor and Manager at Body Alive Yoga and Movement Studio in Hawaii and Manager at Exotic Eye Tattoo in Hawaii), tattoos are an outward expression of their dedication to the yoga practice. According to Megan:
“My tattoos remind me that life is a journey of growth and evolution that builds upon the past but isn’t determined by it. As a Yoga Teacher and practitioner, I believe that yoga is an essential tool for handling the challenges that life presents us with ease and grace.”
”As my practice continues to deepen and expand, so do I, by acknowledging that I am a work in progress: living, learning and growing more everyday. My tattoos reflect this too, as their meanings deepen and expand to reflect new lessons and experiences. I am so grateful to my dear friend and tattoo artist RachelG for being able to create pieces that so perfectly reflect this for me.”
As the owner of Body Alive Yoga and Movement Studio and Exotic Eye Tattoo, RachelG’s life and career is balanced between practicing and teaching yoga and designing and creating tattoos. RachelG explains the overlap between yoga and tattooing by saying:
“As both a tattoo artist and Yoga teacher, the beauty of the two art forms is how the image of the tattoo mysteriously reveals itself through minute after minute of ink application, just like how the mystery of who we are at our deepest level is revealed with each passing minute of practice and observance of the breath and body.”
“Working with my clients on a tattoo design and teaching my students on the mat are very interchangeable experiences for me, in both roles my work is to create a safe and clear space in which the design of the art and the design of the body can come to life in their full beauty and expression.”
Yoga reminds us that our body is not just a vehicle of transport through life, but also a powerful tool for learning and transformation. The honorable Yoga Master, B.K.S. Iyengar expressed this idea profoundly well when he said, “The body is my temple and asanas are my prayers.” Through consistent practice and a willingness to learn, yoga helps us unravel the mystery of who we are, as well as helping ground us in this knowing.
When we take these lessons off the mat, our practice gives us tools to help navigate the journey of life with as much grace and ease as possible. Through its beautiful imagery and its timeless teachings, the ancient art and science of yoga is having a powerful influence on yet another realm of modern life: the world of tattooing. With many yogis choosing to adorn their bodies with tattoos, more and more we are seeing external reminders of the eternal beauty that lies within each and every one of us.
Author: Megan Nolan
Editor: Travis May
Photos: Featured image and main image by Karen Neal. Black & white image by Cadencia Photography