These portraits are intended both as a celebration and a homage to the healing aspects of yoga. The personal healing stories that are captured in these portraits speak to real experiences with yoga in the context of challenging life circumstances, including addiction, emotional trauma, injury, and illness. Tyler Baker Photography
Cecilia: After becoming a cancer widow at 42 and being without any family in Canada, yoga has helped Cecilia in her quest for spiritual acceptance and inner peace by making peace with and even befriending her grief. Tyler Baker Photography
Wynona: After multiple surgeries and procedures, and months in and out of hospital due to being discharged when she was seriously ill, yoga has helped Wynona to find the grace and the strength to continue on her journey while becoming permanently disabled at 35 with an ileostomy. Tyler Baker Photography
This series of portraits emerged from my (Tyler’s) collaboration with Cecilia Ferreyra, who was concerned with the over-saturation of social media in North America with an ever increasing amount of images of young, beautiful yoga practitioners in fashionable outfits showcasing advanced yoga poses in paradisiac locations. “Yoga is much more than advanced yoga poses,” she said, “yoga poses are only a means to an end.”
In her case, yoga played a fundamental role in helping her grieve and heal from the tragic loss of a loved one to cancer. I agreed and we decided to create images that didn’t involve ex-dancers, gymnasts, cheerleaders, or other members of the “flexibility elite.” These portraits are intended both as a celebration and a homage to the healing aspects of yoga. The personal healing stories that are captured in these portraits speak to real experiences with yoga in the context of challenging life circumstances, including addiction, emotional trauma, injury, and illness. It is our hope that these beautifully bold and vulnerable images make a contribution to, and expand the prevailing North American paradigm about, yoga as merely a fitness-oriented activity for the body conscious.
What is healing? And what do we mean by “yoga as healing”? We are certain that there are as many perspectives on these notions as people on this planet! We particularly like definition of healing provided by the Samueli Institute(*): healing refers to the process of recovering, repairing, restoring and retaining health and wholeness in mind, body, spirit and community. A whole person, they suggest, is one integrated in mind, body, and spirit. It is not the same as one without disease. That is, healing may or may result in “cure.”
How is yoga related to healing? There is a growing body of conventional scientific research exploring the positive benefits of yoga and other modalities of “alternative medicine.” As valuable as that may be, these are not the healing aspects of yoga we were inspired to explore in this project. We were not interested in whether or not a “problem” is solved or if a physical or emotional symptom is gone due to a sustained yoga practice. Instead, what we were drawn to from the very onset of this project was yoga’s healing potential through experientially meaningful acts that are transformative because they facilitate a perceptual shift in self-understanding(**). The basic realization that we are not our bodies, or our sensations of pain, or our thoughts, or our emotions, is not only liberating but in itself healing. This shift in self-perception can offer significant relief from the existential suffering that occurs in spiritual disconnection or lack of self-awareness. Furthermore, it can result into a fresh and renewed sense of body responsibility that has the potential to promote creativity and self-empowerment well beyond the adoption of new health practices.
The photographs have been exhibited in several locations in Edmonton, including Latitude 53 Gallery and the University of Alberta Hospital. This portrait series is also open for further collaborations with anyone and everyone who has a personal story with the healing aspects of yoga and would like to share it more widely. For more information, please send an email to email@example.com. You can find the project on Instagram at @yogahealingportraits.
(**) Amy Holte and Paul J. Mills. (September 2013). “Yoga and Chronic Illness” in Chronic Illness, Spirituality, and Healing pp.141–164.
Tyler Baker and Cecilia Ferreyra live in McCauley.