A what? A phoyogapher. It’s what you get when you cross a yoga practitioner and a photographer. The name came about as a typo as I wrote an early morning post on a Facebook last week. You see, my two passions are photography and yoga. This is how I am supposed to be paying the bills and spending my time now that I am no longer sitting in a cubical, playing with maps and databases. I have been told by several of my friends that my practice inspires them. In fact, last month I talked a couple of friends on IG to participate with me in a 30 day yoga challenge. Every time I post a reminder to Facebook or Twitter about teaching my weekly class here in Reno, I get several responses back that go something like, “I wish I were closer!” or “When we finally get to be in the same room, (again or for the first time) can we do some yoga”? Here is the thing- many of these comments also come from my fellow photographers. People like me have at least one, if not several, cameras and lenses on their person while they work, play and travel. That gear gets heavy on your back, neck and in your hand. Your nerves can get rattled as you tackle the latest assignment, meet and photograph new people or events. The body and creative mind take a beating as you move up down and all around to get the perfect angle on a shot. And let’s not forget the time we spend at the computer, post processing, our eyes straining and often poor posture.
After that typo and a follow up conversation about how we utilize various exercise to help reduce the strain of our hobby/career, my mind started spin with an idea for today’s post. What if I pulled together a few things that all of you can practice to help strengthen, stretch and utilize either before, after or during a photo shoot? My hope is that today, I inspire you in a new way. To move you from behind the camera and onto your mat. I hope these postures help you feel stronger, calmer and more agile as photographers. I put out a question to several photographers asking what areas do you feel take the biggest beating. What do you wish was stronger, what aches when you are done? I tallied up the results and here were the most common things that bother photographers seems to be: Shoulders, legs, core, wrists, arms, and neck. Below you will find a set of postures and movements to help with each of those things.
You don’t need anything special to practice, but if you know your shoulders are super tight, find a small hand towel or even an old camera strap to use. Have a pillow or stiff blanket that you can sit on is also nice to help prop up your hips and get those knees lowered and spine tall. As you move through these poses, please (PLEASE) listen to your body. Yoga should never hurt, you should never feel an electrical zing of pain. Find a comfortable edge (one that challenges you, but doesn’t break you) as you move. It’s called a practice because it is something you actually have to practice. Don’t tell me you aren’t flexible- flexibility is something that is gained, just as strength is gained. Breathe, Breathe, Breathe. If you aren’t, it isn’t yoga. (and that is totally fine, but I swear the more you use your breath to help you while on the mat, the more you will use it off the mat).
Find a comfortable place to sit. You can turn on music, or just have the breathe guide you. Place a pillow or rolled up blanket under your bottom if you find that your knees are up higher then your hips (this is most of us).
Feel your sit bones sink into the ground beneath you and start to stack your hips, shoulders and ears over one another. Let the eyes close. Breathe, in and out. Watch the breathe as it moves in through your nose and down filling up the lungs and the belly. Watch it as it moves back up and out of the nose. continue this for a few minutes or until you can feel your body start to come into a peaceful place. If you haven’t used ujjayi (oo-jy [rhymes with “pie”]-ee) before, here is how: inhale through the nose, exhale with the mouth open making the sound of haaaaa. Imagine fogging up a mirror or window in front of you. Repeat this a couple of times with the mouth open as you exhale. Then try to continue to make the, ‘haaaaa’ sound with the mouth closed. The tongue rests just at the top pallet behind the front teeth. The jaw is soft, the face is soft. keep this going through your entire practice and use it as a guage – if you loose your breath, you might be too far into the asana.
Cat/Cow- exhale takes you into an arched cat back, inhale you reach the sit bones and heart center towards the sky.
Shoulder Shrugs – sit up tall pulling the low rib cage in towards the spine, then lift shoulders into ears, release with a loud exhale and repeat.
Side stretching child – come into child’s pose (belly to thighs, sitting on feet. If your rump doesn’t come to your heels, place a pillow between the two. Exhale and lean forward, reach one arm out and then over to one side, enjoy and repeat on the other side. You should feel this stretch from the finger tips all the way down the side body.
Thread the needle child – coming from the side stretch, reach the opposite arm through the space and look under the extended arm’s armpit for a nice twist. Make sure to twist as you exhale and have the twist initiate from the belly, ribs, shoulders and then neck/head.
Standing forward fold, two ways. Feet together, knees bent as much as needed so belly rests on the thighs (this keeps lower back safe). Clasp fingers together, or use a towel (or spare camera strap!) if you fingers don”t interlace. Let gravity start to lift the arms up off the back and eventually (EVENTUALLY) over the head. For the wide leg version, slightly pigeon toe the feet and stand with about a leg distance apart, clasp hands or prop and lift arms off the back. Be sure to come up from these postures slowly, allowing the knuckles to lead the way.
Warrior 1, front leg is bent, knee and ankle align. Hips point forward (think hip points = headlights of a car), back foot is at about a 45 degree angle. Front heel and back arch should line up along the mat. Arms extend up over head along side ears. Be mindful to draw the shoulder blades down and back as well as turn the pink fingers in towards one another (this will help keep shoulders out of the ears). Repeat on opposite side
Warrior 2, maintain feet placement, adjusting only slightly if needed. Open the arms up so there is a line of energy and strength coming from the heart center out each of the finger tips. The torso and hips are now opening to the side. If shoulders are creeping up into the ears, turn palms face up and then back down again. Repeat on opposite side.
Side Angle, from Warrior two take the elbow of the front leg side to the knee. Make sure to engage the tummy and turn the belly button slightly towards the ceiling. Top arm moves back and up, plug the arm into the shoulder socket and gaze should be at the ‘elbow pit’. Repeat on opposite side.
Triangle, straighten the front knee (you can have a micro bend if needed) and shift front hip towards the back and allow the bottom/front arm to rest on the shin (prop such as a block or book or the floor). You want to maintain the triangle shape that the torso, arm and leg create here, so be mindful to engage the core.
Wide leg squats. Stand wide with toes pointed out, send weight into heels and bend the knees deeply (keep them tracking with the ankles/feet. Hold pose for 5 breathe cycles, if possible, and return to standing straight legged. Repeat 3-5 times.
Chair pose, feet can be together or hip distance apart. Deeply bend the knees and sit down into the imaginary chair behind you. Tucking the tail and hugging in the low ribs. Arms raise along side ears. Hold pose for 5 breathe cycles, if possible, and return to standing straight legged. Repeat 3-5 times.
Tree pose, stand tall and ground both feet below you. shift your weight to one foot, hands can be at heart center or on hips. To start, the non standing foot can rest on the inner shin of the standing leg. Do not place foot on knee. If you feel wobbly, you can go to the wall and practice there using it as your prop.
Side straddle, standing wide once again bend one knee and lean the same arm and weight into the bent knee. you should feel a nice stretch on the inner thigh of the straight leg. Repeat on the opposite side.
Boat pose sit ups, I am showing two variations here because this one calls for it. I find that my hips really don’t like when I do the first variation. Trust me, you will still feel the work even with your hands behind you in the second variation. come on to the sit bones and create a V with your hips and torso. Sit up tall and extend arms along side the legs. On an inhale extend the legs out and lean back, exhale bring it back to the V. Alternately, place the hands behind you with finger tips pointing towards your bum. The leg motion stays the same as the other variation.
Boat pose rope climbs, continue to sit in boat pose. Extend one arm up and over the head and slightly to the opposite side, exhale and pull the ‘rope’ down along the side.
Bicycles, lay back, hands behind the head and legs in the air with knees bent. Exhale and draw opposite elbow to knee while the other leg extends out. Inhale to center, exhale to opposite side.
Locust pose, come to your belly. Starting with just the front body, inhale and lift heart and chest as high up off the ground as possible. Try to keep the glutes relaxed. Take 3-5 breathes here. Exhale and come to the floor. Next step, in hale and lift only the legs up off the ground as high as possible. Try to keep the inner legs drawn together. Take 3-5 breathes here. Rest by turning the face to one side and letting the toes pigeon in towards one another. When ready, inhale and lift both the chest and the legs up off the floor. Imagine you are a super hero and fly through the air.
4. Wrists: Sitting up tall, extend the arms out to the side at shoulder height. Start by pointing the fingers towards the floor and drawing the plams towards the forearm. Inhale and point fingers towards the ceiling and press palms towards the walls.
Come to all fours and sit back into heels, as if to come into child pose. Place the tops of the hands on the mat with fingers pointing towards the knees. Press gently into the arms/wrists.
Standing, fold forward on an exhale and bend knees deeply so that you can again place the backs of the a hands on the mat, palms face up. Slide the hands under the feet until the wrists and toes meet. Exhale and fold deeply. If flexibility allows, elbows will start to bend and point out to the side.
Down dog to widen the shoulders and gain strength in the arms. Press the weight of the hands into the knuckle base and the triad of the pointer finger and thumbs, not the wrists. Sit bones reach towards the sky and heels reach towards the floor. Feel the shoulder blades widen and the triceps roll in towards the face.
Plank, on an inhale, shift the weight forward and straighten out like a plank of wood (you can also drop the knees for an easier variation). Press weight through the heels, belly button pulls in towards the spine, and shoulders stack over the wrists. Feel a line of energy from the crown all the way to the feet.
Yoga push up, on an exhale, shift your weight forward, hug the elbows in to the side body and lower down- knees, chest, chin. From there, inhale and pull the heart center up and through the arms and come to cobra. weight should be in the tops of the feet, thighs engaged and heart lifting. Exhale and press back to down dog and start over. You can repeat this sequence 3, 5 or even 8 times.
6. Neck: Twist, sit tall in a cross legged position. Place right hand on left thigh/knee. Inhale, exhale and twist to the right starting from the belly, ribs, shoulders and then head/neck. Continue to allow every inhale make space and every exhale to twist you further, 3-5 breaths. Repeat on opposite side.
Neck roll, exhale right ear towards right shoulder, drawn the chin to the chest and roll the left ear to the left shoulder. Repeat circle 3-5 times and then switch directions.
Extended side neck stretch, take right ear to right shoulder, extend the left hand towards the floor. You will feel a really nice stretch all the way down the neck and shoulder. Repeat on the opposite side.
7. Eyes: This is a really wonderful article on this subject. I wasn’t quite sure how to photograph all of this in action, but have used these techniques before from Yoga Journal and really enjoyed them.
If you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments. I am happy to share my practice with all of you!