The Alchemy & Magic of Having My Picture Taken

Do you see yourself the way others see you?

If you asked me that very question only a few  weeks ago, I likely wouldn’t have known what to say, and my answer would have been different from today.

Allow me to explain…

When my dear friend and photographer, Linda Patterson, offered me the opportunity to participate in a photo shoot to celebrate my true essence, something very interesting happened. Despite my discomfort with being photographed, and before my inner Nelly naysayer had a chance to speak up, I agreed to do it. And with my intentions of not falling into old patterns and honouring my word of the year, TRUST, I knew I absolutely must follow through.

I’m rarely at a loss for words, particularly in my writing, but all I can say is what has happened within me since can only be described as a series of alchemical reactions  so powerful they surely must have been precipitated by magic.

You see, I’ve had it in the back of my mind for quite some time to have photos taken of myself before my 40th birthday, which is quickly approaching in September. But the problem was I never had any shortage of reasons to defer the timing. Too busy, need to lose 10 pounds first, face broke out again, and don’t like my current hairstyle were just a few of my many excuses.

What’s more, I had come to really dislike having my photo taken. I dubbed myself the Queen of Unflattering Photos for my uncanny ability to close my eyes and screw up my face at the exact moment the shutter closes. I warned Linda about all of this in advance, and I don’t think she believed me until she quickly learned she wouldn’t be able to use a flash during my session.

But with Linda’s quiet insistence and gentle encouragement, I was somehow able to get past all of the mental noise and nonsense. And as I’ve already alluded to, I’ve experienced significant changes and growth as a result. So, in the hopes of inspiring and encouraging others, I’d like to share some of the major themes and lessons that have developed for me.

My {Close-up}: A Focus on Me

Literally everything about the day of the photo shoot was about me and for me. Linda took care of all of the details, and all I needed to do was show up. She served lovely snacks and drinks. She made a playlist of all my favourite music. She arranged a professional makeup artist to style my hair and apply makeup to ensure I looked my best. This was integral to the experience, by the way, and after having the royal treatment—seeing (and feeling) the  results, and allowing the effects to ripple through and settle into my cells, I am finally starting to understand the psychology behind it. Us women, who are typically busy with life (taking care of our families and loved ones, running households, and fulfilling career goals) don’t often take the time to focus on ourselves. Putting the needs of others ahead of our own is natural and habitual, thus it is easy for us women to lose our sense of self in the wake of everything else.

But as Linda so wisely knows and demonstrates through her lovingly designed boutique photography service, women have every right to be taken care of, fussed over, and celebrated. While it may feel a little uncomfortable at first, allowing yourself to be the centre of attention and receive some well-deserved pampering is a beautiful gift every woman deserves to experience.

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Meeting Discomfort with Courage and Grace

Being in front of a camera can feel a little (ok, a lot) uncomfortable, particularly for those of us who are clearly not supermodels and have a less-than-stellar track record of unflattering photos to our credit. One might reasonably wonder where all this discomfort comes from. For me it has everything to do with being a {recovering} perfectionist, paired with the ever-present fear of not living up to my own impossible standards. Further, I am generally someone who prefers to fly under the radar, so being in front of a camera is naturally at odds with where I’m comfortable. And even further still, if it wasn’t a quantum leap for me just to have photos taken, I had to go ahead and up the stakes by doing some semi-nude shots. For me, this was as much about pushing myself outside of my comfort zone as anything, because I’ve come to understand, from direct experience on a very personal level, that when something scares the pants off of me (sorry, not sorry, for the intentionally placed pun), that is the reason I absolutely must do it!

Facing my fears to do something so extremely uncomfortable, and that I wasn’t sure I would be able to follow through with, was both liberating and empowering. It illustrated for me the sheer power of exercising mind over matter—that I can do absolutely anything I set my mind to. I’m not quite ready to leap tall buildings in a single bound and I don’t think I’m invincible (yet), but I do have a renewed sense of strength and confidence that I haven’t felt for  a very long time.

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Coming Face-to-Face with the Real Me

About one week before my photo session, Linda asked me some very specific questions about the personal qualities I wanted to connect with and the types of images I wanted to achieve from the shoot. It took me some time and serious thought to come up with the words to adequately convey how I wanted the images to feel, but I eventually settled on feminine, soft, and womanly. I chose these words or feelings knowing they were important aspects of me that I don’t necessarily show on a regular basis.

In photography, a multiple exposure is the superimposition of two or more exposures to create a single image. This concepts reminds me how we, as humans, have many different facets that comprise our personalities, working together to create the composite image of who we are. This process has allowed me to rediscover aspects of myself that I’d all but forgotten were there: my softness, femininity, and vulnerability, contrasted by my courage and fierce determination. And while I don’t necessarily show the world these traits all of the time, they are and always will be part of me. Allowing Linda to capture my true essence—and sharing these images with others—has reminded me how important it is to allow myself to be seen, and to step out of my own shadow and into my light.

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Learning to Accept Praise and Compliments

Over time, I’ve noticed how I deflect when someone pays me a compliment. If someone tells me I look nice, it would be typical for me to say, “Oh, ya, I actually spent some time getting ready today,” or “Really? I am so tired and the bags under my eyes are huge!” It’s quite an intricate dance to avoid actually allowing myself to accept kind words and feel good for a moment. But from this awareness I’ve been working on simply receiving a compliment—accepting it into my heart, letting it settle into my being, feeling OK about myself, and then moving on. When a person says something flattering about me, I am working on simply saying, “thank you”. And this is a big part of why I felt it was necessary to share these images and my story with others—not because I am trying to bolster my ego with further praise, but because it’s a helpful exercise for me in learning to accept a genuine compliment. And I can tell you the absolute best thing I’ve heard from sharing these photos was my friend telling me they portray exactly how she sees me all the time. Wow!

Loving Myself, Exactly As I Am

It’s appalling how easy it is to get tangled up in the trap of self-hatred, constantly picking myself apart based on my perceived flaws and imperfections. My own feelings of inadequacy are only perpetuated when I measure myself against the impossible and unrealistic standards that are perpetuated by our media-driven, beauty-and body-obsessed society.

This theme or lesson is the hardest one for me. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about it, and it’s probably why I bawled my eyes out when Linda led me around the corner on the day of my viewing to be met with 20 beautiful images of myself looking back at me. Needless to say it was completely overwhelming, and my instinctual response was a giant stream of tears. I cried to see my true essence reflected back at me in pictures, and for the pieces of myself I felt I had lost that were found once again.

As I’ve said, one of my greatest challenges is resisting the terrible habit of picking myself apart. It’s something I’ve been working on for the past couple of years, and it will most likely be something I need to continue working on for the rest of my life. Because self-condemnation is a slippery slope to self-loathing, and I’m learning it’s much better for my self-worth to take a kinder, gentler approach. This means remembering to view myself with kindness, compassion, and always through the lens of love—both in pictures and in life.

I’ve also come to understand the beauty of many photographic images comes from contrast. That contrast is often represented between the interplay of shadow and light. The greatest photos are great because they convey a depth of feeling that goes beyond  form. It’s a beautiful thing when a photo tells a person’s story or provides a glimpse into who they are on the inside, and that is precisely what Linda has done for me. She facilitated a way for me to see and appreciate my beauty—not in spite of my physical flaws and imperfections, but because of them. I am grateful to have these images as a reminder of some of the best parts of me, as I continue working to love every part of myself exactly as I am right now.

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A Few Final Thoughts

I feel incredibly honoured and blessed to have been invited to participate in this photo shoot with Linda. The process I have undergone since March 17, 2016 has been nothing short of amazing. In this very short time, I have experienced a series of changes—so powerful and necessary—I’m not even sure how to explain it.

What I can tell you is this: somehow through these beautiful images Linda held up a mirror that allowed me to see my true essence. A genuine smile has returned to my face. I have renewed sense of confidence. I am beginning to feel more comfortable in my own skin. And I’ve had the chance to see myself the way others do.

If anyone can explain to me how this incredible journey of self-discovery could have transpired if not for the effects of alchemy and magic, I’d certainly love to hear about it.

*Linda Patterson of Vision Icon Photographic is a talented and passionate photographer  specializing in portraiture for women. She also happens to be the picture of warmth, kindness, compassion, and grace as a human being. If you’re a woman living in the Edmonton area, I would highly recommend scheduling an appointment with her. You certainly won’t regret it.

 

Five Lessons Learned in Yin Yoga Class

Lately, I find myself being taken up with several new and varied fascinations—one of these being Yin. The concept comes from the Eastern philosophy that duality (Yin and Yang) are both present in all living things, essentially meaning there are two complementary parts to every whole. The idea further states that the whole is greater than the assembled parts.

Here’s a quick and dirty on Yin and Yang: While Yin is generally viewed a symbol of earth, femaleness, darkness, passivity, and absorption, Yang is revered as heaven, maleness, light, activity, and penetration. It is undesirable to have deficiency or excess of either yin or yang.

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Yang, as it applies to yoga, is more commonly practiced in our western world, focusing on movement and poses (asanas) that emphasize strength and muscular contraction. Yin Yoga, by contrast, targets the connective tissue of the hips, pelvis, and lower spine based on the premise that this tissue responds best to gentle stress over a long period of time. This is why Yin postures are generally held for anywhere from three to 10 minutes per side. Yin practice complements the more muscular yang style of yoga, and is said to restore energy, calm the nervous system, and helps individuals learn to sit in meditation. Further benefits of the practice include calming the mind, increasing mobility, reducing stress, assisting with TMJ and migraines, and promoting deep relaxation.

I was not really surprised to learn Yin is less popular in the west. In fact, I dismissed the thought of attending a class for quite some time, myself, not really understanding anything about the practice and ignorantly viewing it as an inferior form of yoga better suited for old people. However, as I was introduced to the benefits of meditation and became more aware of the state of my body’s energy system independent of my yoga practice, I was naturally and almost magentically drawn to try Yin.

Continuing with my practice over the past several months, I’ve come to understand how Yin is steeped in physical, mental, and emotional intensity. For me, Yin has become a weekly ritual of creating space to get safely uncomfortable, examine my own darkness, and gracefully release guilt, shame, and a host of other emotions that had become lodged in my hips, pelvis, shoulders, and sacrum.

In the safety and warmth of a candlelit room, the following realizations have continued to come up for me as lessons that I believe can be equally applied off the mat. I’m not generally a fan of the gimmicky nature of the Internet/blog post numbered list of reasons to do this or not to do that, but in my ongoing endeavor to be less rigid, here are the five lessons I’ve learned about life in Yin Yoga class (sometimes you just ‘gotsto’ break your own rules).

1. There is power in softness.
There is a time for power and a time for softness, both in yoga and in life. The balance lies in the contrast and knowing when which of the two is most appropriate. Yin Yoga is a lovely and gentle reminder of the place and purpose of softness, and the power that can be derived from it, because releasing resistance and allowing yourself to be passive without forcing, are, at times, what you need most. The act of surrender has long been a challenge for me, and I still struggle when it comes to putting this concept into practice off the mat. However, I am also reminded of how constant pushing, forcing, and attempts to control outcomes will eventually take their toll, culminating in exhaustion and burnout.

2. There is beauty in stillness.
As Yin Yoga poses are held for an average of five minutes, one of the most challenging aspects of the practice is remaining still, without moving, fidgeting, or adjusting. The ego-driven mind is a powerful adversary, delivering the temptation to move, scratch, or reach for a sip of water during these longer-held stretches. But when you can get to the place where you notice the thought of the desire for movement without actually giving in to it, the thought will often pass. What is left in that space, which would have otherwise been occupied with scratching or some other movement, is beautiful stillness.

3. There is freedom in accepting and “being” with discomfort.

“Yin Yoga is not meant to be comfortable; it will take you well outside your comfort zone. Much of the benefit of the practice will come from staying in this zone of discomfort, despite the mind’s urgent pleas to leave.”

Yin requires a high level of intimacy with the self—with our feelings, sensations, and emotions. While these feelings may also come up in other styles of yoga, it’s much easier to avoid them in classes that move at a faster pace. When subjected to longer periods of time in uncomfortable positions in Yin yoga; however, we have little choice but to “be” and “accept what is” in that given moment. The perspective Yin Yoga has provided me in this regard has been tremendously valuable, as I have noticed a strong aversion to feeling my own physical and mental pains. The lesson I’ve learned, though, is when I am mentally stuck in my everyday worry and frustration, I can bring the same kind of attention to the sensations in my body. Most importantly, by observing these thoughts and reactions and deliberately staying with them, they will eventually go away.

4. There is life in each breath.
Breath is life, and the highly meditative nature of the Yin Yoga practice requires that participants keep coming back to this fundamental truth, which I suggest is equally important off the mat. By focusing on each inhale and exhale, noticing the quality of the breath—whether it gets caught in a certain place in the body, is rough, or jagged, or it is fluid, smooth, and even—we remain grounded and focused in each moment Just keep coming back to the breath, on your mat and in your life.

5. There is growth in playing your edge.
The body’s edge in yoga is the place just before pain, but not pain itself. Consciously bringing the body to its various limits or edges and holding it is the way to gently nudge it toward more openness. In this way, time and awareness are the fertile soil in which the slow process of expansion will begin to blossom. As the range expands and the edges move, we gently push the envelope toward growth and change beyond our limitations. This concept requires a high degree of mindfulness, striking a balance between the body’s physical cues and how they are perceived by the mind. Just like in life, the key to growth lies in listening, honouring, and accepting. For me, this requires practicing a heavy dose of patience, too, which is yet another valuable lesson we all can apply off the mat.

I hope you enjoyed this list, and maybe even learned something that resonates for you.

Namaste.