Celebrating Every Body
Kay Kay Clivio in eka pada paschimottanasana variation. Credit: Jaimie Baird.
With her new book, Yoga Bodies, Real People, Real Stories & the Power of Transformation, writer Lauren Lipton presents the first person stories that bring some 80 New York yogis—including teacher Alan Finger, ashtangi actress Naomi Watts, a transplant surgeon, a gaggle of kids, a transwoman, and a Zen Buddhist priest—to their mats.
Jaimie Baird’s accompanying photos catch the yogis expressing themselves through asana, reminding us that every body—muscular, zaftig, angular, curvaceous—is a yoga body, a unique trinity of flexibility, strength and grace. Lauren, who’s been practicing for six years, spoke with YogaCity NYC's Margot Dougherty about the inspiration, rabbit holes, and dog treats that led to this celebration of yoga’s universal appeal.
Margot Dougherty: What gave you the idea for Yoga Bodies?
Lauren Lipton: A lot of times when yoga speaks to you and you fall down that rabbit hole, you want to spread the gospel. Some people take teacher training at that point, but I thought, I’m a writer, maybe I can spread the gospel through writing instead.
MD: Why did you decide on a photo-driven concept?
LL: I’m a writer, but, maybe because of the yoga, I’ve come to feel like there are a lot of words in the world. A lot of talking and writing. I thought this should be simple. Photos can tell half the story in a way that words can’t.
MD: How did you choose the yogis?
LL: A lot of them are teachers or friends. Then I started to branch out. I mentioned that I was looking for older people and found Babette who’s on the cover. She came in to the photo shoot a little wary, but by the time she left, she was beaming ear to ear. She’s a tiny lady, beautiful.
Dana Slamp who does the Bird Drinking Raindrops pose, is a teacher of mine. She’s very outgoing as a teacher but when she walked into the room she was so shy. Then we put her out on the floor and she was doing these incredible poses, like handstands in the windowsills.
It was so fun to watch people come alive.
Dana Slamp in rajakapotanasana. Credit: Jaimie Baird.
MD: Did you select people for their body type as well as their story?
LL: I did. I started choosing people who looked interesting. For example, Kay Kay, who’s curvy and has an hourglass figure, was high up on my wish list because she has a beautiful aura and practice and doesn’t look like a typical Instagram girl. Then I wanted to have someone in a wheel chair [Rudra manager of the Integral Yoga Institute ashram] and some kids —
MD: And the dog, Sunny!
LL: I wanted to show some creatures doing yoga—I can’t not be funny. I looked into hiring a professionally trained movie dog, but it’s really expensive. I was telling our wardrobe stylist, Jill Arnold Pallad, that it was my dream to find a dog who could do downward facing dog on command. She said she’d have her [goldendoodle], Sunny trained to do it.
The trainer came the morning of the photo shoot with a big bag of treats and Sunny just busted it out.
MD: That picture of the toddler, Shane, with the crown of his head touching the floor in uttanasana is priceless.
LL: We were shooting in a dance studio with a bunch of different rooms to rent. I’d been saying to Jaimie and Jill that I really wanted a baby to do happy baby pose. All of a sudden these babies come running out of one of the rooms. I found the most outgoing one and said, “Who’s the mom?” We tried to get him to do happy baby, then all of a sudden he ran over to the mirror and did that fold. The expression on our faces (reflected in the photo) are real. It was so funny.
MD: Did you know Naomi Watts?
LL: She was a friend of Jaimie, the photographer.
MD: As someone who’s had to modify my yoga with age I was interested in her saying she doesn’t jump from one pose to another anymore.
LL: One thing I found interesting is that the more experienced the yogi, people like Alan Finger and Schuyler Grant, the less they were interested in doing fancy poses. Some said “I don’t bother with the asana anymore, I just do the meditation.”
It changed my perspective. I’m at the point now where I want to learn all the tricks, I love arm balances. I love being upside down. But eventually, when I become very mature, I’m just going to want to sit in meditation.
MD: Why did you include Claudia, who says she hates yoga?
LL: Aren’t there days when you hate yoga? And then there are days when it’s super funny. I took a class today in a teacher’s apartment. People were laughing and cracking jokes. So that’s one kind of yoga experience. And then there are classes that are so spiritual you feel like you’re going to levitate when you’re done. And then there are other times when you don’t want to be there, or you can’t get into it. You don’t always have to take yoga for some earnest or tremendous reason, you just take it because you want to be flexible. That’s fine in my opinion.
MD: Who especially made an impact with their story?
LL: Esco Wilson, who is a teacher of mine. He’s the most Zen-like human being. He exudes peace and love and calm. I was blown way to find that out that he’d gone to prison. He wanted to go to college and thought, I’ll just be a drug dealer. It was the best way he could think of to make a lot of money and learn to run a business. It’s such a statement on our society. People should be able to go to college without resorting to drug dealing.
And Michelle Terrell-DeStefano, who talks about how she gained a lot of weight and was too embarrassed to go to yoga, but found a coach to help her. Now she looks at her body and she’s proud of what she’s able to do. She is really honest and lovable.
MD: At the end of the day what do you want people to take away from Yoga Bodies?
LL: I really believe that if everyone did a little yoga, the whole world would be better. Everyone would be slightly happier. More calm. So my meta goal is world peace. But what I’d be happy with is if someone thinking, “I’m not flexible enough” or “I’m too old” to try yoga, reads the book and realizes, “Well, that person can do it. I’m going to try.”
Schuyler Grant in savasana. Credit: Jaimie Baird.