I had just finished editing the photographs I took in Mysore, India, and was excited to be posting them on the account I recently opened on IG for my yoga photography project. I started posting the pictures and shooting hashtags in the caption trying to figure out what was working the most to get noticed on social media. And, some magic happened, Azana liked one of my posts!
Well your hashtags were totally on point! Likes are one thing, but what made you contact us?
I wasn’t planning a collaboration of any sort with a yoga brand until the moment I went onto Azana’s page, following a like that one of my pictures received from their IG account. And, the moment I was on their IG, I didn’t hesitate a second to DM them! I had other brands contacting me for collaborations but I didn’t share their values and rejected those offers. And, as I saw the keywords Azana had used to promote their beautiful cork yoga mats ‘ sustainable, eco-friendly, from trees without cutting them..’ I said, wait, why don’t I get in touch with a brand that I am actually on the same page with? It just felt so close to my heart. Of course not to mention that their yoga mats looked SO amazing. We immediately clicked with the beautiful Sofia. Many emails and a Skype call followed.
Yes we did click immediately and I can say that I am super glad that you did, because I believed in you and your project immediately! Now we need to know what is the project about?
It is a donation-based yoga photography project. I believe the only one of its kind in the world.. The goal is to donate over $2000 to animal charities worldwide until the end of 2021. I am documenting real yogi/ni’ s asana practices worldwide by creating a portfolio and in return offer them yoga photography services. They, however, need to donate a minimum of $50 to any animal charity of their choice and share the donation receipt/email with me prior to the photoshoot. That is how it works 🙂 If you want to know why animal charities (here I mean any organizations that protect, defend, and provide services to animals) the answer is simple: Because we owe this to them! We have been very cruel to animals. We experiment on them, use them for entertainment, contribute to their killing every moment by eating them and purchasing products that aren’t animal-free. So, we should support those that are working towards the welfare of animals. There, therefore, also is an option for those willing to support the project’s cause without having to be a yoga model.
You went straight to the point and it makes perfect sense; to see us all as a whole in this beautiful place and give back for those who have suffered. It’s time for us, the human race, to take responsibility for our actions and start to care for the planet and its inhabitants. Your idea is very pure and your passion is beautiful! Now I have to ask how did all this start?
It all started in Mysore, India. I quit my job and went to Mysore without a return ticket to focus on my ashtanga yoga practice. I do street photography so I had my cameras with me but it didn’t occur to me to do yoga photography for almost 4 months! I met dedicated, humble, passionate ashtangis from all walks, ages, bodies, sexes, nationalities..and was amazed by their discipline and practice. I wanted to document their practices and also show the world that yoga really was for all. Of course, I also wanted to show the yogis how amazing they were! -believing most were unaware of the magic they were creating with their asana practice. None had their professional yoga pictures taken so far, and I believed they well deserved it! So I spread the word and word of mouth did the rest of the work!
Wau, how amazing is that! You went to commit to your practice, additionally followed your heart and it told you to spread the love! I loved how you brought up that yoga really is for all, couldn’t agree more!
It sounds that you found a calling during your travels, what has been the most rewarding part of the project so far?
I was very pleased with the results of the photoshoots and the reactions/feedback I received from the yogis really touched me. It was clear to me that it played a role in boosting self-esteem and awareness. They all looked awesome in the photographs! And they are awesome! We all are. But we forget this sometimes, if not most of the time. They were shining on their mats regardless of their level of practice, body type, age and so on -the energy was amazing! You might think you are not good enough in your practice to be photographed (and I hear this very often) or that you sweat too much or your face looks weird in a specific asana, or that you don’t have the ‘yogi’ body to be photographed..(you know that negative talk of the mind that just goes on and on… and finds excuses for you not to believe the person you are) Someone said he had no idea how their practice looked like and couldn’t believe he was able to do the asanas so well! It clearly boosted self-confidence and positive thinking around their practice and themselves. Another person said the photographs would be the ‘witnesses’ of her practice – documenting how she practiced, and looked like while practicing at her age, in that very moment as I hit the shutter. I was freezing her in time, so to say..She said she would archive these, and look back as time passes. It could also be great way to show off to the coming generations in the family! 🙂 And, actually, having said this, I just thought I would love to go back after years and do a photoshoot with the same yogis! (This could be my next project haha) All this has been very rewarding so far.
Finally, I didn’t have the donations component to the project at the time so I was doing it free of charge when I started. The donations that now is part of the project, and the total money donated to animal charities will obviously be very rewarding.. Let’s see if I can reach my target by the end of 2021! ( You can check the progress made on my webpage)
That’s absolutely wonderful! I think we all get too self-conscious and critical when it comes to our bodies, and I admire how you are able to help move the beautiful practitioners of yoga beyond these limiting beliefs of themselves. I couldn’t agree more with everything you mentioned above! Everybody is beautiful and every practice worthy of documenting. We all are awesome as you said!
Okay so the project has been beyond rewarding and fulfilling, but as we know there is no light without the darkness, so how about challenges, how do you fund the project for example?
I am currently paying all the associated costs from my pocket 🙂 This includes things such as subscriptions to editing softwares, a professional webpage and marketing-related costs, cameras/lenses, transportation, and other costs associated with the shooting day. I want this project to continue its journey with me, I don’t want to end it once its goals are accomplished. But in order to make it sustainable, I need financial support. Therefore, I included a ‘donations’ page onto my webpage and am now accepting donations for myself, should anyone wish to support me run this project.
That’s so generous and thoughtful of you! It’s hard to find selfless people like you who go cause and determination first, own ego last. The donations are a great way for everyone to show some solidarity to animals and yogis across the globe.
Are you picky about who you choose to model?
Thank you for asking this! I actually think I already sort of gave a hint for the answer when answering another question 🙂 But, the answer is absolute NO. I am not picky. In fact, this is the whole point: ‘real photos of real humans doing yoga for real’. (Someone wrote this on their IG story as they posted a photograph I took, and I really liked it, so I keep using it) We are not the ‘perfect yogi models’ doing yoga in the fanciest yoga wear. We are equally human with all our imperfections. And, what is imperfection anyway? Anything that goes against the hegemonic constructions or idealization of bodies. I am only interested in documenting the ‘real’. Whoever that person is, wherever they are from. I don’t even choose the location for the photoshoot because I want to document people in the place where they feel comfortable doing their practice. It has been quite spontaneous so far, which makes every photoshoot very exciting for me.
You just literally made my heart dance with this answer. Your whole perspective to capture and share the journey of yoga from the angle yogis and yoginis instead of doing what is normally expected to be seen in social media platforms.
Talking about the journey in yoga, what would you say is the essence of yoga?
I could talk a lot about yoga, telling you how and why I’ve started, what it means for me, my experience with it and so on. But to keep it short I would give a traditional yogic answer and quote Patanjali, the Indian sage that is referred to as the founder of Yoga and the author of Yoga Sutras: ‘Yoga chitta vritti nirodhaha’ which refers to stilling/quieting the mind. This is the means to the realization of one’s true nature- it is self-realization. As I mentioned earlier, the mind is very tricky, it tricks us, distracts us with its constant movement by going to the past and future, bringing up fears, anxieties, desires, etc. And, we live in constant separation with ourselves. But when the fluctuations of the mind are removed, when it is still, only then comes union -the union of the mind, soul, and body. And this is what yoga literally means; union. So, this oneness that brings peace and calmness and unites us within ourselves and with the universe, I believe is the essence of yoga. Yoga really is so much more than just physical postures as it is commonly thought of – asana is only one limb out of the eight listed in the Yoga Sutras! So, we really have much more to discover about yoga. For me, it is a lifestyle -this is what I can say.
Well said! And in Azana we couldn’t agree more! Our minds are tricky and the modern society that we live in also imposes a lot of challenges as well. It can feel very overwhelming to try to find this union, but in my opinion, yoga is one of the best starting points for that. And this what you mentioned, I just want to shout it from the rooftops: Yoga is more than body movements synced to breathing! Thank you for that!
You, Elif, and your project are solid gold and I think there’s plenty of yogis already searching animal charities to donate for, so how to get involved?
I am currently in Istanbul. I decided to come back home because of the pandemic. So, I will only be able to offer photography services to those residing in Turkey. They can get in touch with me via my webpage www.elsipahi.com or @elsipahi on IG.
However, there are still other ways to support my project. You don’t necessarily have to be a yoga model in order to support the project. You can still donate to an animal charity of your choice anywhere in the world and become part of the project. Your IG account and charity name will be published on my webpage. Or, you may wish to support me directly with my photography related costs. All the details regarding the various ways to support the project are on the webpage https://www.elsipahi.com/yoga-photography. The portfolio is displaces on IG @facesplacesasanas
FacesPlacesAsanas Project is part of our Warrior program which we louched to give back to the world and make it a better place through conscious communities. We in Azana yoga want to support her cause with you, we made a code for you to use: facesplacesazanas. With this code, you will get 10% off your order and 10% of the sales go straight to support Elif on her mission to boost the self-confidence of yogis and to protect animals around the world.
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