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In this age of digital and social media, stunningly beautiful images of asana and meditation abound. The proliferation of these images have redefined yoga for a new generation of practitioners who have created a digital currency of clicks, likes, and followers that made yoga more accessible to people of all colors, shapes, sizes, abilities, and genders. Although the controversial rise of social media sometimes pushes yogis to dangerous yet profitable limits to capture the most awe-inspiring image, the platform also provides opportunities for individuals and communities to connect. When combined, photography and yoga can offer an opportunity for practitioners to see their physical yoga practice blossom, share their personal stories, and follow their curiosity.
So when I received an email from world-renowned photographer and burgeoning yogi Ross Oscar Knight asking to accompany him on an official visit to the island of Barbados to scout locations for a yoga and photography retreat, I said yes without any trepidation, as if I had already known this tiny Lower Antilles island.
A Yogic and Photographic Exploration of Barbados
Perhaps, I felt I knew Bajan (the term the islanders use to refer to themselves) culture well through its most popular cultural icon, Rihanna. But more than likely, I have felt connected to Barbados through its inextricably close relationship with United States history. As Ross and I toured the island, I quickly found myself deeply immersed in the past of an island that in 1833 wrestled its freedom from English slavery (as did the U.S. 32 years later) and celebrates its self-sufficiency and culture with pride, dignity, and plenty of historical landmarks.
I felt connected yet overwhelmed by the stories of slavery and rebellion, brutality and reconciliation. I remained centered, however, relying on one particular teaching of my teacher Ma Jaya, who said to always “drink as you pour.” I began to relax and open my body, heart, and spirit to the experience of this beautiful island, its culture, and its people.
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As Ross and I moved through the Bottom Bay, where the chaotic Atlantic Ocean meets the calm, warm Caribbean Sea to form the island’s ubiquitous coral reefs and white sand beaches, we found a tapestry of sugarcane farms, dense cityscapes, and friendly people. Everyone we met was a wealth of knowledge about “Little England,” as the island is called.
Although we enjoyed our beautiful resort located on the eastern coast of the island, Ross and I were eager to explore the rich and diverse experiences the island had to offer. We were able to meet a local driver who instantly made us feel at home from the first day we left the resort. He was able to share with us the history of the island and personal stories about what it was like for him growing up as we traveled coast to coast. Whether we were planting our feet on the firm soil of the historic rural villages, passing through the busy and populated streets of Bridgetown, or relaxing on the calming waters of the marina, Barbados left us feeling renewed and inspired.
Although I felt out of my element within the crowded capital city of Bridgetown, this was by far the most transformative moment of the trip for me. I found my balance when talking with a young woman who is a young filmmaker and photographer on the island. We talked about the aspects of the island and culture she likes to capture on film, what inspires her, and how the island has influenced her work. (She even snapped this shot of us walking through the marketplace of Bridgetown.) It was in this moment of complete unfamiliarity and surrender that Mia captured, that I found myself understanding what it means to live a yogic life, dedicating my time to the promise that can be found in each moment.
About Chelsea Jackson Roberts
Chelsea Jackson Roberts, PhD, has a 200-hour hatha yoga training from Kashi Atlanta Urban Yoga Ashram, where she studied with Ma Jaya. Jackson is also certified by Yoga Ed to teach yoga to children, and earned her PhD from the Division of Educational Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. She founded chelsealovesyoga.com, a platform for discussion on yoga, race, and diversity; is a member of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition; and created the Yoga, Literature & Art Camp for teen girls. Find her on Twitter: @ChelseaJaya and Instagram: @chelsealovesyoga