Looking through the lens with compassion
Once in awhile Yoga for Men is fortunate enough to uncover a gem. Today’s gem is photographer Robert Sturman. I stumbled across Robert’s photography recently while flipping through articles on Elephant Journal, the wonderful Yoga/Wellness/Buddhism art-blog. While jumping from article to article, as I’m prone to do, I was lucky enough to come across this post by Robert Sturman chronicling prisoners inside San Quentin prison who practice Yoga to cope with stress of their daily lives.
I found Robert’s photos to be striking, and even more so, I thought it was very interesting that Robert chose to go into San Quentin – arguably one of the “ugliest” places that one could imagine – to look for beauty. What’s even more impressive? He found it. That’s what happens when you have a keen photographer’s eye like Robert does.
The powerful images of mixed-media artist Robert Sturman have a vivid presence that is both other-worldly and deeply rooted in the earthly wonders he has explored so adventurously in his global travels. A spiritual journeyer as well, Sturman is an intuitive creator whose works resonate with an inner vision as much as they reach out to embrace the viewer with tactile, richly hued physicality.
The official visual artist of 2005’s 47th Annual GRAMMY® Awards, Sturman has formal training as a painter and photographer, and holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
A dedicated yoga practitioner himself, Sturman’s work has increasingly focused on capturing the timeless grace and embodied mindfulness of asana. His portraits, whether set in the lively streets of Manhattan, the expansiveness of Malibu’s beaches and canyons, the timeless elegance of Walden’s New England, or the bleakness of San Quentin penitentiary, remind us that there is beauty everywhere. In Sturman’s own words “I often think of Rumi: ‘I can’t stop pointing to the beauty.’ That feels right to me.”
I was compelled to contact Robert to be profiled for YfM and find out more about him and his personal Yoga practice, and he was kind enough to oblige (lucky us!). He sent me so much good material that, well to be honest, I’d hate muddle it up or try to add to it. It just doesn’t need it. His work speaks for itself.
So with that being said, let’s get “On the Mat” with Robert Sturman. Don’t forget to check out his links at the end.
How did you find Yoga, or better yet, how did Yoga find you?
Robert: I found yoga because I wanted to find a strength in me to go the direction of health and wellness. Being an artist, we come with a history of somewhat destructive behavior – acts of desperation, being poor, lonely, etc… I made up my mind to write a new story, as I saw how significant artists are to society. It seemed that the works of artists were being preserved in multimillion dollar museums and the individuals behind the creation of that art were often not living in deep self respect. Yoga has led me to choose a positive way of living my life.
Which other physical activities/exercise do you enjoy besides Yoga?
Robert: I love challenging, powerful vinyasa yoga. And I love to compliment it with what I refer to as ‘convict conditioning.’ Pushups, pullups, situps. It just feels good to train like a warrior sometimes.
How do you feel that Yoga helps you perform better in those other physical activities, or in your day to day life?
Robert: When I unroll my mat to practice, it is a sacred space I am creating. For the next hour and a half it is my time to go inside clean out whatever is in the way. I love the deep stretching and the sweat – lots of sweat. And then, the deep silence. Yoga certainly helps me to be a more finely tuned, clear thinking, human being.
Which asanas (postures) do you feel are particularly beneficial to men and why?
Robert: I think men should embrace handstand. It is a powerful, physical pose that works your body! It also gives us a different perspective by standing under reality. Something about it is very good for me.
What would like more “average-Joe” men to know about Yoga?
Robert: That it’s far from a sissy, stretching activity. It is challenging. And, it is going to make you more balanced and help you with all other sports. I’m certain that the gladiator training facilities in the Roman Empire complimented their barbaric fighting techniques with the kind of finesse that yoga inspires.
How has Yoga grounded you more in your daily life? Do you find yourself to be more calm and more at ease?
Robert: Yes. What has happened is that I have developed a world internally, and that’s where wisdom is born. I’d say being calm is most likely a sign of growing up and attaining some wisdom.
What advice would you give to a guy who has never been to a Yoga class before and might be somewhat intimidated?
Robert: Find a teacher you respect and support them by showing up to their class regularly. The more in tune you are with the teacher you choose, the deeper you will go into your practice.
Which style of Yoga do you practice and why?
Robert: I practice vinyasa flow. I like to go deep. I like to sweat. But, the style means nothing if you do not have a teacher that you really respect.
What personal, business or studio projects are you currently working on that you want people to know more about?
Robert: “To be an artist is to embrace the full spectrum of the life experience and allow for works of art to be created that paint an emotional texture of the times. After years of celebrating the yogis on the beaches of Southern California, I was asked to enter various United States penitentiaries to create art of the growing yoga programs. It has been an amazingly sincere experience of true human connection. I am honored to have been chosen to document these men who have so little dignity left. My experience has been life changing and is still fresh and raw. Thank you to all who have supported this new exploration. I am touched not only by the courageous vulnerability of the prisoners allowing the world to see them, but, also by the tremendous support and interest from the public.”
Yoga has helped me to be more present in my body. These are not just words. I am actually very relaxed in my own skin. It is not so much the asanas to me. It was saying yes to myself and doing the yoga regularly and moving into a quieter place of self respect. I quit smoking, I gave up toxic relationships and I do not seek fulfillment from the world. I have it in me and now the world is simply enchanting.
Thanks so much to Robert for his generosity and words of wisdom. Namasté YfM
*photo courtesy of Robert Sturman