My Body is My Medium

Lolasana by  Shelley Zentner

Lolasana by Shelley Zentner

by Laura Josephy

For as long as I can remember, I have appreciated the human body as a form of art.  First through competitive gymnastics and now through the practice of yoga: the kinesthetic has always been my primary medium. The rich palate that the body in space provides is a ritual that guides my attention inward to the subtle realm where sensation, thought, and emotion intersect. Like a book I want to read repeatedly, the idiosyncrasies of the body tell the story of its unique character and wisdom.

I stumbled into my first led Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series class in 2002. I was discouraged by the discovery that students of this method follow a set sequence of postures. My mind settled by a few years of exploring other styles, I returned to Ashtanga in 2005 with a deeper appreciation for the nuances of an established daily practice. I replaced the monotony I initially assumed, with a respect for impermanence. The beauty of memorizing a sequence slowly over time is that the degree of attention that would otherwise be occupied with creating or following a novel sequence, can now be turned toward the internal experience of each pose. The body and breath flowing in tandem, the practice becomes a moving meditation on the somatic experience that plumbs the depths of consciousness and reveals the clear and alert presence at the center of Being.

If human nature plays to its strengths, then Ashtanga Yoga appeals to its blind spots. Sooner or later, the reality of abiding by a set sequence is that all students discover the edge of their physical or mental comfort zone. This seat of friction is an opportunity for awareness and an invitation to do things differently; to respond and not react. Yoga, after all, is a mindfulness training practice intended to illuminate our patterns and free us from deep-rooted conditioning. The yoga mat is a microcosm where the student can explore and experiment with their adjoined physical, mental, and emotional habits within the relatively controlled environment of the studio. How do I react when faced with fear or the challenge of something new? Where do I resist what is? How can I release unnecessary effort? These questions become lessons, which we can applied to the macrocosm of everyday life where the practice of yoga truly begins.

My creative collaboration with Shelley Zentner was born of the intention to bring my experience of the Ashtanga Primary Series to life. When envisioning the Tahoe Yoga Shala’s teacher training manual, it was essential that the energy and anatomy of each pose be represented by images that were educational and inspiring. The combination of the raw and unfinished, with the highly refined and precise styles present in Shelley’s illustrations, draws the eye to focus on the primary action of each pose while simultaneously allowing room for personal expression.

Ashtanga Yoga is a living tradition in that it continues to evolve through first-hand experience. With each original illustration, Shelley depicts the way my body has come to inhabit each pose after many years of consistent practice. It is one, but certainly not the only way, to approach these physical forms. Therein lies the paradox; if in our pursuit of an idealized form we become rigid in our application of technique, it can become yet another external distraction that clouds awareness.  It is my sincere hope that these images will usher yoga students into their personal experience of the practice. Though a visual guide is a necessary tool of learning, it is no substitute for the knowledge imparted through direct perception. We may use symbols and language as direction, but once there, the true nectar is found in being in the moment as it unfolds.


“Art of Ashtanga” Open House & Artist Reception

Sunday, November 3rd from 5 - 7pm

Join us in celebration of the continued collaboration between the Tahoe Yoga Shala and local artist, Shelley Zentner. The Shala and Shelley have teamed up to create instructional fine art drawings of the Ashtanga Primary Series. Each drawing is a study of the poses that comprise the Primary Series and were used as visual guidance in the Shala’s Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training Manual. Every drawing is an original, one-off artwork, created with charcoal on Stonehenge Archival paper. Admission free. Light refreshments served.

All original drawings will be for sale. Custom prints, the Teacher Training Manual and special edition Full Primary Series charts will also be available for purchase. A percentage of the profits will be donated to local causes and charities to which we feel connected. Advance reservations of specific poses can be made by contacting Shelley at shelley.zentner@gmail.com.

The Art of Ashtanga

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THE ART OF ASHTANGA

by Shelley Zentner

When my yoga teacher, Laura Josephy asked me if I’d be interested in drawing every pose in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series for her teacher training manual, I jumped at the opportunity. I love drawing the human figure. The challenge of making 75 studies felt like an extension of my own yoga practice and an opportunity to deepen my understanding of anatomy. What I hadn’t anticipated was the profound nature of the journey, both artistically and personally. I’m learning so much from the repetition and discipline required to work with this much consistency. The fine nature of the drawing style requires a level of concentration and absorption I haven’t experienced since I was an art student. I have a yoga anatomy book under my easel, along with David Swenson’s seminal Practice Manual for reference.

Uniting other disciplines with art is not a new venture for me. I graduated from the University of the West of England in 1997, with a degree in Art and Visual Culture. The program was an experimental blend of studio art, philosophy, theology, politics and history. It suited me because I love ideas as much as I love making art. To me, they are inextricably linked. I’ve always had a very broad range of academic interests, and am not and expert at anything - I just have a childlike curiosity about things and find connections intriguing.

This curiosity has led me to combine art with many different fields of study, such as science and cultural politics. I also use my art for social and political activism and founded the local group Tahoe Activist Artists in 2017. The imagery that manifests in my work is usually centered on the human form although I like to spend time outdoors, communing with nature. I fill sketchbooks with observations of landscape and nature, working out ideas and emotions with words and images combined.

I first came to Ashtanga around 12 years ago, not long after I moved to Tahoe from Wales. My husband and I had met whilst bouldering our way around Canada and the US. I didn't have my work visa yet, so I took a few classes at Lake Tahoe Community College for something to do and to connect with like-minded people. I took oil painting and figure drawing with Phyllis Shafer and Ashtanga with Amrito Cross. I was too committed to climbing to maintain a regular practice though, and soon ended my daily practice after the quarter was finished.

I began practicing yoga again last October after I realized that I had to let go of climbing after 21 years. I was diagnosed with endometriosis and breast cancer in 2015, and the treatments, trauma and surgeries have changed my life. The transformative nature of the disease has presented me with what I call the ‘dark gift’. Meditation and a new spiritual practice brought me to the realization that I needed physical activity which nurtured my body and soul in a way that climbing no longer did.

Ashtanga initially attracted me because it reminded me of a long, technical boulder problem. Visualization, memorization of sequence, and fine, meditative, detailed work balanced with the big movements or gestures are the qualities of bouldering and art that I love. I find this again in yoga, with a different language that translates to the same thing.

When I can practice regularly, I feel at one with the world. The nature of Mysore style classes allows for a personal journey, supported by caring teachers. I feel part of a community again, and I also enjoy occasional Yin and flow classes. My body feels strong and supple, and I feel nurtured and empowered. The athletic nature of this practice satisfies my need to be physically energetic. The spiritual, meditative aspect of the practice calms my mind, makes me feel connected to the universe, and helps release the tension of my body.

I’m profoundly grateful to have found the Shala, my teachers, and to have the opportunity to explore my practice in more depth through art. It makes me happy to know that the drawings will continue in their journey as a teaching tool, and find purpose in the education of a new generation of instructors.

Shelley Zentner is a professional artist, wife, mother and instructor at Lake Tahoe Community College. Learn more at www.shelleyzen.us

Shelley’s Drawings will be available to view and purchase at our Art of Ashtanga event on November 11 at 6pm.