Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Earlier this spring, yoga philosopher Michael Stone tweeted (yes, tweeted) that "the term vinyasa originally meant tattooing the inner body with mantras." I was struck by that definition, really struck; it dovetails so nicely with the concept of samskaras (grooves, habits, ruts) in the body, and the ways in which a yoga practice, hitting the mat time and again, can break down old patterns and reconstruct healthier, more life-giving, more prana-rich samskaras. And, while I've never been much one for tattoos, I loved the idea of marking the inner body, of inking mantras dedicated to peace, lightness, openness, you name it, on the more ethereal aspects of our always-changing, never-really-existing selves.

So Sunday's NYT ran a simple gallery of 10 or 11 shots of tattooed yogis. Bendy people with ink will not be a new phenomenon for anyone who's spent a few hours in an urban yoga studio of late. Tattoo central -- and more lower-back Oms and goddesses than you can shake a stick at. That's cool. But as a collection of photography, of art, I like the minimalism of these shots, and the brief stories outlining the intention behind each. Check it out. Body art can be a way of clinging to a construct of a self, for sure; I always take care to remind myself that bodies come and go, and that any grasping at permanence in bodily state, be it plastic surgery, tattooing, liposuction, or the like, can really only ever be that -- grasping. But at the same time, if we look at bodies from a different angle, celebrating their impermanence, knowing that they'll change, decay, fade away, body art like piercing or tattoos can be just one more way to lift up their constantly-changing nature, an affirmation of the fact that the body that walks in a room and guides itself into Adho Mukha Swanasana is never the the same body that walks out 90 minutes later.

Flux is the only constant. How's that for a mantra to tattoo on your guts?

A Movable Canvas -- Tattoos in Yoga (NYT)


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