Go to any yoga studio in New York City, in Providence, in Des Moines, even in Peoria, and you will see body art. You’ll see tattoos of Sanskrit letters, of Hindu deities, of inspiring symbology. It seems that with the growth of yoga’s popularity in the West, mindful ink is also on the rise.
From a yogic perspective, the idea of a permanent imprint on the body is inherently paradoxical, for the body itself is seen as an impermanent vessel. While the physical practice of asanas, or postures, makes up the core of yoga for many Westerners, ancient yogis used it as a pathway toward sitting comfortably in meditation. Conditioning the body was part of the journey of conditioning the mind, whereby the body was one of many tools through which one could achieve one’s yoga. The poses, therefore, are ultimately non-essential: they are one piece of the practice, but one could be an advanced yogi without ever doing a downward-facing dog. For modern yoga practitioners, on the other hand, the body may be considered an instrument through which mental and spiritual aspirations are expressed.
In spite of these paradoxes, or perhaps because of them, many yogis have chosen to decorate their bodies with intellectual and emotional reminders of the practice. The symbology of the yogic tradition from chakras to Sanskrit letters has been paired with universal symbols of love, life, breath, and oneness to create a yoga-tattoo canon of sorts. The symbology has been overturned and reinterpreted over time, so that the scope of a “yoga tattoo” has actually become quite wide. Here we present a collection of body art, which honors the diversity of the many yoga lineages and the masterful and artful creativity of the modern yogi.
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Taylor Hunt, Columbus, OH
Hunt is an Ashtanga teacher and father of two. But before yoga, he says, he saw the world only in black and white. Through the practice, his world turned to color—and so did his body! His back and torso are nearly covered in ecstatic and colorful images of Hindu deities. In many strands of yoga, devotion to these deities is considered a key aspect of the practice. And for those who choose to adorn their bodies with invocations to their names or physical manifestations, what greater devotion is there?
Miles Borrero, Brooklyn, NY
For Borrero, tattoos are markers of time, reminders of who we were when we got the tattoo, and an indication of who we are to become. The placement of the prancing stallion serves as a perpetual indicator of what Miles calls “true north.” It is a visible compass which “accentuates and sweetens” what’s already present in the forearm—the strength, the softness, and the grace. Adorning the body with any design is an affirmation of the ability for art and beauty to heal. Here particularly, the movement and the freedom of the horse serves as inspiration for Miles’ practice on and off the mat.
Kenny Frisby, New York City, NY
Kenny loves to fly. The bird on his right bicep reminds him of the lightness, the grace, and the buoyancy which lives within.
Stefani Rose, New York City
The lotus flower is both a central symbol of transformation and also beauteous non-attachment in Hinduism. The lotus flower blossoms out of the mud and yet is untouched by both the mud and the water. It is the seat of possibility and the mirror for reflection. In the above image, the lotus undergoes its own type of transformation, infused with playful colors and floating among a sea of other images. For Stefani, the concepts behind the universal sound of om and the lotus flower are not at odds with wild creativity and a playful desire to be accessible and joyful.
From Left: Danielle Figgie, Brooklyn, NY; Susan Derwin, New York City; Reddit User Amelia_aerhart, Unknown
Sanskrit, like Aramaic, ancient Hebrew, and ancient Greek, is a sacred language. It is the language of the holy Indian texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the Vedas. Many of the letters themselves contain sacred sounds and symbols, such as the om (above left), which is said to hold the primordial sound of the universe and live within everyone. Words like satya (above center), meaning truth, or shanti (also above center) meaning peace, have become normative catch-alls in the Western yoga world. On the right, there’s a quote from Patanjali’s yoga sutras: “Yoga chitta vritti nirodha,” which translates to, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” In some ways, this verse is the central credo of the yoga practice; when all else is stripped away, it is a practice of stilling the mind.
From Left: Prince Puja, Los Angeles, CA; Barry Silver, Brooklyn, NY
In the physical yoga practice, gaze is often directed toward the hands. Eternal symbols placed on the knuckles and wrists are constant reminders of that which is most essential in life.
Adriana Rizzolo, Brooklyn, NY
Rizzolo, a yoga teacher and co-founder of Awakened Feminine, a support for women to live a transformational life, is adorned with countless tattoos: her arms, legs, and back are all covered with art. “They’re markers of my healing,” she says. Her butterfly is a symbol of transformation, her Mendi-style yoga tattoos are strong yet delicate imprints of her own internal feminine balance. Her body is also inked with oms, flowers, and patterns that help her “live true.” For Adriana, a tattoo is an external reminder of that which exists within.
Cover Photo by James Fideler