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How Philly does yoga

Photographer smashes stereotypes with diverse portrait series of yoga-loving Philly community members.

Jacques-Jean “JJ” Tiziou, 38, had a small epiphany while working on his newest photo project, "The Image of Yoga."

Trying to snap some selfies with tripods, which are now tucked away in the corners of the 319-photo panorama currently on view in West Philly’s Studio 34 Yoga Healing Arts, he struggled to feel natural while posing. 

“There’s this picture of me looking totally joyous,” Tiziou said. “I did this pose where I put my ankles behind my head … and the minute I got self-conscious and I was performing and not practicing, I was like, ‘Ow!’” 

That unique contradiction lies at the heart of what Tiziou explored in the project, asking 150 fellow yoga practitioners to pose for the project. The final 319 images were culled from some 16,000 photos he shot over two years. 

He said he gave his subjects no direction, except telling them “to do whatever felt good to them.” 

One woman just folded forward and hung down like a rag doll for her photo. Another just lay flat on his back. Featuring people of all ages, races and body types, the project shows how anyone can derive peace and happiness from the 5,000-year-old tradition of yoga, not just those who are in perfect shape, he said.

“There is this whole culture of image around yoga — you look on Instagram, and you see all these people sort of showing off and trying to sell clothes. … We see perfection, we this narrow, sexualized, ‘this-is-for-young-wealthy-bendy-white-women type of thing,' and what do you not see?” he asked. “Props, modifications, people falling out of poses, because it’s all got to be Instagram-perfect.”

Tiziou was introduced to yoga at Studio 34 and has been practicing regularly for some 10 years. The studio’s welcoming, nonjudgmental atmosphere partly inspired the project, he said.

“Yoga isn’t what it looks like on the outside,” he said. “It’s how it feels on the inside. It’s an invitation to find sensations in your body. You notice the stuck-in-hell and scared and weak or whatever parts.”

Tiziou has been involved in numerous public photography, art and community organizing projects around Philly

Another project of his, entitled "How Philly Moves," has been splashed on the 85,000-square-foot side of the Philadelphia International Airport’s parking garage since 2011. 

He also participated in Walk Around Philadelphia, a walking tour around the city’s perimeter over one week, and his portraits of adults with developmental disabilities were hung in Philadelphia City Hall. He also is known for his TedX talk “Everyone Is Photogenic.”

“The Image of Yoga” unites his own personal explorations of yoga with the community where he learned to love the practice, he said, and he hopes it helps break down barriers that may preventing some people from studying the practice.

“If I practice twice a week at least I notice changes in my mind and my abilities. When I find myself being really stressed out or in a funk, I realize, I haven’t practiced in a few weeks,” he said. “It really is effective for anyone with a body and breath." 

See “The Image of Yoga” at Studio 34 Yoga Healing Arts at 4522 Baltimore Ave.