One photographer who found body acceptance and self-love through yoga aims to empower other yogis to feel the same through her raw photo series

By Alyssa Sparacino

With yogi role models like Jessamyn Stanley and Brittany Richard showing the world that yoga is accessible to and can be mastered by anyone-shape, size, and ability aside-you'd think the term "yoga body" would be obselete. But stereotypes take time to break down, and, realistically, finding the kind of confidence to attempt a headstand in just a sports bra and leggings takes guts (and a seriously strong core). (Read more about Why the "Yoga Body" Stereotype Is BS.)

Sarah Bokone, a portrait and editorial photographer from Warren, Ohio, is hoping to push this body positive movement a little further with her latest photo series, which features not "yoga bodies" but bodies doing yoga.

Bokone developed the project alongside Jessica Sowers, owner of Body Bliss Connection, a local yoga studio, who first introduced the photographer to the practice almost a year ago.

"I never thought I could do yoga, but she just sounded so reassuring," says Bokone of Sowers. "She's very passionate about spreading the word that all bodies are capable of practicing yoga, and I'm passionate about capturing emotion and showing people how beautiful they are through photography." A match was made.

The black and white images show women of varying ages, weights, and skill level, but not much else, and that was exactly the point. "I wanted to focus on the person-alone," says Bokone. "It was such a brave and powerful moment for them, and I didn't want to lose that focus." This isn't the first time she's shot subjects in this kind of exposed way-lets just say she knows how to get men to feel vulnerable.

That focus is a familiar one for the 29-year-old photographer, who says she has always struggled with body confidence issues and that being called "the chubby friend" when she was younger has really stuck with her. "I never liked my body, and I reached a point where I became terrified of being in photos, and that's awful because I love to document life," she says. She realized she needed to overhaul her perspective, which is where yoga came in.

When she started on her own yoga journey, she looked for encouragement in women she felt she could relate to. "One of the first things I did in the beginning was search Pinterest and Instagram for 'plus-size yoga,'" she says. "Sure, these women may have several years of experience, but it's inspiring to know that with practice, my body could be just as capable." (P.S. Have you heard about "Fat Yoga" Classes Tailored to Plus-Size Women?)

After just a few months practicing aerial yoga at Body Bliss Connection, she says her energy felt better and she began looking at her body differently. "I might not be the size I'd prefer, but I can do a pretty sexy inverted bow pose!" she says. "And sure, when I looked in the mirror now, I still see the areas I've always hated, but then I get a glimpse of my toned legs, and I'm like, 'Hell yeah!'"

On Instagram, she wrote: "I've let my body hold me back from far too much. I'm so thankful to have @bodyblissconnection teaching me what I'm actually capable of. I'm too strong to be ashamed."

Bokone says she wanted the women in her photo series to feel that same sense of empowerment when they see themselves in this raw way. "A few different women told me they signed up because they wanted to step out of their comfort zones," she says. "How cool is that?"


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