Column: Photographing morning yoga on the Bailey’s Woods Trail

Posted on Jul 12 2018 - 7:00am by John Scott

Stepping out of my car, the first thing I noticed was how empty the museum parking lot was. Only two other cars had parked at the Bailey Woods trail head. I was worried. My editor had told me of the yoga class usually held in the museum was instead being held on the trail for the summer, but I admit I expected more people. Granted, it was 8:00 on a Monday morning. I myself am naturally averse to any hour of the morning, so I wasn’t too surprised. As I walked through the trail entrance with my camera gear, looking for what seemed like my only two subjects, my worries were immediately replaced by a new one. The beauty and serenity of early morning Mother Nature was accompanied by mosquitos, and I had forgotten bug spray.

As I walked down the trail, it wasn’t long before I happened upon a man and a woman unfurling their green and blue yoga mats. I approached the woman, who I correctly guessed to be the instructor.

“Hey there, I’m John with the Daily Mississippian. Are you the outdoor yoga class?”

She smiled back at me with a laugh. “Yes! My name is Lydia. I didn’t realize someone will be doing a story on us.”

“Ah good. Well, if its alright with you I would love to take some photos of your class today.”

“That would be great! Just make sure to take plenty of photos of him” She laughed again, gesturing towards the man who responded with a pained laugh.

Ole Miss students and Oxonians join together for yoga in the woods at the Bailey Woods Trailhead. Photo by John Scott

I simply nodded, smiled and dropped my bag a a few yards away. While choosing my lenses, two more participants joined us, another man and a woman, seemingly Oxford residents rather than students. They rolled their mats out near the others, forming a diamond with each facing the center.

“Alright, let’s begin, thank you for joining us today.” Announced Lydia, with a soothing voice.

It was at this moment I dropped out of the picture. Yoga is a concentration-heavy activity, with a focus on body-mindfulness. I had spent the occasional morning over the years at the occasional class, and was familiar enough to know the importance of being silent during class. However, once the class had begun, it seemed as far as they were concerned, I wasn’t there.

As they focused on their breathing and their muscles in the warm-up, I walked in circles around them, looking for my angle. I was as zoned in as they were, apart from the distracting assault on my ankles by the mosquito air brigade. I searched for new angles, played with the light and framing and was determined to fulfill my assignment. However, I couldn’t help but listen as Lydia spoke. I’ve always enjoyed the calmness of yoga instructors.

“Let each of your sense open up as you breath, and commune with the sounds around us.” She emphasized.

Two women pose while doing yoga in the woods. Photo by John Scott

I found myself taking a second to close my eyes and trying it out. Breath in, breath out. Grateful I wasn’t forcing myself to try and touch my toes for the first time since high school sports, I noticed the sounds around me.

The wind rustled through the leaves. The birds sang to each other as the sun poured through the branches. I heard the bugs buzzing, building the atmosphere of the forest. Other sounds began to filter through. Music from the baseball stadium. The steady rings of construction around campus and town. The cars on Highway 6. I could hear all of it.

As I opened my eyes, I noticed a change. The clouds had moved, and the sun was bursting through the trees, casting a golden light on the mats as they raised their arms towards the canopy of the trees, stretching their bodies upwards. I brought my camera up to my eye and took photos with a renewed focus.

As I watched and captured the various poses and contortions of the routine, I silently stalked around the group, hesitant to disrupt the peace of mind the class allowed me to share in. I began to realize the importance of what they were doing.

Ole Miss students and Oxonians join together for yoga in the woods at the Bailey Woods Trailhead. Photo by John Scott

Having spent most of my childhood in the outdoors, I had always felt at home outside. The sunlight warming your body, the wind blowing through your hair, the grass between your toes. It was all peaceful, and nothing new to me. But this was different. Even with simply observing, the silence and focus of the atmosphere emphasized the world around us.

The senses of the body attuned differently. I heard the subtleties of the wildlife and the echoes of the town around us. The smell of the dew on the grass and natural dirt of the earth were stronger than before, and I hardly noticed the mosquitos anymore.

“Feel what is around you, commune with your surroundings.” Soothed Lydia as they centered themselves with a child’s pose. I closed my eyes one more time, and fully breathed in the world around me. As cliché as it may sound, the earth and the growth grounded me.


Ole Miss students and Oxonians join together for yoga in the woods at the Bailey Woods Trailhead. Photo by John Scott

My eyes shot open as the vibrations of my phone in my pocket dragged me out of the calmness I had rediscovered. My daily morning alarm was going off, seemingly having forgotten that I woke up much earlier than usual. I laughed at the subtle irony. As I cancelled my remaining alarms, the class began to wrap up with a cool-down stretch. Grabbing my camera bag, I waved a silent goodbye to Lydia as I headed towards my car to head home and get ready for work.

Tossing my ger in the trunk, I took a second to glance through my morning notifications in my car. I took a heavy breath, lamenting that my morning of peace was over and it was time to go back into the real world. I glanced at the clock in my car. 9:05 AM. I never really did like getting up early, but I admitted this morning was a rather nice one. As I turned the key to my car, I had a new thought.

I reached over and grabbed my phone, and set a new morning alarm. Perhaps, I thought, there was something to be said for a morning like this.