In order to be present for the people she interviews, photo journalist Meeri Koutaniemi, known for the heavy topics of her works, will do yoga in the hallway of a hotel to get her practise in. Yoga has also given Finland’s most famous photographer a lot of confidence.
Meeri Koutaniemi has just returned home to Helsinki from the sewers of Romania. She spent a week in Romania filming a documentary about the lives of drug addicts and the homeless. For a woman who broke into the Finnish consciousness with her photos of circumcisions of Kenyan girls, the subject is not exceptional.
Koutaniemi’s work is mentally and physically demanding, and even during her photo shooting trips, she starts her mornings with Astanga yoga – straight out of bed, on an empty stomach.
‘Yoga helps me structure my thoughts and calm my mind. It’s an important part of my preparation for the day. When I’m first present for myself, I’m ready to face others and be present for them’, says Koutaniemi.
No inspiration from group classes
Koutaniemi was first introduced to yoga at 16 years old in high school. A girl from Kuusamo had just moved from her hometown to Helsinki and signed up to a course at a local yoga studio. However, the group classes did not immediately spark her enthusiasm for yoga.
‘I couldn’t find a feeling of peace and concentration in a group. The hectic nature of the city followed me from the street to the yoga room, and as a beginner, I was thinking too much about gaining the acceptance of others. The classes for a group of 40 people did not suit me back then’, Koutaniemi reminisces.
After moving to Tampere for her university studies, Koutaniemi decided to give yoga another chance. She soon found a yoga place where the atmosphere was also conducive to Koutaniemi’s concentration. After learning from the classes, she started doing yoga by herself, and yoga became an integral part of her life. It has also helped her keep the beat of the city, which used to distract her yoga practice, away from herself.
‘I spend a lot of time in large cities that are not a natural environment for me. Thanks to the mind control taught by yoga, I no longer absorb the hectic restlessness into myself,’ Koutaniemi says.
“In a yoga paradise, I can see far, but nobody sees me”
For her morning yoga regime all Koutaniemi needs is a few square meters of space and peace to concentrate. Still, the most memorable yoga experiences came from exceptional surroundings. While working in New York, she used to climb the stairs of her loft up to the roof at dawn. The July sun would be shining, and all of Manhattan opened up before her eyes.
‘I could see everything, but the bustle of the city was far below me. Perhaps the ideal place for yoga is one where I can see far, but nobody sees me’, she reveals.
Confidence and joy from Asanas
The photos of people doing yoga in different environments at Yogaia’s revamped web site are Koutaniemi’s work. The question of what she wanted to communicate about yoga with her pictures she hopes are easy for the photographer to answer.
‘This may sound grandiose, but yoga has encouraged me to do things I didn’t think I could do. It helps one find one’s inner resources and brings confidence. When you learn to become aware of yourself, you also become better aware of the world around you’, Koutaniemi explains.
Besides confidence, there is also joy in the photos. Koutaniemi says she had a really great time shooting them.
‘I wanted to show that yoga is not just about serious silence, but directly promotes gratitude and a positive attitude towards life’, she reveals.
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