What a Photoshoot Taught Me About Myself

Casey Stickland

Casey Stickland

I went into sheer panic when James gave me a photoshoot date less than two weeks away. It took me a while to bite the bullet and contact a professional photographer to even enquire about doing a shoot, so when James Fear called me back the same day to organise it I felt like I had jumped in at the deep end.

Aside from the general fears that most people have when they find themselves in front of the camera (what do I do with this hand? Do I look constipated or cute when I bend this knee? Should I fake smile or attempt to smoulder?), the thought that occupied me for the next ten days was who do I want the world to see? What face and personality do I want to be captured to send out into the world, to market myself and create a good brand? The obvious answer was to simply be myself. However there was a huge caveat… Who am I?

This question sent me down a rabbit hole. Thankfully the shoot got postponed for another couple of weeks to when the weather was good enough so I had the luxury of getting more time to navigate my way through my deepest psyche to figure out an answer. It was emotional, let me tell you.

For the last fourteen years I identified myself as a dressage rider. That was what I lived and breathed for. Every choice I made steered me towards the goal of being a professional, successful rider, so decision-making was a piece of cake – would it make me a better rider? If the answer was yes, then I would do it.

Whilst I remained unsatiated, life was ironically easy. I knew what I wanted, what values defined me, and in which direction I was heading in. However, the inevitability came that I began feeling satisfied, accomplished, and no longer hungry for more. I was by no means the best rider in the world, or had even reached my highest potential as a rider, but I had reached a level that was enough for me. I know I can get on any horse and improve it somewhat within a session, I can ride without frustration or confusion of what to do, and I have enough tools in my box to fix many different issues in the horse I am riding.

For me, that is enough. I weirdly never had the Olympics or WEG as a goal, and I always felt like that bothered me. I never understood how I could be so driven and hungry, yet the pinnacle of the sport didn’t interest me. It was only when I started to feel like I could be in complete harmony with my horse every time I rode, that I realised I had become what I deemed to be successful.

As well as having top class international training throughout my career, the other key ingredient to reaching the success I felt was yoga. If my riding career was a cake, the training I had would be the absolute highest quality ingredients, but the baking tin, the oven temperature and the cooking time were the yoga. With the oven baking the cake at the perfect temperature, with no one opening the door halfway, and being cooked for exactly the right length of time, my riding became this deliciously soft, spongey, moist cake where every bite was glorious.

No matter how good the ingredients are, if the cake isn’t cooked to perfection, it will never reach its highest potential as a cake. Yoga for me was the facilitator for bringing everything I was taught into action. It enabled me to calm my mind, think clearly, control my body, and find the inner strength required to work hard on a horse without tension and over-exertion. Without those more esoterical qualities I had developed, I would never have been able to use my technical training to its full potential.

Now if I was a true baker, my thoughts would probably be “YES, I will make more of these cakes! I will bake different flavours and sell them everywhere, package them up and sell them to supermarkets and bakeries, and then write a recipe book off the back of that one amazing cake!”. However, I have realised that I am no baker. I am the amateur cook who has a bomb cake recipe up her sleeve. I’m proud of my cake, I enjoy it with friends and family, we have made memories over the many trials and errors of getting the recipe right, and now that I figured it out I can just enjoy the damn cake, and find other things to create and enjoy.

That brings me now to the magic that is yoga. Where one journey ends, another begins. As I’ve transitioned into this new phase of my life, it has been really hard to find a ‘goal’ or a direction to move in. This feels seriously uncomfortable for me as the only way I know how go from day to day is by navigating myself towards something. For the last year or so I have had to do less yet experience more, think less yet contemplate more, put myself out there less yet be open to more – a very paradoxical way of living, but a way that has helped me transform from the old me to the new me. In Taoism this could be defined as “wei wu wei”, meaning “doing by not doing”, or “action through inaction”.

So you can see how the thought of doing a photoshoot and knowing who I wanted the world to see me as was absolutely terrifying. All I knew was that I loved teaching yoga, and I just wanted to teach more people so therefore needed these shots to market myself. It made sense to me to hide behind the yoga poses, so my focus in the lead up to the shoot became my physical body. However I knew I wanted to push myself to have some headshots and more artistic photos done, so I spiralled into an existential crisis.

I can’t say I had come out of my existential crisis by the time shoot day came around, but I knew I was physically and technically ready to do the yoga shots. I had to throw it to the wind and see what came out of me when I found myself in front of the camera for the more intimate artistic photos. Luckily, James and I connected on a much deeper level than I ever expected. I quite quickly realised that I didn’t need to keep a guard up with him, that I could open up about my story and my intention for the photos and allow myself to be seen.

I would love to say that I had a sudden epiphany halfway through the shoot and realised what my life’s purpose was, but I didn’t. I found it interesting how even if I had to hold an arm balance or headstand for a super long time just to get the right shot and my body was hurting and my arms were shaking, I felt a million more times comfortable and at ease doing that than looking straight into a camera lens. I am still no clearer on where I want to go with this yoga thing, but one thing the shoot did teach me was that it’s ok to feel bare and vulnerable, and if anything its necessary to be bare and vulnerable to allow something – anything – to come to me.

By being raw with James and talking about my thoughts and feelings on my life, he gave me some great advice and wisdom that I wouldn’t have received if I had just pretended to simply be a yoga teacher needing marketing shots. It got me thinking that if I can be that open, vulnerable and curious through more parts of my life, I’m opening the door for purpose to enter. Hence why I am writing this now. I love writing, I’ve always loved writing. I have so much to write about, but it’s always been the fact that I can’t define the person behind the writing, or what the intention is of the writing, that has stopped me. It’s now obvious to me that waiting around agonising over it isn’t going to bring answers, only action will. So this is me, tragically yet beautifully uncertain about everything in life, taking action.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter