Mind (and Body) Bending Photos Pay Homage to Yoga’s Classical Lineage

Photographer Michael O’Neill spent a decade documenting the practice that saved his life

Rooted kukkutasana, or rooster pose | Varanasi © 2015 Michael O'Neill/TASCHEN
Vrischikasana, or scorpion pose | Haridwar © 2015 Michael O'Neill/TASCHEN
His Holiness Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji meditates in the Ganges | Rishikesh © 2015 Michael O'Neill/TASCHEN
Meditation on the Tibetan Plateau | Ladakh © 2015 Michael O'Neill/TASCHEN
Durvasasana, a squatting pose | Haridwar © 2015 Michael O'Neill/TASCHEN
Yoga nidrasana, or sleeping yogi pose, with hand variation | Kumbh Mela, Allahabad © 2015 Michael O'Neill/TASCHEN
A boy wraps his foot around a wooden pole, forming a shelf-bracket-like triangle as he and other children practice mallakhamb, the sport of pole gymnastics | Varanasi © 2015 Michael O'Neill/TASCHEN
A man meditates on short rods extending from the wall in what appears to be a supernatural pose, levitating lotus | Varanasi © 2015 Michael O'Neill/TASCHEN
A man stretches into a west-facing extension known as paschimattanasana with his son perched on his back in padmasana, or lotus pose | Varanasi © 2015 Michael O'Neill/TASCHEN

When Michael O’Neill was wheeled into surgery in 2000 to have calcified nerves removed from his spine, he had no idea how yoga would save him. Neurologists told him the next day that he’d never again be able to use his right arm—a limb that had helped earn him a 35-year career photographing presidents, celebrities and wildlife. To cope with the shock, he began meditating, and practiced yoga and hydrotherapy to strengthen and heal his body. Within a year, he’d regained movement in his arm.

That reversal of fortune inspired a decade-long quest to investigate and pay tribute to the practice of yoga—to capture its essence from its most legendary teachers. O’Neill spent cold nights under the stars in the Himalaya. He bathed in the Ganges during the Kumbh Mela festival and helped sadhus rub ash on their skin. On numerous trips to remote mountain villages, port cities and other parts of India, he photographed the people and scenes that now make up the pages of On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace, published by Taschen in October 2015. “I see these teachers as heroes,” says O’Neill. “I want people to understand them better through the photographs.”

On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace

This extraordinary body of work tells the story of yoga as it’s never been told before, with nearly 200 photographs, most of which have never been seen.

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.