Photo by Michael O’Neill

How’d You Get That Picture? Michael O’Neill’s Personal Journey Into the World of Yoga

4 min readMay 6, 2016


It has taken yoga several thousand years to make the journey from a handful of monasteries dotting the Himalayas to the yoga studios popping up everywhere. Whether bathing with holy men in the Ganges or joining the chorus of a thousand voices chanting “om,” photographer Michael O’Neill has devoted himself to experiencing and recording the world of yoga at this critical juncture in its history. The result is Taschen’s powerful photographic tribute to the age-old discipline turned global phenomenon, with over 250 million practitioners united in physical and mindful practice worldwide.

For more than 10 years, O’Neill trekked beyond the traditional epicenters to meditate with monks in the Tibetan plateau, live with sadhus in their tents at the Kumbh Mela, and marvel at the boys who practice the little known discipline of Mallakhamba on the wrestling grounds in Kochi. Says O’Neill: “All I wanted to do was to pay homage to yoga’s classical lineage and understand this unique moment before it slips away.”

O’Neill arrived at this project following a prestigious career as one the most respected portrait photographers of his time. He has photographed every president since Nixon and served as a contributing photographer to The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Life, the New Yorker, Esquire, Vanity Fair, Time and numerous other publications. Here he shares more of the project now closest to his heart.

Photo by Michael O’Neill

“This was one photograph that I knew for a long time I wanted to make — not in the sense of how it would look, but rather conceptually… high elevation… thin air… ice cold… mountains… An environment where heaven meets earth in the purest, stark, isolated sense. In 1979, just after Ladakh opened to foreign visitors, I was invited to do a horse and yak trek into the headwaters of the Indus and the Zanskar River. Years later strong memories of the Tibetan plateau triggered the idea to fly in the winter to a place that was snow-covered and remote, essentially Buddhist in nature. And even now, some 30 years later, one that is still true to itself and untouched.

“Our intent was to make a photograph of a monk meditating in the snow. And having meditated myself in a roaring wind at the tip of a valley in front of Milarepa’s cave in Tibet, I knew experientially it could be done. We drove an old four-wheel drive land cruiser on tracks in the mountains high above the valley (probably some 15000 feet or more) and walked to a small pinnacle to make the photograph. The monk prayed; he became still, his hand mudra and beads composed in practiced perfection. There we had it: a magnificent stillness in crystal clear air, quiet but for the winds. Isn’t it all about a practice? Mine with the camera, and his with the depths of meditation.”

Camera Details:

Camera: Hasselblad H2 with Phase One P45 Digital Back

Lens: Hasselblad 35mm

ISO: 100

Shutter Speed: 1/40th second

Aperture: f16

More shots by Michael O’Neill from his book, On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace:

Michael can be found at and on Instagram at michaeloneillphoto.

Photo by Bia Setti

This excerpt has been republished from The Shot, Flipboard’s Photography Magazine and hub, and reprinted with permission from the photographer. The Shot also includes:

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