Photo is linked, but: myyogaonline.com.
Of X and Y.
“Hello, class. Welcome to hot ab-power flow two. This will be a 75-minute class. If you have any injuries, or if you would not like to be touched or adjusted during the class, simply raise a hand now. ”
The voice was unisex, though I knew it belonged to a man, one with shaved legs and a faux-hawk.
He sounded like a flight attendant giving the pre-flight crash instructions. We were all face down, about thirty of us, shoulder to shoulder. It was 95 degrees.
I stared into the towel on my mat and sucked saccharin-sweet smell of laundry detergent in through my nose. I decided to raise my hand, not because of my torn meniscus, or irritable rotator cuff—I just didn’t want faux-hawk guy touching me. The class progressed. I did not. I went through with it, but I failed to reap any therapeutic benefits. No rhythmic, detoxifying breath here. I was instead caught in a feedback loop of meaningless thoughts.
“Is this guy for real? Is this class really lame, or is it just my own reticence? Isn’t that the girl who gives the Sangria lotion demos at Ultimate Market? Wow. She has wonderful shoulder blades. Did I remember to send in my car insurance bill? Holy shit, I’m almost out of dog food.”
I left 70 minutes later having sweat sufficiently, but not enjoying my usual post-yoga weightless cloud walk. I hadn’t had that in weeks. I felt more like I’d just wrapped up two or three rounds of boxing and never landed a punch, but had managed to not be slugged either.
I got into this, like most men, for a woman—an ex-girlfriend. She was an enthusiastic disciple of Ashtanga yoga, former teacher, studio owner, and enlightened soul. She had an ass that could crack walnuts. Let’s call her “Y”. (Why?) Y had done all the legwork of visiting the 30 or so studios that dot my ultra-conscious city, and separating the wheat from the chaff, or the gluten from the gluten free. She had eventually found Studio “X”. At first, going to yoga was simply an exercise in togetherness; to placate Y’s need harmonize.
Before long, of course, I was beginning to see a real pay-off, but I did not yet have an ass that could crack anything. Mine was more like a ripe avocado. Yoga was expensive too—the laundry alone could break a guy. Unlike other workouts, the garb cannot be recycled for more than a session, because yoga produces prodigious amounts of sweat. It had the benefit of re-aligning me after a life of earning my living with my back and hands though, and eventually I developed a costly habit of my own. Not a daily practice, but a regular one, and it did have the benefit of enhancing my relationship with Y, though not to the level that, say, Sting has achieved.
Then it ended.
Not the yoga, but the relationship, which, for a time, effectively ended my yoga practice too. A few weeks before we broke up, I re-ignited an old knee injury and was unable to practice yoga in the usual manner. It was a fitting metaphor. The partnership, too, had fallen prey to flare ups of past senselessness and trauma. To be respectful of Y’s space, and to avoid drama, (and also to play the martyr card) I opted out of the classes where I knew she would be. She was a committed member of the studio X, and I knew she was not about to go elsewhere.
To complicate things further, I was constantly asking myself if I was going for yoga, or in hopes I would see Y. In any case, I couldn’t bear it when I did see her…smiling sweetly, as is her nature, at all the friendly young (and old, and middle-aged) fellows who chatted her up before and after class. It was needlessly painful to run into her. Yoga is not supposed to be painful: that’s one of the rules. I tried the strategy of going to different classes at first. She, in an effort to be gracious, (or to play the victim card) was trying the same strategy, and had already yielded the classes we had attended together. Of course, we had the same favorite teachers, and it seemed every time I pulled into the parking lot of the studio in my battered old truck, grinding gears, lurching, with flakes of rust falling off, I’d see her bicycle, flower tucked into bell, lip-stick red paint job gleaming, leaning on its kickstand out front.
That is the way it was with us.
I was coarse (Ford), and she was fine (Bianchi!). We kept running into one another, each clumsily trying to make way for the other, and it hurt like hell. I had to find another studio. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? This town has more Yoga studios than bars or churches.
* * *
I was unaware that yoga is sort of infamous for drama, and particularly sexual or relationship drama. In my discussions with friends, everyone who had been practicing for any amount of time had a story. The best one was the fight that had once broken out in the naked, gay men’s hot yoga glass in New York City, all sweat and slip-and-slide, and probably urban myth.
My break-up commiseration man-date pal, Marcus had told me that one, though he had one or two good ones of his own. Marcus had been dating Sascha for five years, and they attended yoga together every other day. She’d been a good friend of Y’s. Eventually, Sascha dumped Marcus for failing to impregnate her, despite his best efforts. She was 38. This is standard in Boulder, Colorado. He was devastated, and it did not help that she refused to leave him alone, acting as if every aspect of the relationship should be the same, except that now she had acquired a new inseminist. She showed up at his house to walk the dog and she joined him for coffee, knowing well his morning routine. She continued to show up at yoga, smiled and waved, fluttering her flawlessly manicured boney fingers at him from across the room.
Before long she up showed up with The New Guy. The nerve! Not only that, but she placed her mat right next to Mark, and the fellow who was now happily fucking the woman he had heretofore anticipated spending the rest of his life with placed his mat on the other side of her.
So there they were in the crowded studio, lying side by side like sardines—a sardine sandwich really, the two with Sascha between them. Marcus is not the sort of fellow to take anything lying down – literally or not, and especially not the simultaneous punch in the balls yank on the dick being served up by Sascha and weasel-face next to her. He rolled his head to the side and looked right at Sascha, who smiled at him.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” he asked before lifting himself up on one elbow and looking over at weasel-face. “And you? Shame on you, you turd.”
Sascha began to cry. Her tears disgusted Marcus and broke his heart all at once. He scoffed at her, flopping back down onto his back. She jumped up, peeled her mat off the floor and ran out. New Guy followed, but trying to do so quietly, looked even more wretched. Everyone in the room pretended not to notice, instead lying there with closed eyes, feigning pre-class meditation, but actually assembling their individual accounts of this juicy slice of wellness community gossip.
After class, the instructor, reeking of saccharin-sweet patchouli, pulled Marcus aside.
“I’ve noticed you and Sascha seem to be having… difficulties?” The hippy observed.
“Yes. Yes, we have. Look, I’m sorry if …” stammering was foreign to him.
“Don’t be.” She smiled sweetly at him. “This sort of thing happens a lot. People’s paths in life diverge, and sometimes the reverberations can be felt all though our lives. Even in our yoga practice.”
Marcus considered punching the yogini in the face, but only for a second. “I see.” he said calmly.
The woman touched his arm. “But there is sort of a protocol…” she went on.
“Just text one another on the way to class…” and on. “That way we can avoid any more…”
* * *
A month later, I’m on studio number five. Studio number four had been another surreal let down. The instructor there had a voice that was like a machine that announces a self-destruct sequence: “We will be holding this pose for five…four…three…two”.
At studio three I had been greeted by the instructor like a dinner at a chain restaurant, “Hi, my name is Jenna, I’ll be your teacher today…” fitting, because it was a chain studio. It had nice mirrors though. I know this because they presented me again and again with a gift of sweaty cleavage visuals, and the rows of mats were four deep. Occasionally, my scan would be rudely broken by a glimpse of silvery, sweaty back hair, my punishment for leering. There were other disappointments: Crowds that resembled those I have heard about in New York City, where the instructor/owner admonished us to simply “adjust our consciousness” to offset the mat-to-mat violation of fire codes and common sense. Forgivable unless someone is farting in your face, and it’s worse if she’s eight months pregnant, because then you have to control your laughter—not my specialty.
There was another where I was the lone attendee, and one where I was the oldest student by twenty years, and another where I was the youngest by the same measure. It got to a point where I wondered if I should be doing yoga at all. Perhaps it just wasn’t for me. Or maybe it was the town. I was trying to penetrate a lifestyle thick with pretense and posturing in a community famous for the same. Normally, I could slice through that shit like a hot knife through organic non-hydrogenated soy product, but not this time. I felt like a stranger in every one of these places, and really, I was one. Funny word, stranger…stranger than what? Looking around myself in classes, I felt more and more alienated.
Stranger than this is pretty damn strange, I thought. Maybe I was just trying to connect to the feelings I had shared with Y (Why!).
Yoga had little to do with it.
But I had a good feeling about number five. Besides, I could go for two weeks for only 30 bucks. The class opened to a familiar voice.
“Welcome! It is so nice to see you all today, especially those familiar faces.”
I looked up.
It was my favorite instructor from studio X.
It was a weird moment, like seeing your elementary school teacher at the grocery store as a child—pleasant, but a bit out of place. Relieved, relaxed and focused, I spent the hour oscillating between the sound of my own breath and her perfectly timed cues. She guided me with precision…right to my edge of endurance and concentration…before calmly transitioning into the next position. The experience was almost matronly. I considered proposing marriage to this woman, then re-considered, flashing back to the matronly moment, then shrugged internally and considered it again. I am not a big meditator. That part of yoga is something I don’t really want to think about.
Yoga is more like fast-food exercise to me—a quick fix in a busy world. I’d rather stare at boobs in the mirror than expand my consciousness. But I know that there is a benefit to not thinking anything, to feeling something that is nothing. There are moments that pass, not being noticed at all, but at the same time, being keenly observed. Those are the moments when one might just bump into one’s self, but not make such a big deal of it, simply saying ‘excuse me’, ‘No, excuse me’, then just shuffle along.
It seemed every person in the class was having the same experience, despite the gaps in our ages, experiences and abilities. This woman was a pro: a real life guru.
After class, I had one of the greatest showers in recent memory. Great showers are a big part of any yoga facility—a disappointing shower is worse than disappointing sex. When you turn it on and it just runs cold, it can really wreck the rest of your day.
At least mediocre sex seems like a reasonable act of maintenance, like making myself a ham sandwich.
On the way out, I approached my teacher to say thanks, and find out what she was doing here. She explained that her former studio had been owned by her partner of several years, who she had recently separated from. He had been a real shit-heal to her in the process. Put her right out into the cold wilderness of yogi joblessness. She had found herself adrift, and after teaching classes at a few other places had decided this new studio was the best fit. I reached for my wallet and asked for a membership form.
She turned around, bent over, and reached beneath some junk to retrieve one. I noticed her ass. She noticed me noticing her ass.
I filled out the form as she shelled and ate pistachios from a small dish on the counter.