February 22, 2012

At the Puja in Pasties.

The floor of my house is covered in pink sequins.

I keep finding red boa feathers stuck to my dog’s paws. I am in week 4 of a burlesque workshop, and the big performance is a week away. You know that dream that practically everyone has where you show up to work naked? I hate that dream.

I will not describe myself as a prude. Others might. I have been harassed by my friends on more than one occasion for wearing long shorts known as “jams” to the beach. The only place I ever comfortably reveal my body is in a yoga studio. On the mat, there is no reason to cover myself. There I am physically, mentally and spiritually naked and unashamed.

I thought this freedom would translate to my clumsy, misguided attempt at being a burlesque dancer. Standing in 6-inch heels, with a bedazzled thong disappearing in the folds of my thirty-four year old flesh is not graceful. Looking in the mirror is painful, and in dance, all you do is look in the mirror. I have done this to find my inner sex goddess. I feel like I have found my inner sad spinster instead.

I go back to the mat and scan the rhythms of the practice—the points in the flow where I feel most powerful and feminine. I want to steal these moments from my practice and lend to them Alpha Bettie, this burlesque beast I am constructing out of Tacky Glue and glitter.

This is the first time I have mindfully focused on my own sexuality in my practice. It turns out it is pretty damn dangerous. Sex was one of the main reasons I came to yoga in the first place. In my late twenties, I was attacked and raped in the parking lot outside my apartment building. I could hear my dog barking and scratching the door frantically from inside the apartment. She had always hated this boyfriend. It turns out she was right.

My late twenties were the most debauched time of my life. I felt as if Armageddon awaited me in my thirties. I had no plans to get married, but all of my friends did. People I knew began having dinner parties and drunkenly talking about 401Ks. I reacted by having sex with people I barely knew and spending my savings at bars. Instead of finding an alternative to the lives my friends were creating, I embraced having no life, no stability and no intimacy.

After the attack, I did believe I was a bad, guilty, fast and loose whore of a woman. Even though I was an atheist, I knew that the god that did not exist was teaching me a lesson. I developed a full belief in my own worthlessness. I worshiped at that altar for a few months while my physical wounds healed.

During that time, I found a yoga class to hide out in. The gym was filled with too many familiar faces. These people would see the bruises and the stilted walk and know that something dreadful had happened. These were people who had seen me lift my own body weight on a regular basis. They would call me on it.

The yoga class was forty-five minutes from town, far enough to provide me with a class full of strangers. These strangers stared and smiled and communicated with their eyes that they understood, but they never said a word. I went every day for two months, seven days a week, and once even in a snowstorm when I knew class had been canceled. It was the only hour-and-a-half in the day where I did not hear the sound of my head slamming against the car door, and the stars, literally, that followed. The attack had turned into that one moment. It was the moment I realized what was going to follow. I lived in that moment for months. Some days I still do.

People often say to me that I am a yogini because, in essence, I need a crutch—that I cannot handle a worldview in which there is nothing outside of the temporal world. You are goddamn right I cannot. I am not going to say that my life has been the worst. People within my immediate social circle have had it much harder, and that is just for starters. However, something horrific did happen to me and it transformed my view of the world. It settled in my darkest cracks and dismantled my heart completely.

Yoga was real; my mind told me that my life was over. Yoga was real; my mind told me that this would happen again and again—that every parking lot and every man was dangerous. Yoga was real. Yoga emphasized breath, movement and detachment. I could not breathe or move, and I was nothing if not attached to my misery. Yoga taught me to control my body and my bully of a mind.

The burlesque show is 1 week away and I am terrified. I am going to that parking lot all those years ago. I am afraid that I will be on that stage and the audience will judge me harshly. I am afraid to walk home alone, but I will not have to because my friends, armed with video cameras, will be cheering me on—another journey, courtesy of the mat.


Assistant Editor: Soumyajeet Chattaraj

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