Use Your Bandhas!

I stepped my bare feet to the front of the mat for Mountain Pose, the way we begin every Ashtanga class. Ashtanga is the same, somewhat rapid series of poses every time, which means that the first time I was here I spent most of my time stumbling around and looking bewildered. But not this time, I thought. I’d been going twice a week for three weeks, and now this was my seventh class. Time to rock.

Our instructor Elliot entered the class and smiled, turning down the music. From the first time I saw Elliot, I secretly referred to him as “Moby”: like Moby, Elliot has a very shiny head. Unlike Moby, Elliot could probably kick your ass if it didn’t go against everything he stood for. I am massively intimidated by Elliot, and also kind of in love with him: the way I am in love with anyone who even slightly touches me.

“Welcome, everyone, to the secondary series of this class. Is anyone new to secondary series?”

Secondary, secondary, I flickered vaguely. Isn’t this class usually called primary?

“On the last Tuesday of every month, this class becomes the secondary series. It’s a little more advanced, and with a lot of back bends, so . . . feel free to stop whenever you need to. Everyone okay?”

This was met with blank, uninterpretable stares. Wait, what did he say again? Should I —

“Now let’s take a deep breath.”

Fuck, you’re out of your element, aren’t you? I thought to myself rapidly, raising my arms upward. You’re out of your element. Exhale and bend. Whooooooosh. Here we go.

I was, in fact, way out of my element. Classes are an hour and a half long, and a mere twenty minutes in brought a huge stream of sweat dripping into one of my eyes. I blinked and coughed, jumped forward, extended, bent down, raised up, jumped back. I was, actually, slowly dying. My arms were shaking. My mind was incapable of making basic calculations, like “are you capable of bending that way.” Everything was a blur.

“Okay,” Elliot said, as I finally crawled into a sad, prostrate child’s pose, smooshing my nose into the floor in defeat. “So, you’re going to need a partner for this next position, and it’s a little . . . intimate.” That got everyone’s attention. What? Partner what? “Just find someone in the class who’s approximately your build and ability.”

Uhhhh. My eyes darted around the room. Was anyone else opposed to this? Could I opt out? What about for religious reasons? Because I don’t believe in touching people, I thought we’d established this.

Everyone had found a partner.

Well, almost everyone. I turned to my right, and there was the girl sitting near the wall. She was maybe twice my weight with a Rubenesque build, a cherub face and thick, frizzy hair. I smiled weakly at her, barely making eye contact. It’s the same smile I’ve been giving to people in gym classes my entire life. It says sorry, looks like you get to be with me.

“So basically, you’re going to sit facing one another with your legs entwined, like so. The supporter will hold your hands behind you, and you’ll lean back onto the top of your head. Five breaths there, then come up, then up and down five times, then down again for five breaths.”

I stared at our demonstrating instructor in absolute, dumbstruck horror. He was going to have us hump one another.

I mean, not hump entirely, in the traditional sense of the word. But one person presses their crotch against the other person’s crossed ankles, which are also pressed into that person’s crotch. You’ll notice that there’s only one set of ankles, separating the crotches. Meanwhile this other person goes up and down in a kind of chest-opening sit-up — and breathing, I should mention, in the traditional Vinyasa manner, which is to say loudly and with a kind of hissing sound. And all the while you’re holding goddamn hands.

Another bead of sweat rolled into my widened eyes. The girl padded her way over to my mat and sat down, facing me. Everyone else had already begun with their partners. No one was talking: just that hissss, hisssss, hisssss, hissssss of breath, everyone in rhythm.

“So, uh,” I said quietly, “I don’t, um, I’ve never actually done this before, so, um, do you want to go first?”

She shrugged and crossed her legs campfire style, then crossed her arms behind her.

“I, uh, so, I guess I just kind of sit . . . uh, where do my legs go, again? Like this?”

I splayed them around her. She nodded patiently.

“Okay, and now I grab, um, your waist, like this while you bend back?” I put my clammy hands on her hesitantly: her back was soaked in sweat. She shook her head.

“Oh, I mean, I, uh, I take your hands. Right. Okay. Uh, like this?” Our hands clasped moistly. I was three inches away from her face.

She nodded again like yeahyeahyeah, then thrust her chest forward and bent her head back, until she was balancing on it. Holy crap, I realized. This woman’s breasts are absolutely gigantic, and they are just barely covered by clothing. Then, with urgency: whatever you do, do not look at this woman’s breasts. I stared determinedly at the wall, as she came up and down, up and down, hissss, hissss, hissssss.

“Your turn,” she finally gasped. “I can never do the last one.”

And so somehow I found myself wet and intertwined with a complete stranger, pressing my ankles into her crotch as I lowered my head onto the floor. Five breaths here. Easy. Stare at the wall behind you. Now, come up.

Breasts. NO! Crap! Wall. Inhale, back down. Maybe I should look her in the eyes, like with dancing? Some people think it’s lame to avoid eye contact in these situations. Exhale, up: Eyes — wao! She was looking you in the eyes, too! Well that was weirdly intimate. Inhale, back down. Note to future self, never make eye contact while doing this again. Exhale, up: Shoulder, yes, the right shoulder is safe.

Inhale, back down.

Exhale, up: There are literally five rivers of sweat running into her massive cleavage, it’s like a 8th wonder of the world in there, how could a sports bras that low cut even be useful —

Shoulder next time, shoulder! Inhale, back down. Last one, you can do it.

I exhaled with everything I had left in me, hisssssssss pushed my way back up towards her, and overwhelmed by momentum found myself within a few centimeters of her lips, panting. I looked her in the eyes, then looked down to avoid her eyes, then looked to the side to avoid her breasts.

Jesus! Shoulder! Back up a little!

“Did . . . I do it?” I asked. I felt a little proud, like I’d just survived interrogation under water-boarding. Drowning? Who was drowning? Nobody was actually drowning! Ho ho ho!

“Actually you’ve got one more set,” she said. “Another round of five breaths, remember?”

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  1. Huh. You know, the sweaty sort of yoga is confusing to me. My whole reason for going to yoga is that I leave feeling really serene and with my mind much more settled than it was going in. Getting a workout would seem to be contrary to these goals?

  2. It’s the opposite for me. Unless I’m working really hard, my mind tends to wander: I get bored in the stretch-only hatha classes. I was just telling Jurvis the other day that I do yoga the way college kids drink: with the sole intention of making myself as retarded as possible by the end of it.

  3. Hmm. Our class’s leader (I have a problem referring to anyone as my yogi) uses the words you use to describe your class (flow, and something which certainly sounds a lot like Ashtanga), but it’s geared for lazy undergraduates who show up 3 times a quarter, so it’s very simple and slow. It can get a bit boring, but it takes a lot of work for me to concentrate on breathing, so that’s how I stay focused.

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