There are many reasons to practice yoga, the virtuous ones (newfound serenity and calm, a more profound understanding of life) and the less-than-virtuous ones (it’s hip, you develop a firm “yoga butt” and the clothes are cool). But to me, the biggest benefit-and the one that I recognize as the antithesis of everything yoga strives to teach-is gratuitous touching. All you have to do in return is breathe.
Yoga instructors “adjust” their students, which means they guide their bodies deeper into a posture through the use of gentle pressure. Adjustments are welcomed by most yogis, since they enable students to achieve previously unattainable asanas . They are particularly welcomed by me, though, when the instructor happens to be male.
The fact that yoga could be a turn-on came as an unexpected bonus. I stumbled into my first class several years ago, seeking serenity in the midst of enormous personal trauma. Everyone I knew who practiced had a calm yet powerful demeanor about them, so I decided to investigate.
I began my practice at a popular downtown studio. I was drawn not just to the physical practice, but to their spiritual teachings as well. Their philosophy instructed that when you overcame an obstacle in class, such as a really tough position, you were better able to overcome obstacles outside of class, such as (in my case) my life. It worked, and I soon found myself on the noble path of enlightenment.
But not for long. There was a great deal of buzz in the dressing room about an instructor named David, so I signed up for one of his classes to see what all the fuss was about.
David was thrilling yet terrifying. Sporting long, dangly earrings, copious tattoos and skin-tight orange pants, he was just the kind of guy who would appall my mother. This made me want him in the worst possible way.
I hid in the back of his class, feeling hopelessly normal in the sea of pierced noses and daunting attitudes. But David adjusted me as frequently as he did everyone else, and in an effort not to appear wimpy, I pushed myself to the point of excruciating pain. Given the fact that my life was such a mess, pain felt very, very right.
All was going swimmingly in my spiritual quest until, one day, I found David lying across my back, pushing me further into a forward bend. “Sweet Jesus,” I thought, as I pressed my face into my shins. “Who needs to date?”
Slowly, I inched my way toward the front of the room. Row by row, I would move my mat up until, after about a month, I was front and center. Then, in perhaps the biggest bonanza in the history of yoga, David arrived late to class one day and changed his pants right in front of God and my prying eyes. I stared, gape-mouthed, as he stood before me, clad only in his tightie-whities and a tie-dyed T-shirt. This must be what they mean by nirvana, I thought, and I’ve attained it so soon.
Yoga began taking up a weirdly disproportionate amount of my time. With the commute, the class and the shower afterward, it easily took half a day, and I went, well, a lot. So, I was relieved when a reputable studio opened much closer to my apartment. Besides, the small yet audible sighs that escaped when David touched me were getting embarrassing. It was time to move on.
The new studio was great. The classes were tough, the music motivating, the instructors primarily female. Now I could get back to the business of enlightenment. Then, one hapless Friday morning, I wandered in and there, at the head of the class, was Jason-not his real name-lighting incense and selecting CD’s. He had a free-spirited California-boy look: thick, tousled hair, baggy shorts and granite-hard legs.
I was sunk.
I suspect I wasn’t alone in my prurient intentions. Jason’s class was always teeming with beautiful, long-limbed women. Perhaps they were all there for spiritual inspiration, but I felt better imagining they were in the gutter with me.
Positioning was key. Much like when I’m at the beach, I would place myself strategically-as far away from the leggy-model types as possible. If one of them inadvertently rolled out her mat next to me, I would just smile beatifically and kick some mental sand her way.
“Don’t you think he’s the sexiest thing on the planet?” I asked a friend in a hushed tone one day before class began.
“Yes, but he’s gay,” she whispered back.
Somehow, this made it even better. Jason became all the more desirable because of his unavailability. I would look around in class at all the beautiful women and think, “I can’t have him, but neither can you.”
As fabulous as Jason was, the scene in his class eventually began to wear on me. The ever-ringing cell phones and Fendi bags that accompanied many of the uptown yogis were becoming irksome. When a new studio opened last fall three blocks from home, I felt compelled to try it. Just maybe I could finally give up my yoga-slut ways.
Things were peachy at first. My commute was down to 10 minutes each way, and the studio was pastel-colored and serene. I quickly became a regular.
“Have you tried John’s class?” the owner asked me one morning. It was all the enticement I needed. The next day, I found myself under the tutelage of a 6-foot-2 hunk with a voice like warm maple syrup. I have always found intensity enormously attractive-and fortunately for me, John seemed to have none. He was languid and melodic, which meant that, for a while, I was able to focus on the yoga and not the yoga instructor.
One morning before a holiday weekend, I strolled into class to find that not one other student had shown up. I was alone with John.
It would be the last time I thought of him as laid-back. Instead, I began to fixate on his massive hands, which he used to reposition my arms, my rib cage and my pelvis. After an hour and 15 minutes, I felt spent. It was time for savasana, or the “corpse pose,” as it is known, in which you lie down, eyes closed, and relax like a dead person.
Serenity swept over me until, for some inexplicable reason, John decided he needed to “rotate my inner thigh.” “Imagine your heart opening like a beautiful rose,” he said as he knelt over me, “each petal gently unfolding.” After turning my left leg outward, he lifted me up by my torso to straighten me out.
My back arched, my lips parted, and I wondered, for one brief, horrifying moment, if I were to snatch him by the hair and start making out with him, would he kiss me back? If not, would he tell anybody what I had done?
The potential for embarrassment was too great. I began to meditate on the rose.
“What in the name of God is wrong with me?” I wondered on the walk home. “This is yoga.” And then, finally, I had a moment of true enlightenment. There’s a reason monks have to live in monasteries and gurus on mountain tops. There, they are far, far away from temptation.