YOGA, HE THOUGHT
Paul’s very first yoga class, at the Samadhi Yoga Center in downtown New York City, was held in the Ganesh room, a small space painted in orange and red pastels. He arrived late. About twenty people sat cross-legged, propped on blankets, with their eyes closed, facing the teacher. As he sat, a teacher, a lithe woman with a serene smile, chanted om and the class joined her. On the third om, he shut his eyes and gave it a shot. Then the teacher sang in some strange language with the class repeating after her. Then she spoke: “We are not our bodies, we are not our minds, we are pure being.”
Paul smirked. She was much too pretty to be talking spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Even with her sitting down he could tell she had a great body. At the same time, her entire face—her eyes, her smile, her cheeks—all seemed to glow. She radiated purity.
“Stand up and come to the edge of your mat,” she said. “Bring your feet to touch.”
Paul glanced down. There was a two-inch gap between his feet. He wasn’t limber. That was the best he could do. The teacher would think him unyogic.
She walked around the room, checking everyone’s feet. She stopped in front of him. Her hair was pulled back in two braids. “Bring your feet together.”
“This is as close as they get.”
She touched his shoulder. “That’s fine, then.” She stepped to the front of the class. “Raise your arms out and up.”
He followed her command.
“Now dive to the floor, leading with your heart center.”
As he bent over with outstretched arms, his right hand smacked the rear end of the woman next to him. “I’m sorry,” he said, “it’s my first class. I’m trying yoga as an alternative to playing squash.” With little forgiveness, she glared at him as if he were some kind of rush-hour subway groper.
“Step or jump back to downward dog.” What’s this downward dog stuff? He watched the woman next to him and tried to imitate her. It was tough. The rest of the class seemed to move in sync with the teacher’s commands.
“Come around and watch me demonstrate chaturanga,” the teacher said. Huffing and puffing, he was ready for a break, whatever chaturanga was. Paul hadn’t had a chance to check out the room. By the ceiling were rows of pictures of what must have been saints and holy people. He recognized Mary, Jesus, Gandhi and some guy who looked like an Indian Elvis. There was a smiling elephant, too. But his classmates were more interesting. The women wore tights and T-shirts, exposing gentle curves, toned muscles and swaths of flesh. On top of that, the numbers were in his favor—there was only one other guy. Not at all like a squash court.
The instructor, the most beautiful of them all, stood at attention between two rows of mats. She had perfect posture. She demonstrated the series, or “sun salutation,” as she referred to it, while making this “ocean breath.” She had great arms, sculpted, yet sinewy, and she moved through the positions effortlessly.
Later, after a lot of bending and twisting, it was finally time to rest. “Corpse pose,” she said.
That’s weird, he thought. Kind of morbid.
“Lie down on your backs and take rest.” He plopped onto his mat and shut his eyes and dozed. Soon he thought he was dreaming. There was a soothing feeling at the back of his head. Someone was massaging his neck! He opened his eyes: her face was six inches above his. She had brown eyes to match her hair. She smiled. He smiled back.
“Relax,” she said.
He dropped his head into her hands and shut his eyes. She continued kneading his neck, then massaged his forehead before drawing her fingers down his temples. It felt so good. Bet she didn’t do that to just anybody. She must like him.
After class he approached her as she fiddled with the stereo. “Thanks for class. I’m Paul.”
“Sasha. You’re welcome.” She stood there, her face glowing, open, friendly.
“It was my first class,” he said.
“Really, you did great.”
“I hope to see you again.”
“Me, too.” Already she was his favorite teacher.
The following Sunday Paul went back to yoga and sat in the front row. Sasha wore a navy blue tank top and red leggings that molded to her body—very sexy.
At the end of class in corpse pose, or shavasana, as she referred to it, he lay on his back with his eyes closed. This time he didn’t drift off, he waited for her. He could hear her move around the room, attending to other students. Badly he wanted her to massage his neck and head. Finally, his wish was fulfilled. She kneaded the muscles in his neck, ran her thumbs over his temples and then pressed his shoulders down. He loved her.
After class, he approached Sasha as she turned off the stereo. “Do you want to get a juice?” he asked.
Her eyes sparkled as she smiled. “Sure, I’ll meet you by the fountain,” she said, and touched his forearm. The hair on his neck tingled with excitement.
The juice bar was full of bulky guys gulping power drinks and a spry old lady throwing back a shot of wheat grass. Sasha asked for a Green Goddess. Paul had no idea what it was, but he ordered one, too. With their drinks, they wandered outside. He took a sip and winced. It tasted like aloe vera hand lotion. “Do you always get this?”
“No, it depends on my mood. Sometimes I like the carrot-apple juice with ginger.”
This yoga stuff would take a while to get used to, but she was amazing. He’d give up meat to date her. “How long have you been teaching?”
“About four years,” Sasha said.
“And that keeps you busy?” he asked.
“I give private lessons and I’m a graphic artist.” She played with her straw. “But I’m thinking of giving it up.”
“No, graphic design. I get lonely working at home.”
“I know what you mean.”
She tilted her head and leaned toward him. “You do?”
“I’m a screenwriter and work at home. It’s not easy.” Tiny patches of freckles decorated her cheeks as she nodded her head in agreement. “Do you want to have lunch sometime?” he added.
She paused and then glanced over her shoulder. “Sure. I teach Wednesday at noon. Come to class and we’ll go after.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks for the Green Goddess.”
She glided toward Astor Place and seemed to levitate over the sidewalk as she swerved out of the way of a mother pushing a stroller. Before crossing Lafayette, she paused and held her right wrist with her thumb and index finger as if she were taking her own pulse. Enchanting. If she took his, she would have found it racing.
Sasha’s lunchtime class had only seven students. An hour into class, they had warmed up for the big pose, forward seated bend. For Paul to touch his feet, he had to bend his legs and sit on a blanket. When he tried to straighten his legs, pain shot across his lower back. So much for that. As a counter-pose, they did a side twist, lying on their backs.
Sasha placed one hand on his shoulder, the other on his hip, practically kneeling on him. It was kind of kinky. She smelled like salty honeysuckle. Was she as excited about lunch as he was? She left him to assist another student. Paul reversed sides. She returned. He smiled at her. She smiled back and said, “Breathe.” He breathed very deeply, he breathed for her.
At the end of class, lying on his back resting, he waited for her to come to him. Since there were only seven students, she might be going to all of them, saving him for last, but for some reason she didn’t come. Maybe she didn’t want to make herself too available. He understood.
They went to a restaurant down the street, where they could sit outside. When their dishes arrived, Paul realized a blunder. Sasha had ordered a garden salad, he had gotten a cheeseburger. He was hungry, but, it occurred to him, her lithe silhouette probably didn’t consume meat. At least he hadn’t ordered a beer.
“Do you want some dessert?” he asked after their plates were cleared. He doubted she ate dessert, but he wanted to linger.
“I need to be going,” she said, but continued to relax in her chair, taking in the view as if she were sitting at the beach.
And if she was in a hurry, she didn’t show it as they ambled along the sidewalk. At the Bowery, they waited for the light. He noticed her staring at the treetops poking over the garden wall of a trendy bar. “Remember when that was a service station?” he asked.
“Yeah, I moved into my apartment a month before it closed.”
“It became quite the spot in its heyday.” Once he had picked up a woman at the bar.
“Never been, but their trees are growing nicely,” she said.
They crossed the street. He was tempted to put his arm around her, but she was wearing only a flimsy T-shirt and no bra. At Second Avenue, they stopped for the light. She looked around as if someone had called her name. When the light changed, she didn’t move, but gazed across the street. Slowly he leaned forward to kiss her. When she saw his face approaching hers, she leaned away and pointed across the street.
“That’s where I live—with my boyfriend.”
“Got to go. Thanks for lunch.”
Forget about a kiss, he didn’t even get a handshake. She waved and dashed across the street.
Boyfriend? She had never told him she had a boyfriend. Reeling with embarrassment, he marched up 4th Street as fast as he could. How could that be? She was so open, so friendly. She’d kept touching him. He didn’t get it. She excited his chi, didn’t he excite hers? He moaned. What a disaster! When he got home, he felt so tense he couldn’t write. He went to bang the squash ball—anything but yoga!
For the next few weeks Paul kept a low profile at Samadhi and double-checked to make sure Sasha wasn’t teaching a class that might overlap with his. From now on, he was only taking class from male instructors! No more crushes on his teachers, but, thanks to her, he had developed a fondness for Green Goddesses.
One day after a class, Paul was sitting on a bench outside the juice shop when Sasha appeared. She sat next to him, smiling as if they had been sitting there all afternoon.
“I’m sorry about the confusion,” he said, “but you never told me you had a boyfriend.”
“I didn’t?” She scrunched her shoulders and gave him a coy look. “I thought I had.”
He didn’t know which one of them was in denial, but he didn’t remember her ever saying anything about a boyfriend. “It’s OK. I’m still practicing.”
“Good, you should. You’re a natural.” She stood up. “I’m teaching. See you around.” She bent over and kissed him on the lips. “Enjoy your Green Goddess.”
He watched her saunter down the street, her head floating like a ballerina’s, arms and legs flowing, each step initiated by an inner grace. She was amazing.
Six months later, snow fell in big fluffy flakes as Paul cut down 4th Street. With his snorkel jacket zipped up, he only spied the carried cardboard box out of the corner of his eye. He stopped to avoid the carrier and skidded on the sidewalk. There was already an inch of snow—not the best day to be moving. The woman carrying the box, her hair laced with white flakes, was tan and smiling.
“Sasha,” he blurted. If he hadn’t thought about her in weeks, he hadn’t actually seen her in months. Startled, she jumped a little at the strange snorkel-figure exclaiming her name. He unzipped the hood and bared his head.
“Paul.” She kissed him on the lips. The box pressed into his ribs, but her lips were soft.
“How are you?” he asked.
“I’ve been in India, practicing with Shri Pattabhi Jois. It was wonderful.”
Paul nodded toward the box. “Are you moving?”
“To my own apartment.”
“Congratulations.” A beat-up Volvo station wagon had its back hatch open. “Can I help?”
“That’s sweet of you, I don’t have much stuff.” She looked up toward her apartment. “But you should come to my housewarming Friday night.”
“I’d love to and hear about your trip. I’m thinking of going to India in the spring.” Paul no longer played squash, he had become a yoga fanatic. He practiced six, sometimes seven days a week.
On the Friday night, Paul headed to Sasha’s party a little after ten. As he climbed the stairs, three groups, laughing and giggling, descended past him. Was the party over? When he arrived, her converted studio’s two rooms were more than large enough to house the shrinking party. The walls were covered with Buddhist tapestries and some black and white photos of Europe. She must have known Feng Shui because he got a good vibe.
“Paul, I’m glad you came.” Sasha kissed and then hugged him. She was looking great in a red Indian body wrap. Her hair was done up in a bun with loose ends splaying out like a peacock’s tail.
“Was it a cocktail party?” He gestured to the thinning crowd.
“Most of my friends get up early to practice.” Another couple said good-bye to Sasha.
Paul went to the bathroom. Incense burned on the windowsill. A small shelf overflowed with bottles of scents and essences. As he flushed, he chuckled to himself about how he had originally misinterpreted Sasha’s kindness as a come-on. Now he understood that yoga made people nicer, they were just more open and caring.
In the living room, Sasha was saying good night to a few straggling guests.Then she turned, smiled at Paul and collapsed on the couch. He was the only guest left.
“My feet are killing me.” Underneath her robe, she wore a pair of sandals with one-inch heels,which she pointed at. “How do they do it?”
They weren’t that high, but come to think of it, she was always wearing skateboard sneakers. Paul sat at the other end of the sofa. “Fun party.”
She unclipped her barrette and her hair cascaded to her shoulders. “Thanks.” She hiked her robe above her knees and wiggled her toes. “How about a little massage?”
Before Paul could touch her feet, Sasha jumped up and pattered off to the bathroom. When she returned, she had forgone the robe and wore shorts and a tank top. She tossed him a small bottle of lotion. She stretched out and plopped her feet on his lap. He began to rub oil into her soles. She shut her eyes and squirmed. Smooth stomach, toned arms, pouting lips. She was incredibly sexy. When he pressed his thumb into her arch, she cooed.
“No, feels good.” She yawned. “I’m pluthered.”
He wasn’t sure what that meant or if it was a real word.
“Yes?” Silence. Was she falling asleep?
“You’re sweet. Do you want to spend the night?”
Wow. They hadn’t even made out and she was asking him to stay. He ran his hand along her calf. “Sure.”
“Let’s go to bed.” Sasha got up and staggered into the bedroom.
Not wanting to appear too eager, Paul went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. She had a toothbrush made out of corn stalk, and fennel toothpaste. The incense still smoldered.
The bedroom was already dark. She was curled into a ball, facing the wall. He stripped to his boxers and climbed next to her. She didn’t move. What should he do now? Let her sleep? Impossible, he’d never get any rest lying next to this half-naked goddess. He reached toward her and brushed her shoulder. No reaction. He feared she may have fallen asleep. He stared at the ceiling, wondering what to do. Suddenly the sheets rustled. She wrapped her arms around him and nuzzled her nose into his cheek. She smelled like hibiscus. She kissed him on the lips and then stared at him.
He grinned—she was a good kisser. Was she waiting for him to reciprocate? When he tried to kiss her, she giggled. “What?” he said.
“I used to love kundalini sex. It’s quite a high, Paul.”
“Really?” This was more than he could have wished for.
“Good night,” she said. She kissed his forehead, then rolled back to face the wall. He thought she was joking, but, after a few minutes, her breath became slow and regular.
“What about kundalini sex?” he asked, breaking the ever-increasing awkward silence.
She yawned. “Sex’s a waste of our creative juices.” She lifted her head and then nestled it into the pillow. “Dream well.”
That was it? Dream well ? Wait a minute! He thought they were going to get it on. Was he a dupe or what? He stared at the ceiling and shook his head. He couldn’t believe it, he’d done it again. He needed to control his projecting or, as they said at Samadhi, his “monkey mind” and its base desires. But he was a guy, it wasn’t easy.
He started to dream that a soft hand ran down the small of his back, across his stomach and pulled him around—but this was no dream! It was happening! He opened his eyes.
Sasha stared at him in earnest. “I changed my mind,” she whispered.
He didn’t know what to say, he didn’t know what to do, but he didn’t have to do anything. She covered his body with caresses and he let himself go. They flipped and flapped in the sheets, like loose sails. She let out a deep moan. She oozed a desire that normally would have aroused him, but, instead, he found it irksome, distracting, and, in the back of his mind, he began to become sure it was unyogic.
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