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June 27, 2003


Friedrich --

As part of the Hindu phase I'm treating myself to during my California vacation, The Wife and I recently attended two different yoga classes. I'm an ultra-beginner with a come-and-go sense of balance, tendons made of glass and joints of concrete and granite, so picture me in the back row doing my ineffectual best not to tip over.

The first class was very pleasant. A winner, really. The teacher, bless her, was kind and patient, and determined above all things that we not hurt ourselves -- very important to us non-stretchy types. The class itself made a nice contrast to NYC yoga classes, which have recently gotten very crowded with students who, in true NYC, gotta-be-the-alpha-person fashion, have become very competitive. (Competitive yoga -- what's the point?) In any case: Terrif, first-rate, glad I did it, I might even do some more back in the big city.

The class we took yesterday was something else entirely. Bikram yoga -- have you heard of it? Also known as hot yoga, because you take the class in a room that's been heated to circa 105 degrees. You're there for 90 minutes, being led through a very slow and controlled routine. 105 degrees -- that's almost a sauna. Sweat drips off you copiously within a minute or two of entering the studio. Towel-off and water-guzzling breaks are numerous. And then back once more to the stretches and the postures.

What a fab experience. Although there were a few moments when I was almost overwhelmed by dizziness and thought, This can't go on, I walked out of the class (completely soaked, by the way) a convert, and was thrilled when the Wife expressed her enthusiasm too. We clambered wetly into the car, drove to the Pacific and threw ourselves in the cool surf.

Whew, and whee -- I don't know when I've felt so physically good. Loose in the joints, elastic everywhere, tingling yet relaxed I felt like a hot, wet dishrag that's been thoroughly wrung out, over and over again. And part of what was so great was the mental sensation; the class had a mind-altering-drug quality. I felt like I'd been on an extensive and amazing voyage and had returned from it with a whole different view of things. I was inside my body and hovering above it, but I was also inside-yet-hovering-above life generally too. My mind felt as rendered into taffy as my body did; life itself seemed a much more expansive thing than it usually does. Amazingly, the feeling stayed with me -- with us, really -- for the whole day.

Part of the fun of the classes, I confess, is sociological and aesthetic. Yoga styles, yoga personalities, yoga bodies Yoga men, I've gotta say, I find an embarrassment. The rube in me finds yogaguys as unseemly as male actors. The same handful of types seems to show up no matter where you take a class -- the pothead with dreadlocks; doe-eyed Mr. Sensitive; the slim, balding older guy with sandals, wirerims and a ponytail

I'm also not sure that I like the kind of male body yoga seems to produce, which looks to my narrow and intolerant Western eyes suspiciously passive and self-adoring. I'm not alone in feeling this way -- even some yoga people have misgivings. Have you run across the term "tofu chest"? It's an irreverent way some yoga gals I've known refer to the sort of body yogaguys develop.

But yoga gals: bliss. Yoga seems to keep women ripe, dewy, serene, warmed-up, and in contact with their bodies and their spirits. When yogagals move and breathe, all their components seem to be harmonizing with each other. And the female yoga body is a work of art; I like it even better than the female dancer body, which is as high praise as I know how to give. The combo of flexibility, muscularity and fleshy curviness (especially the wonderful temple-dancer tummies they develop) makes my head swim. A tip of the hat to current yoga fashions, which combine slimmed-down athletic efficiency with belly-dancing sensuousness, and another tip of the hat to what Bikram seems to bring out in yogagals. Because of the heat, Bikram gals show up for class half naked and then proceed to sweat rapidly through whatever little it is that they're wearing. The classroom itself is fragrant, wet, and hot. So the gals look doubly great -- flushed and glossy, straining yet relaxing, juicing up and unfolding, focussed on their inner experience yet reaching out into the world. They're in their flesh even more than usual, yet are finding there not stress or tension but some sumptuous kind of spiritual connection, surrender and transcendence both beautifully mixing together

All very erotico/religio/aesthetico, and right up my alley. I did my lame but sincere best to keep up with the class's postures, but god knows I also appreciated the visuals, which were as satisfying as great movie closeups of actresses, or erotic Indian sculpture. What surprised me was how affected even my voyeuristic perceptions were by the class. What with the heat and the exercises working their magic on my peabrain, I stopped feeling like a Benny Hill-esque peeping Tom. Everything dissolved around me and reformed itself as a pulsing, richly-colored tapestry. My muscles may have been screaming, but in my mind it was as though I'd fallen asleep, then reawakened into a succulent and transporting, out-of-this-world piece of Indian art.

And, hey, have you ever heard the term "camelfoot"? A slang word that refers to the sliced-peach or sliced-melon shape that a woman's crotch can make when cupped and squeezed by tight jeans or leotards. Between you and me? Yoga class equals camelfoot heaven.

Namaste, dude,

Swami Michael

posted by Michael at June 27, 2003


cameltoe, dude.

Posted by: zod on June 27, 2003 08:38 PM

I have never heard the term (and it is) "cameltoe" until last week when my nursing student sister mentioned it to me. Now it seems I am hearing it repeatedly! Too funny, and now that I know the term, seems I notice it more than I want to!

Posted by: iris on June 28, 2003 12:41 AM

It's "cameltoe," not "camelfoot"? Dang. I just blew whatever cred I had. Still, funny either way.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 28, 2003 01:38 AM

Ponytails on bald guys are referred to as "dork-knobs."

I thought it was important for you to know that.

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on June 28, 2003 11:43 AM

You've now added to the long list of raves I've heard about Bikram yoga. I may have to try it, Bikram himself aside.

He's trying to claim copyright on all of his posture sequences, which is insane, as the postures themselves are ancient. He's mad at un-authorized Bikram Yoga teachers who haven't paid their licensing fees to use the name and techniques. Which is funny as that commerical attitude flies in the face of the spirit of yoga itself (ever wonder why Bikram classes can cost more than other yoga? Now you know!)

Posted by: David Mercer on June 28, 2003 12:04 PM

Aaron -- "Dork-knobs"? Very funny. And you're right, I definitely did need to know that.

David -- Good to know that my class fees are going straight into the pockets of lawyers. Sigh: what else would I expect these days, I guess. Gurus are great, aren't they? I wonder what percentage of them have been halfway decent human beings. 10%, would you guess? At the max?

CameltoeCameltoeCameltoeCameltoeCameltoe -- OK, I think I've finally got it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 29, 2003 01:08 AM

David - You've convinced me that my original opinion of Bikram was correct. It was contrived as a form of yoga that, unlike all others, could not be done by anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Blowhard - Not being able to find the commonly used term was gentlemanly. Typing out the word was... something else entirely.

Posted by: j.c. on June 29, 2003 01:49 AM

Heh, michael, MAYBE 10% aren't on some kind of power or money trip. Baba Ram Das is the only one I've met personally that I'd put in that category of decent, but you have to look in their eyes to be able to tell IMHO.

Just do the Sun Asanas in a room as hot as Bikram, that's what it reminds me of.

Oh, and some studio's that weren't 'legit' have changed up the order of postures and switched to calling it something that neboulously refers to Bikram, but fails to say "Bikram Yoga". And the lawyers fight on.

Reminds me of the "Life in Hell" comic strip Guru episodes!

Posted by: David Mercer on June 30, 2003 12:19 AM

Uh, I attend yoga classes quite frequently in NYC. You noticed the strange changes in men who frequent yoga. I notice certain strange and predictable characteristics in women... particularly those who teach yoga.

The airhead New Age hippie girl is the most common. On election night, our very own airhead hippie girl proclaimed to the class at large that no enlightened person could possible vote for George Bush.

The airhead hippie girl is inclined toward fantasized romances. One of our instructors announced on several ocassions that she was finally getting married. Each time, she stated that she was about to move to a new state (like South Carolina). She would disappear for a week or two, then reappear, without a word to say about the marriage that obviously did not happen.

I don't find this type of woman particularly attractive. Actually, what I find most unattractive about the yoga airheads is their assumption that, because you practice yoga, you must be somewhat to the left of Ralph Nader, you hate all Republicans and you think that white men should give up their jobs so that women, blacks and gays can have first choice.

Other than that, I enjoy my joga sessions.

Posted by: Stephen on June 30, 2003 05:03 PM

My sister, who has been doing ballet since age 4, has just recently at 22 switched to Yoga and even gone so far as to attend the Baron Baptiste School in Mexico. I'm happy for her because she never had the Prima Donna, "get out front and look at me" personality to succeed in dancing, but Yoga seems a great fit for her and there seem to be plenty of teaching opportunities in the area. I wonder if other ballet dancers are going through this transition. Yoga seems to be much, much better for you.

In response to your vouyerism comments, wondering if you've ever seen parallels between ballet dancing and stripping? Ballet is full of tight erotic costumes--camel toes indeed!--and the stuff these women go through passes beyond hard exercise into the painful, degrading, and injurious, all for the sake of entertaining a wealthy audience. It seems the money is better for strippers, who can net $1000 a night by just ditching the leotards. But why is ballet "art" and strip dancing not?

My sister wasn't all that offended by the comparison, and agreed with me that the difference was like that between beer and champagne: similar stuff catering to different audiences.

Still, I'm glad she transitioned into yoga rather than stripping. When you go to the gentleman's club there's some people you don't want to see!

Posted by: Nate on June 30, 2003 05:15 PM

J.C. -- You don't think I managed to earn a little impish non-gentlemanliness with my preceding paragraph of rhapsodizing about how great women are? Dang, some people are tough.

David -- I keep wondering why more yoga studios don't simply turn the heat up a bunch. There can't be any way to copyright a thermostat setting, can there? And doing stretching in a hot room is much more effective than in a normal-temp room, at least for creaky types like me. I've now been to three Bikram classes and, whatever my misgivings, feel like I've got a body that's 10 years younger than it was a mere week ago. Minus the energy it had ten years ago. But minus lots of aches and creaks too.

Stephen -- That's hilarious, thanks. I'll be trying some yoga classes when I get back to NYC, and I'm sure I'll run into all the types you've described. I'll try to confine myself to enjoying the visuals and ignoring the minds. Or "minds."

Nate -- I'm with you, I've always thought that art dance of almost any kind was culturally certified, high-class porn. Which I mean as a compliment. I enjoy the aesthetic pretentions, the focus on something higher and nobler, and the way all that mixes up with such fabulous bodies and movements. Pulls me this way and that, which couldn't be more pleasant, and which I often find much more erotic than porn itself. I'd go to a dance concert once a week if I had the time, scheduling discipline and money. As is, I only get to it about every other month. Are you a fan of art-dance?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 1, 2003 03:13 AM

Bikram WISHES he could copyright a thermostat setting!!

At my fittest I could do a full pretzel with both legs behind my neck at once, without having ever taken a yoga class, and I'm not naturally flexible at ALL.

Oh No, you can't learn yoga properly from Books!

The peddlers of fools gold also say you can't learn to meditate from books either, which is sheer poppycock. Of course you'll learn things FASTER with an instructor, but you'll never need them forever...but don't tell the seekers that!

I suppose going to a yoga studio is ok if you lack space otherwise, but they still have these things called "parks" don't they?

Am I too harsh on the non-autodidacts of the world? I was always under the impression that once you properly learned how to learn, that the skies the do people miss that?

Posted by: David Mercer on July 1, 2003 04:13 AM

I was certified to teach Bikram yoga 8 years ago by the audacious and wholly likable Bikram, and have been teaching his yoga off and on in between excursions into "Power Yoga" ( I toured with the Dixie Chicks as their Power Yoga coach for 6 months) and some gentle stuff here in the Seattle area. I love Bikram in the same way I love a really ebullient street hustler or panhandler who comes up with such a clever line that you just have to give him money. He's shamelessly criminal, but in a good way.

I remember he used to try to seduce the starry-eyed younger girls who bought his "guruness" by asking for a massage and then, when behind closed doors.... well... I am sure there was some "advanced" stuff I never got to learn!
I used to give him a massage and then, when he began to get "heated" I would bop him on the back of his little, balding head and remind him he had a wife.
It was not like he was twisting people's arms so that they would worship him. People freely gave away their power and he would laugh at it.

I remember him once saying "God, people are just so crazy about all things Indian, especially back in the 60's and 70's. We never even DO half that crap in India"
Well, I am a real pro of a teacher and a bit of a scholar, and it is clear to me that people get so damned SIGNIFICANT about yoga. It really is ALL MADE UP, a bunch of moves some old Indian guys thought up. Indian guys with "tofu chests" who enjoyed "cameltoes", no doubt.

Posted by: vanda mikoloski on March 30, 2004 01:11 AM

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