Archive for February, 2007

Ashtanga Fiction: “The Racial Hygiene of Ashtanga Yoga”

[This is a first for us - a short story contributed by Tim Roessler -see below -Ed.]

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courtesy Janoid

Most classes, he couldn’t believe he was there. With the women in their goddess phases, the pony-tailed granola heads, the slender young things with names like Rainbo and Shanti, daughters of hippies trying to turn straight fair hair into dreadlocked manes out of Kingston. His contempt for them became another mental obstacle he tried to get around, along with the physical challenges the poses presented him.

Warming up on his mat, he wondered for the hundredth time how he managed to land among this particular flock of sheep. Yoga always had been in the background of his crazes for Aleister Crowley, Antonin Artaud, Rudolf Steiner, and the Gnostics dark and light. Old school magicians and mystics, cracked artist saints all wired in to the main dynamo. But the immediate motivation: he lifted weights, then got benched with tendonitis, the side effect of his obsessive training. He’d even gone to the extreme of visiting a doctor and physical therapist, paying for it out of his own, uninsured pocket. They’d both suggested he try some new age bullshit or another, and . . . yoga.

He rejected the idea outright. He still hurt, however, and as he felt his muscles atrophy, going slack like a loosened guitar string, he reconsidered.

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courtesy Kwisatch

It was Heinrich Himmler who’d sealed the deal for him. One of the minor heroes of his pantheon, the SS chief had always traveled across the war-blackened forests with the Bhagavad-Gita at his side.

And that was yoga, too. Arjuna in his chariot, Heinrich and his Panzers, seeking a victory the fruits of which they could not claim, to which they had no right, but striving for it nonetheless. Yoga, brought into the world by. . . Aryans.

Finding the right class was a major pain in the ass for him.

But finally he dropped in on a congenial Ashtanga studio lead by a Texan who blended equal parts Gandhi and Vince Lombardi, and who spoke his language of will and discipline.

It went well, although it was foreign territory for him. He began to feel an unaccustomed lightness in bicep and quad, although he was by far the stiffest member of the class.

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Wolfsangle by Frank Sinatra

There were other matters, too. His tattoos nearly gave him away one day, when his shirt fell down during a hand stand. He had two tattoos done back when he was 19, when he was young and prideful and flaunted his beliefs, before he realized what a giveaway they were. One was of a death’s head, based on the skull that decorated the SS uniform; the other, the wolfsangle, an elongated backwards “n” with a slash through it. The thirteenth rune, it had a swastika vibe to it, but that dill weed Trent Reznor took it over and reduced it to a Goth cliché.

“What’s that?”, some schoolmarm hag in a baggy pair of lavender shorts asked him.

“German ying yang symbol. Good and evil,” he grunted out. She’d never know that Aryan boys holding off the last waves of the Slavic hordes wore it into battle.

With a glance equal parts vinegar and weak tea, the old lady left it at that.

Yet, soaked in his free-flowing sweat, enduring the trembling of his arms, his abs, his triceps, playing with the very edge of the poses, he found his own brand of Samadhi. And for that, he would deal. Deal with the posers and neo-hippies, the patchouli and vacant stares, and stay undercover.

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A typical scene from
the author’s home
courtesy ScubaDive67

Then she showed up.

She. He didn’t catch her name. Why would he? The very opposite of his type in women. An “African American.” He couldn’t even think the phrase without quotation marks.

The next class, she ended up next to him. He couldn’t help but notice that she was particularly adept, particularly long-limbed and had a particularly high, round ass. The expected funk of her body odor didn’t happen either; instead, a disturbingly warm, spicy smell came from her direction. Tumeric.

He identified it later, in his kitchen, and in that moment of recognizing the scent, he felt sudden, deep shame.

He had a crush. A most definite, mind-warping, body-heating infatuation. A passion that went against everything he held sacred. He raged at himself with utter contempt, then, worn out, drifted off into daydreaming about the drop of sweat he had seen trickle into the cleft between her breasts.

He scanned the class schedule for another session; maybe she wouldn’t be there. He went; she was, this time in a magenta number that set his mind spinning.

The next class, he deliberately arrived late, so he could put his mat down as far away from the woman as possible. The studio was packed. With a disapproving glance, his teacher indicated a spot, the only spot open: next to her.

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courtesy Govinda Kai

He desperately tried to keep his mind on the postures, and then felt frustrated as he watched his thoughts watch his thoughts let his eyes slip over to her.

“Prasarita Padottanasana,” the teacher called out. Never a favorite of his, this pose requires the student to stand, spread his legs in an “A” shape, lean forward and, touch the top of the head to the floor. Or try to.

Because he was right behind her, the pose seemed suddenly more Kama Sutra that Yoga Mala, the high globes of her butt inches away from his face. He thought of those temple friezes, of what lay between and under those spectacular cheeks, and

“I want to remind y’all,” his teacher said, “that sensuality has no place in a yoga class.”

He blushed for the first time since eighth grade, so hard that it nearly hurt. He didn’t recover, moving in and out of the poses like a clumsy, particularly stiff bear, his shame heightened because he seemed to feel her checking out his utterly maladroit moves with stern disapproval.

She left quickly, all business as she rolled up her mat, tossed her water bottle into a rough woven bag and disappeared.

That night, he dreamed of her. Savages were boiling him in a big black cauldron, and even in the terror of this nightmarish part of his dream, he wondered at the 1930s cartoon imagery, but that quickly turned to dread as he felt the searing water scald his pink flesh. She rescued him; the scene changed, and he found himself in an antebellum boudoir, the sound of spirituals wafting on the humid air, while she sprawled lazily on the four-poster bed.

As he washed his sheets the next morning, he reflected.

This attraction violated every principle he’d held since he was sixteen. Mixing the races. Miscegenation. The way to decay, to mediocrity, the very source of all that was evil and wrong in the world.

That had been his whole position – not racial superiority (at least, he would not argue that, no) but racial separation. To each his own, let the Native Americans find their own genius on their own soil, the Africans and Asians too, just allow the Europeans their own land, pure and purged.

But his body – the lower half anyway – mobilized some counter arguments. Hadn’t Leni Riefenstahl spent time among the Masai warriors and documented their fierce beauty with her Leica? It wasn’t like he was going to marry her, either. If all went well, he’d have her for some months. They’d never leave his room, the way he envisioned it. His comrades need never know.

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courtesy Yoga Loft,
Koeln, Germany

Or no: finally, he’d introduce her with pride, a princess of his own – she was the perfection of her own way, the embodiment of his position: racial purity yielding superior people, and she was superior.

Action. Not hesitation. Honoring impulses, wherever they led. That was his creed, too, damn it. It wasn’t just about restriction. Conquest, and see what fate would hold in store.

Next class, she wound up spreading her purple mat at the very farthest position away from him.

Finally, after savasana, the corpse pose, after the last vibrations of the gong stilled and the lights came up, he lept up and over to her and willed rather than spoke his invitation.

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courtesy hkvam

“Not if you were the last motherfucking cracker on the planet.”

He knew that dignity and good form demanded that he turn and walk away. But every last cell rebelled and he stood, rooted to the spot.

“What part of that don’t you understand?”

“Why not?” He croaked out the words before he could stop himself, and again, felt that hot blush creep up in waves from his neck to the roots of his hair.

Her eyes took in his collapse and softened with a not unkind amusement. She leaned in closely, drew her long index finger up his arm, making him shudder, then, raising the sleeve of his black t-shirt, revealed his tattoo, the wolfsangle.

She shook her head from side to side.

“Bad boy.”

“Why?” he stammered, his blood pooling in the soles of his feet.

“Let me explain it to you,” she said, her brown eyes softening from regal hauteur into amusement.

Nine months later they named their son Wolfgang Shango Smith.

[About Tim: "I live and spread my mat in Boulder, Colorado, where I own a small company, Wicked Lemons Media, that specializes in Internet content. Before this, I lived and worked in Paris, acted, and taught English.

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Richard Freeman
courtesy YogaLoft, Cologne, Germany

I came to yoga back in 1993 through a combination of a crazy boss (stress) and a sense that I was slowly but surely turning into a guy with the suppleness of a plank of wood. Several inspiring teachers have graced my practice, including Richard Freeman, Lisa Jo Landsberg, and George Purvis.

You're welcome to reach me at troessler@wickedlemons.com.]

Comments (4)

4 Comments »

  1. tracy said,

    February 27, 2007 at 9:06 am

    Tabitha Dial wrote a brief review of a spoken word performance of Tim’s story in Denver, Colorado:

    “Then the audience laughed again and again at the humor of The Racial Hygiene of Ashtanga Yoga, read by Jason Henning and written by Tim Roessler. Roessler’s narrator finds love on a yoga mat, struggling with yoga positions and the fact that “(his) attraction violated every principle he held” since he was young. He had such a difficult time approaching the woman he lusted after that he “willed rather than spoke his invitation.” ”

    Tabitha writes about poetry, spoken word performances and other goings on near Denver at:

    http://denver.yourhub.com/~MusingsOfTabithaDial

    cheers,
    t

  2. Anne said,

    April 4, 2007 at 12:54 am

    I really liked this story, as well as the artwork that was selected to accompany it!

  3. tracy said,

    April 4, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    Thanks, Anne. This was a tough one to select images for.

  4. Nadine said,

    May 25, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    I appreciate your sharing but I really didn’t like the story.

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Saraswathi’s New Website

A stiff body has a good potential for learning Yoga. A flexible body is usually more caught up in Bhoga [over-indulgence].

Saraswathi Rangaswamy, daughter of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Sharath Rangaswamy’s mother, launched her own website this month, Saraswathi Ashtanga.

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The Home Page of SaraswatiAshtanga.com

She has many insights into Ashtanga, women and family responsibility from a feminine point of view. Each page of Saraswathi’s site is well-worth reading. Her site is infused with the gentle wisdom, kindness and humor of the Jois family.

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Saraswathi in action

It took me ten years to learn the asanas well, then two children to forget about it, but the Yogic experience I got from that was more than any asana could ever give me.

Sharath was a real weakling in his early years, he did not like going to school and would be home for months on lying sick in his bed.

The main subjects are:

  • Saraswathi – describing her life with yoga intertwined throughout. She has been teaching since 1971 and in 1986 was criticized for teaching women and men together.
  • Insights – wisdom from Saraswathi, like “Everybody speaks about the greatness of my father. Yes now he is great, but does anybody know what sufferings he went through in order to come to where he’s at today?”
  • Feminine Perspective – wisdom specifically related to women’s traditional responsibilities, like:

Men are stronger than women physically, but women are more talented yogis.

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Saraswathi’s Hands

The site also lists Saraswathi’s teaching schedule and contact information. It specifically states that Saraswathi welcomes beginning Ashtanga students. She teaches her own class every day after assisting her father, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. She has an ever increasing dedicated following.

Plus it’s a beautifully designed site with plenty of great photos (the photos here are from the site).

As a side note, of all the photos tagged Ashtanga on Flickr, I found so very, very few of this beautiful woman…so please, can some of you capture some photos when you go to Islamorada or Mysore next? :)

(Thanks to Ashtanga.com for this tipoff.)

Comments (2)

2 Comments »

  1. tracy said,

    February 17, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    Yogasurf posted a couple of photos of Saraswathi on Flickr. Here are the links:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/yogasurf/391285387/in/photostream/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/yogasurf/392451544/in/photostream/

    These were taken in November 2006.

  2. tracy said,

    February 23, 2007 at 10:10 am

    And two more from Yogasurf (on Flickr):

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/yogasurf/399629598/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/yogasurf/399629596/

    cheers,
    t

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