Dawn of the Ashtangi

Dawn of the Ashtangi

Observational Fantasia by David Lynch

Dawn of the Ashtangi


 Photography by Gauri Gill

Photography by Gauri Gill

"Every memoirist leaves behind a better or worse likeness of the people they knew, alongside two self-portraits. The first of these two is painted intentionally, while the second is unplanned, accidental. It goes without saying that the first is more flattering than the second, and the second is more faithful than the first."

Wislawa Szymborska

"One of the greatest gifts of writing memoir is having a way to shape that chaos, looking at all the pieces side by side so they make more sense. It’s a supreme act of control to understand a life as a story that resonates with others. It’s not a diary. It’s taking this chaos and making a story out of it, attempting to make art out of it."

Dani Shapiro


 Photography by Len Prince

Photography by Len Prince

My entrance begins every morning without fail at 6:33am. The room is pretty much filled by the time I place my mat, third in from the door. Same spot every day. Miss M, always perfectly appointed, makeup on, a black unitard hugging her emaciated frame, is already through her Bs by the time I stand in Tadasana. Her energy is taut. She is held in check at all times and will never change her facial expression. Once, each practice, there is a hint of a grin. Today, the small facial gesture occurs as she threads her triceps across her shin and reaches her other arm around her back to find a clasp. As she folds forward, just before her eyes disappear from my view, I catch the sides of her mouth move and a fleeting, ever so brief, relaxation ripples across her jaw. I’ve watched the undulations of her ribcage appear more animated than her eyes and mouth for so many years, it’s hard to imagine even laughter could soften her hard coil. I often wonder what a smile would do to the lines around her mouth. What about a deep belly laugh?

Directly across from me, Mr. P is muttering curses as he struggles through his seated series. His long, braided ponytail has started to glisten from excessive perspiration. As the dispersal of liquid grows more undisciplined, Mrs. G shoots him bitter glances with each new sweat droplet added to the pool beside her mat. I’ve caught glimpses of Mr. P walking to and from the studio, always on his phone, head tilted down, muttering angrily into his mouthpiece, his hands punching at the air. As he prepares to enter Marichyasana A I try not to allow his noises to pull my attention. His energy has an undercurrent of rage that honestly frightens me and I have often wondered why our Leader allows him space with us. To watch him try to wrap his arms behind his back is like looking at two drug addicts fight, it is sloppy, unhinged and produces torrents of saliva and spittle.

 Photography by Luis Mallo

Photography by Luis Mallo

Mrs. G has allowed the bitter spritz of Mr. P, sounds like the title of an unmade Fassbinder film, to be a constant source of aggravation. Never one to work particularly hard in any posture and prone to seeing near disaster for herself in even the safest shapes, Mrs. G has allowed the puddles to mark a potential and slowly increasing risk of her being rushed to the hospital from a deadly fall. Often, she stops practicing, gazes around the room like Tonya Harding, points to the puddle, then to the sky, then to our Leader and finally, denied the help she seeks, returns back to her middling practice. I would have more empathy for her plight if not for the constant aggrieved air she assumes for a list of minor and major violations in and out of class. I, among others, have lingered while trying to exit the studio only to fall captive to her pleating tales of being victimized. And yet, Mrs. G displays a generosity to myself and many in the group that makes me mildly ashamed for my quick intolerance - cookies, special treats tailored to an individual's tastes, tickets she can't use, offers of unwanted meals together.

 Photography by Luis Mallo

Photography by Luis Mallo

Our Leader ignores Mrs. G’s unsubtle eye rolls - she always does - choosing instead to wrap her tiny frame around the dense muscles of Mr. M, a Scandinavian God who basks in her personal attention. During this particular adjustment, many of the women in the room sneak glances or choose to take a break from their labors to observe our Leader’s work. Their collective gazes are not to gain a greater understanding of the pose, but to stare longingly at his white underwear, now soaked in sweat, revealing ample viewing angles. Without fail, as this spectacle occurs, Ms. A, a blonde young lady in her 20’s who came to LA to be an actress, fell prey to cocaine and codeine addiction along with a fractured sense of her own beauty, will make some noise of disapproval. I share somewhat in her frustrations at our Leader and the onlookers indulging in such blatant exposures of model enhancement, but that hides the fact her offense wears a mask of falsity. Several months back, after adopting a technique of ignore and chide to seduce, she was spurned by Mr. M on their first and only date. Clearly, the issue for her is not with the contents of his Calvins. Rather, her anger is in what setting and to whom Mr. M allows access.

The side-show of human oddities and large artifacts complete, I look to the left to marvel at Ms. E moving with precision into her Sirsasana. Her legs lift from the floor with a whispered pace that is as soft as her speaking voice. Ms. E has a seductive tone of speech which elicits a whimper from deep within me whenever she directs language my way. A woman of five languages, she brings the multi-lingual background to her practice, expressed through arm, leg, belly and throat movements that capture the dialect we are all speaking, but delivered, by and through her, with a tone and accent none of us can truly comprehend and could never mimic. Her perfectly plucked eyebrows never furrow and unlike my skull, which turns into a bright red lollipop, her forehead is smooth, her eyes relaxed and her mouth gently pursed. She comes to her practice with a blend of serious dedication mixed with gentle humor and caring. I try to avoid being beside her or directly before her piercing gaze, fearing that my bulky frame and illiterate movements will spoil the garden of her exquisite sculptures with my crass and poorly formed shapes.

I find myself currently trapped in the daily shame of my weak jump through onto my bony buttock. As I land with the usual thud, I catch the eye of Mrs. E J III - until a month ago, she was Ms. E from Queens - who is unscrewing a large glass jar filled with a muddied mixture that changes daily. Today's selection has a deep scarlet tint which reminds me of a woman I dated back in college who fashioned herself a vampire. She was not, sadly. All I got out of that relationship was an even paler skin tone and lots of awkward evenings reading Anne Rice's soft core fiction out loud to a histrionic light bulb writhing about in shoddy black lace. As Mrs. E J III drinks, more from her throat than mouth, I am reminded of a meal we shared, before her ascendancy to the throne through marriage, at a local vegan eatery. She regaled me with stories of her soon-to-be husband's wealth while extracting a clear jar filled with a yellowish liquid, unscrewing it, and just before drinking, informing me the contents were of her own pee. Needless to say, I have never used a glass jar, of any size or shape since, causing me to miss out on the exciting canning fad. I still have not forgiven Mrs. E J III to this day.

I finally have seen my number punched and our Leader is wrangling my stubborn hands behind my back to help me enter fully Supta Kurmasana. She struggles with my body’s resistance like a young cowgirl tying down an oversized calf. Once held in place, I look under my feet to see Mr. N smiling and whistling to himself as he enters the same posture without any assistance. Mr. N has a magnificent calm. He is capable of pretty much anything in the first two series. A climber, his fingers are able to exert pressure and balance with a subtlety that is marvelous to behold. He is without any extraneous fat and can even pull off just-below-the-knee spandex. Mr. N is an expert on military history, a fine cook and one of the kindest men I have ever known. His only flaws are poor choices in footwear, wearing pants too high on his waist and being a boring lover. When four of the woman in the class, expound at length about how his ferocious yoga practice, a practice that caused each of them to have to ask him into their beds soon after being in its presence, fizzled into tepid pre-50's male modes of love making, much to their collective disappointment, such gossip becomes fact.

 Photography by Luis Mallo

Photography by Luis Mallo

Ms O, her orange hair tied into pigtails, practices with her usual aplomb. However, each pose, no matter how perfectly executed, is always held in waiting like some maiden trapped in a castle or suspended in magic's thrall until her true prince will come, or in this case, our Leader. It is an odd thing to be daily in the ken of desperation so blatantly and unnecessarily on display. Ms. O, her demons unknown to me except through hearsay, embodies the postures of Patabbhi with magnificent skill, a pace of movement that is nearly Swiss and a power that few capture, but still, she always pauses at some point, waiting for HER to come and make her better, for HER to lay hands on her, for HER to see her and shout a correction. Oh, my yes, our Leader just told her to straighten her back knee and look at the smile that breaks across Ms. O's lips! Many years after, our Leader will leave the studio, sell it to a big corporation and Ms. O will be cast into a depression that nearly breaks her completely. After losing her job, nearly starving herself to death and wandering the hot spots of suggested bliss-points in the Asthanga world, she will finally find a replacement for our Leader in a beautiful elder Guru, I believe her name is Swami J, deep in the jungles of Costa Rica. I am led to understand that Ms. O is wildly happy and being told what to do quite frequently by her new leader. Clearly, there is someone out there who perfectly completes us!

As I draw nearer to my finishing postures, Mr. K, a slender man in his late forties with two children, an ex-wife, a beaten-up late 80's Porsche and an air of the weakened and worn out, aimlessly folds into Baddha Konasana. His practice is a microcosm of his life over the last year. His standing poses are rushed, quite often executed with more facial expressiveness than bodily engagement, while his breath is haltingly shared only within his own frame. Mr. K was once married to a talented and famous abstract painter. They lived in a magnificent Dwell-featured home (February issue) decorated with a select group of masterpieces of his wife's circle of friends. When his marriage was strong, his asana, on the surface, was appointed with brushstrokes thick with color and shape. If one looked closer, however, even at those times, his practice was more agent than artist. His wife's yoga, she stopped coming once one of her pieces was highlighted at Art Basel, was the true masterpiece. Mrs. K (now, known merely as KO) worked her mat like a large canvas. Her movements were bold and brash. When she moved, her hands and legs seemed to jut out in odd angles, but her slightly twisted torso (she had mild scoliosis) always held her focal point. She was the Vincent to his Theo. He always loved and supported her, tried to keep her focused, but his dogged and blind devotion ended at her hand last year with a severe rupture. Since her departure, Mr. K has walked through the motions, gutted, empty as her landscape series, the palette of his joy drawn to the most minimal drab greys or browns. Mr. K is a man still living his day and his practice, but nothing, as of yet, has rekindled the spark that drove him for so long.

 Photography by Emmet Gowin

Photography by Emmet Gowin

Ms. Z is nearly done with her practice. It has, as it always is, been completed with efficiency, skill and many flourishes of public preening. She will attribute her showgirl lapses to her history as a topless Atlantic City dancer, but those who know her will see the exhibitionist tendencies existed far earlier and sadly, from far darker origins. Despite her raucous laugh, like many victims of neglect at the hands of men throughout their life, she will fall into bouts of addiction - food, no food, drugs, no drugs, alcohol, no alcohol, sex, no sex, fads, more fads - to manage her pain in an endless cycle of binge followed by purge. Her practice will help control the dark call within her somewhat.

As Ms. Z lays down into Savasana, I watch her, while I near my own end. How quiet and calm she seems. How odd to see a body one knows and has seen, in more hysterical states, so still. What must she be thinking about? Of whom? Is she freed from thought? Can anyone be? I can never ask her where she goes, who or what she sees. I've tried to inquire with others. "Please, tell me what you experience." Their answers never satisfy. They are either flippant or underwhelming. Can she find in the next ten minutes, the stilling of thought that seem to always escape my time in the land of faux death?

I lay down. Cover my eyes. There is nothing more for me to look upon. It is just me now. Therein lies the problem.

 Photography by Guillaume Hébert

Photography by Guillaume Hébert

Photography by Gauri Gill & Guillaume Hébert & Luis Mallo & Len Prince & Akash Das & Emmet Gowin