THE EDITOR OF the hugely successful British men's magazine Loaded recently commented that his publication is for men who "have accepted what we are and have given up trying to improve ourselves." As such, the mag is full of cheesecake photos and celebrations of bad behavior (ࠬa Maxim or FHM).
I like to think I'm not one of those men. I try to be good. I wouldn't know self-acceptance if it was served to me at a sports bar. I'm all about self-improvement. And there's no better sign of my search for serenity—my quest to rise above the crass instincts of my gender—than my participation in yoga, which I "practice" several times a week at a downtown gym.
Yoga, of course, requires you to look within, to respect your limitations, to concentrate on your breathing, to "allow" movement to happen rather than force it, to ignore those around you and find a still place within your own mind—and all kinds of other admirable ideals. Unfortunately, it's also in yoga class that I find myself confronted with my most thoroughly Loaded tendencies. I'm trying to stay focused, I'm trying to look out from my third eye in the center of my forehead, and yet I cannot help being distracted by the totally fine women in various contorted positions.
It's a weird thing about yoga, at least in the Americanized, health-club version I've been taught: You're supposed to be getting in touch with your body and all its inner states and messages, yet there's also this insistently sexless atmosphere. In every other part of the gym scene, it's pretty much a given that everyone's checking everyone else out. But in yoga class you're supposed to be free of all that. It doesn't matter what you look like, you're not to compare yourself to anyone else. People break wind during class—freely, repeatedly. It's like we're in a pure state of being, fully in our bodies, but without any desire.
And then there're pigs like me. I'm trying, really. But when one of my beautiful instructors bends over and offers hers mantra—"Inhale to lengthen," then, with a sigh, "exhale to go deeper"—you don't have to be a complete and utter cad to lose your serenity. Right?
The strenuous chasteness of yoga class reaches its peak when it comes time for partnering. Here you may find yourself on your knees, with one hand pinning your partner's hip bone against the wall, the other rotating her inner thigh outward ("You should feel a really nice opening," the instructor says); or you may be hovering over your partner, knees helping to gently draw his or her legs ever wider or pulling their torso toward you with a strap as they arch back.
And while it all sounds salacious in the description, it really is a beautiful thing that complete strangers can touch and stretch and massage each other this way—whether same-sex or opposite—and a beautiful thing about yoga that it feels so easy and natural. For the most part, you are just giving each other pleasure (and one assisted triangle pose can tell you plenty about someone's abilities in that regard). I'm drawn to this magic of yoga; I love it; I really believe in it. Yet I also can't help feeling myself polluting it.
I want to believe that yoga's lightening my mind and body, but in the end, I guess, I'm still just Loaded.