I don’t know if you can ‘win’ Yoga, but I definitely just didn’t. I showed up late and lost-looking for So You Think You Can Yoga, which I had hoped was some sort of laugh-along housewives-and-long-term-unemployed Stretch-‘n-Kvetch environment. It ticked all the boxes: a kind-sounding Australian woman on the phone, who picked up immediately; an address above a falafel shop, and no parking available. I looked forward to bonding with Trish, Sharon and Tracy over tall coffee drinks at the Kauai while I trawled for spicy dark-side-of-Dubai anecdotes about debtor’s prison, expat cars abandoned at the airport and subterranean labour camps.
But then the lift opens and So You Think You Can Yoga has a lobby that looks like the hall of the Mutual Heights building. Marble slabs were in profusion, and there were rare orchids everywhere, and all of a frailty so improbable to Darwinism that their very existence implied centuries of cultivation in a palace greenhouse under a continuous patriarchal line of head gardeners, the incredibly long-lived and vibrantly cruel dynasty required to run such an institution, and the feudal social dispensation that subtended it all. It was one of those lobbies were there is no receptionist at all, then suddenly there’s a receptionist. It is a binary, with no inbetween state, and no visible approach.
The receptionist kept bowing and waving me through more marble doors, leading probably to a Hall of Mirrors. I was late, so I pull the doors open sharply, and there it was – floor-to-ceiling glass looking out over the Hong Kong-like Marina, a large lightwood floor, and eight elegant, severe women doing poses. The least of them made Uma Thurman look like Honey Boo Boo’s mom. The leader of the Umas motioned me to unpack my mat and lie down flat with palms upward and breathe through my nose. She did this by nodding and using her cheekbones. I tried to relax but I knew that more than one of the people in the room had, for an absolute certainty, tasted human blood in combat. I turned my palms upwards and breathed.
The dominant Uma came to instruct me in the arts of yoga while the lesser Umas behind her kept doing astonishing things without any warning. My instructress performed the sun salutation, and waited serenely for me to do it. I went blank. She did it again. I went blanker. Repeat. It crossed my mind that the Uma might actually be purposefully erasing all my memories psychokinetically, the better to upload Poses.
The Uma then untenderly bent me down while also forcing me to exhale. A first bead of sweat automatically manifested down my back, and plopped onto the Stella-McCartney-for-Adidas yoga mat I had borrowed from my mom. More breathing and stretching, more sitting and standing, and the little sweat patches on the mat were quickly merging into a saltwater estuary. By the time we had reached Downward-Facing Dog, a glistening delta of perspiration had filled the Stella mat and was spilling onto the light timber floor. Knowing that the Umas achieved all necessary excretion through exhalation, I tried to turn my mat over and start afresh, but this turned it into a jolly plastic raft. Every time I fell down, it had been noisy, but now I was actually splashing in single-origin sweat puddles, all the while trying to breathe in sequence.
The Umas were breathing in sequence, or not breathing; I could see but not hear them, not over my own heaving. Closing my eyes made it all easier, but a man had come into the class, and I had every reason to believe that he would start levitating if I did not watch him all the time.
After an hour of this, the instructress relented and I was cheekbone-motioned to lie down and breathe for five minutes. I felt pretty great, really loosened up those joints, absolutely the best thing for my lower back ache, and I would love to sign up for every one of the 9 days remaining of my time here, which is why I need someone from Cape Town to pick me up at the airport in 6 hours