The Yoginis of Westchester
In Westchester, Yoga costs thirty dollars per ninety-minute class, and is spelled with an upper case Y in all online literature, bulletin boards and flyers. Women who want to look like Gwyneth Paltrow but are in fact closer to Snooki “Jersey Shore” Polizzi, are the primary attendees of “Yin and Yang Blend Level 2/3,” “Power Core Power Hour,” and “Heated HOT Detox Bikram.” The yoginis wear carbon-black-ass-toning-sweat-repelling woolen spandex leggings woven from the fleece of a species of goat found only in the upper Andes. The yoginis of Westchester don their smaller Cartier watches for class, even though the teacher discourages jewelry of any kind, and even though she herself wears small cubic zirconium studs.
Check-in before class is filled with updates about children away at boarding school and liberal arts colleges, busy investment banker husbands (who have their jobs back if they lost them at all) and the wonderful little soap business they’ve started with their best friends as a side-project: making organic ayurvedic-based fragrances specific to each of the three doshas.
Yoga class takes place in a bland brick extension of a former Astor mansion on a slight incline overlooking the Hudson River. While classes are not in the mansion itself, downward facing doggers can see into the attached stone edifice’s back staircase, which is white and wooden and elaborate, but not overdone: it’s the service stairs. The exterior of the mansion is a creamy sandy-colored stone, which is lit at night with strategically placed spotlights. From lotus position on the wood floor of the studio, the spotlights cast shadows across the cavernous room, and the yoginis feel special and almost holy in the half-light meant for something else.
Class begins with flat chants, from the throats of women who gave up smoking long ago, after three-and-a-half years at Barnard. The class is a curious mix of spiritual pursuit (everyone’s read Eat, Pray, Love, and is a consequently a little bit more worried about their inner selves) and hard-core workout. Without the strain of aching muscles, yoga is just dreamy meditation, an hour wasted that could have been spent at they gym, or at least running around the house in limited-edition- lower-body-firming-shearling-lined Fit Flop boots.
As they chant, and then move into a series of vinyasas, the yoginis of Westchester exert extra special effort in atonement for the last week’s sins. Feeding their younger child processed cheese food product on Tuesday, lying about the provenance of a homemade (store-bought) gingerbread house on Wednesday, and forgetting the dog in the backseat for three hours on Thursday. The teacher tells everyone to make sure to stick to their own pace, not to push positions too far, but it feels good, it feels right, to hear an unsettling crack in the neck or feel fiery twitches deep in the hamstrings.
Yoga class in Westchester simply isn’t the same without lots of props, which are employed variously throughout the ninety-minutes. Straps are used by the short-armed, and bolsters for those with lower back pain, which is everybody. The teacher walks around the room to position foam blocks for yoginis who are too proud to use them, and though she barely touches their bodies, only the slight pressure of two fingertips on the hip and shoulder, bringing triangle pose into alignment, they find this touch strangely thrilling. They wonder if she, being young and blond and firm and foreign (German? Swedish? Estonian?) has noticed the way their forearms are ropy with veins, the slight but sure sagging of the backs of their thighs, the faint (but not entirely unnoticeable) scars from discreet eyebrow lifts. The teacher’s touch is radiant, warm, and the yoginis find it pleasurable and exciting, even though they are pretty sure they’re not lesbians.
Class ends in the quiet dark, the moment yoginis joke about looking forward to all day, savasana. They pay $200 a month for unlimited classes, and even though most of them make it only once a week, they would gladly pay twice that. Post-yoga high is almost like on drugs high, though the yoginis have trouble remembering what on drugs high was like and now compare it to finding a Burberry Prorsum coat at Loehmann’s half-off, or that time their guest bathroom was featured in Traditional Home. Here, among their kind, they have toned their core muscles and thought about how fun a two-week intensive yoga retreat to Sedona might be—their physical beings working to align with their higher, purer, and better inner selves. They surreptitiously glance around the room to see if the other yoginis seem as fulfilled by their practice, and make a mental note to mention Sedona at class next week, before someone else does. The room exhales. Namaste.
A Vassar graduate, Adele Melander-Dayton is attending graduate school for journalism at NYU and interning at Salon.com
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