Constance was not as old-fashioned as her name and in fact the suggestion of youth lingered in her face and hair still, surprisingly, for her age. The woman staring back at her in the bathroom mirror was attractive enough, she reassured herself. Lately, though, she had put on some weight, not too much, but enough to make her tug at her clothing all day unless she wore stretchy things as she was this morning, padding barefoot across the wood floor and unfurling her mat next to a woman not unlike herself. They nodded a quiet hello to one another while Constance eased herself onto her backside and allowed gravity to take over, arriving onto her rump with a little thump. She uncapped her water bottle and took a long swill. Outside the air was gray and misty and so not much light filtered through the narrow windows in the studio. It was early and nobody spoke, but the room filled up quickly, until soon the rows of faithful practitioners felt compelled to adjust their mats, nudge them a little closer together, so the latecomers had room to squeeze in.
A few weeks earlier at the reception desk, Constance had to spell her name for the young woman enrolling her. C-O-N-S (pause), T-A-N-C-E. The young woman furrowed her brow while her fingers searched out the correct keys. Then she glanced up and quipped cheerfully, “Do people call you Connie?” Constance said nothing, but quietly shook her head, anxious for this bit of clerical work and senseless chatter to end. She had little tolerance for people, strangers especially, making her into someone she wasn’t.
She also had little tolerance for parents who inexplicably contorted their children’s names from the recognizable to the grotesque. Here, this morning, in this quiet little room with dim lighting and a pleasant aroma hanging in the air, was a prime example: Brittnee-the-Yoga-Instructor came floating across the floor and deposited her mat at the front of the room, placing an oversized plastic water bottle next to it, liberating a small notebook from her armpit and tossing it to the side. “Feel free to use any props you need,” she addressed the class. “We have plenty at the back of the room if you didn’t bring your own.”
Constance eased herself off her rump and pushed back into child’s pose so she could avoid engaging with anybody else, but with her head turned to one side, observed Brittnee’s bony feet with impossibly high insteps glide past only centimeters from her face. Finally she returned to a seated position as Brittnee started crooning about setting an intention for the next hour; she was all of 22 or 23, Constance guessed. She wore a stack of hair bands around one wrist and as she lowered herself and crossed her skinny, bendy legs so that each foot was stacked on top of the opposite knee, she deftly removed one of the hair bands and in a single motion swept a bush of unruly curls onto the top of her head and then tied them in place with the elastic. Constance found this offensive, as if the office Brittnee held on this quiet morning, in this studio packed full of eager attendees, was of too little substance to warrant any more effort of her.
Brittnee wore not much and nothing at all from the waistband of her pants to the bottom of her breasts, such as they were, covered with a bra top and a swingy cutoff sweatshirt. She was frightfully thin, emaciated even, and the balance of her clothing left nothing to the imagination. A pair of iliac crests protruded through her pants and when she turned her back on the class, the entire ilium was visible, on the right and left sides; this gave her pelvic region the edgy look of a square, and not the womanlier upside-down heart shaped bottom like Constance and her colleagues had poured into their yoga pants earlier this morning. Constance found this intriguing and in her mind’s eye drew the iliac crest as she had in grad school, with the muscle attachments, wondering whether Brittnee might be missing the soft tissue underlying the skin altogether.
Meanwhile Brittnee moved through class like a cat, drawing knee to nose effortlessly from three-legged dog, and then returning to downward-facing dog, floating through her vinyasa like mercury. The same movements required everything Constance could muster, and the result was awkward and unnatural. Brittnee went on with her flow, now and again cooing, Beautiful work, everybody, without once looking at anybody.
During shavasana Constance melted into her mat, closed her eyes, and tuned out Brittnee’s nonsensical meditation. What, she wondered, would the discipline’s earliest practitioners in Asia make of this bony, white American girl with hairbands for bracelets, advising a room of followers about nourishing body, mind, and spirit. Stay in your lane, popped into her head, and in the next instant she scolded herself, You’re being unfair. Good for Brittnee for showing up this morning for all the middle-aged people in this classroom, save the front row, dominated by college-aged men who could not do much except gape. Her thoughts drifted to other classes, other, wiser instructors with soft, round bodies and reasonable temperaments, with the knowledge and experience that come only with age, and with the horrible passages that shape each of us. Brittnee simply had not yet lived through life’s horrors, she concluded.
After class, Constance re-capped her bottle, rolled her mat, and pulled on her jacket; she moved slowly, painstakingly. In her heart of hearts, she hated coming here but knew it was as necessary as visiting the dentist or paying taxes. Brittnee floated by again and then stopped, extending her hand. “I’m Brittnee, I don’t believe we’ve met. Are you new here?”
Constance reached out her sweaty palm, nodding, and quipped, “Hi, Brittnee: I’m Connie.”