I laid out my mat and set my journal down, looking around the room a little anxiously, not knowing what to expect. John came into the room wearing tiny black shorts and a grey t-shirt, his white hair styled in a faux-hawk. He was light on his toes and walked on the balls of his feet, smiling excitedly. He invited us to gather in a circle around him and tell him our names. Desi traipsed in as we were moving closer, an impossibly little and lithe dark-haired sprite in leggings patterned with pink peacock feathers and a royal purple peasant top. Big, bronze feather-shaped earrings dangled from her earlobes. Large earrings, to me, say attitude, personality, and “I am not to be messed with.” They are how I assert my brute femininity. Good, I thought as I absent-mindedly reached up to touch my own hand-painted purple wooden earrings, a yoga-teacher sister from another mister.
John was charismatic and silly, bounding about the room calling out our names in an impressive feat of memorization, giving personalized feedback. At times he’d randomly switch into a British accent over which the room would momentarily decompose in peals of soft laughter. In crouching cat pose, I pawed my mat toward me, reached my throat forward, and caught my own gaze in the mirrors ahead of me. John stood next to me. “Send your groins back,” he ordered kindly at my reflection. I sent my tailbone upward obediently and flashed back to my teacher training the summer before. I was practice-teaching pigeon pose, eka pada raja kapotasana. I told everyone to breathe deeply into their groin muscles and my own teacher had looked up, startled. “There are just some words you don’t say in a yoga class,” she explained, qualifying of course that this was just her own opinion. “Groins, armpits. No one wants to hear about those.” She preferred hilarious euphemisms like “high voltage area” when explaining what gravity is pulling toward the earth in hanumanasana. I loved when she would say stuff like that, but me, I’ve never been a euphemist.
John snapped me back into the present moment: “Broaden your armpits,” he suggested in utter yoga school anarchy. I’m into rebels. I grinned and obliged. Desi looked over with lights in her eyes and chirped unapologetically, “Sridaiva is not for the faint of heart.” I thought about my own crass sense of humor, how I like to teach in equal parts flowery lyrics from my Pisces-born soul and cold, hard anatomical facts from the half of me that enjoys reason, logic, and explanation. I felt perfectly at home here.
Desi was vibrant, eloquent, and poised. She moved with sensual ease. She was otherworldly with a seemingly unshakeable calm and smooth, rich, melodic speaking voice. She weaved phrases like “bodymind” and “lifeforce energy” into her sentences with such confidence and conviction that I couldn’t possibly roll my third eye in New Age fatigue. She told us how John had marched into her room a few days earlier, worked up about a glitch in a travel itinerary. “Can we talk about this?” he had asked. She had answered “Yes, but not until you soften your groins.” She spoke in poetry and made me laugh more than once. It was easy to like her. “Johnny,” she interrupted faux-sternly, as he spoke animatedly to us about her posturing in the handstand she held almost effortlessly while pressing her big toes up into his hands, “you’re on my hair.”
They worked dynamically and in tandem, periodically switching between the roles of teacher and assistant. They taught us about the “bow-spring alignment” of the sridaiva method, which involves finding a bow shape from the hips to the torso in every pose by reaching your pelvis back and your heart up and forward. Essentially you’re in an expansive backbend for your entire practice. You’ll never hear “tuck your tailbone,” or “draw your belly button in toward your spine,” from these two.
You will, however, be instructed to reach your “pubis” back. What exactly is a pubis, I wondered, my only familiarity with the term being its use as a nickname my brother called my sister when a hometown hairdresser clearly unacquainted with even the most mildly ethnic of weaves gave her dark, thick, normally beautiful corkscrew curls a spectacularly bad cut. Later I looked it up to confirm my suspicion: it’s a bone situated super low in the middle of your pelvic girdle.
I sent mine toward the wall behind me as I sat in an indulgent chair pose feeling the exaggerated sway of the curves in my low back and neck, my chest broadened in circumference. Desi floated by and pulled my bent, raised elbows forward slightly. “Send your heart up,” she offered. She had dusted gold glitter into the divots where the inner points of her eyes, her browbones, and the bridge of her nose met and it was sparkling. “Heart forward, hips back.”
One of my favorite parts of my time with Desi and John was their fresh take on accessing and assisting handstand, adho mukha vrksasana. In one of the classes you start from a compromise between goddess pose and malasana, a low yoga squat, and spring from bent knees into a handstand, keeping your knees in the same position the whole time. A partner catches you lightly by the hips to give you courage and stability and you press your big toes up toward the ceiling. Through this little but powerful motion in the mound of the big toe, which they suggest finding in every yoga pose, Desi and John theorize that you activate all of the muscles in the backside of your body, which they view as one big slab of meat from the bottom of your foot all the way to the top of your head, all connected by myofascia. Pressing through the big toe initiates the domino effect of engagement.
Desi walked by as I was in my delicate handstand balance with the help of a friend’s fingertips on my iliac crests, my skull hanging loose like a dead flower off the stem of my neck, heart pressing forward and down, and pelvic floor reaching up and opening toward the ceiling. “Am I doing it right?” I asked eagerly. The corners of her mouth turned up and her eyes crinkled at the edges into a laugh. “Yes,” she said, “just keep sending your groins back.”