The yoga instructor put her fingers in my bottom; I didn’t know what to think. She was older, with overly long grey hair, and she should not have been wearing turquoise tights. But at first she seemed so calm and understanding, her head tilted to one side when she smiled at us, like she was thinking, “I will help you, lovely fat women. Together we can learn how to breathe and become proud to wear Lycra.” At the beginning of the class I felt almost uplifted.
I was four months pregnant and reluctant to do anything that involved moving faster than a slow walk. Nausea and fatigue combined was not very motivating. My husband informed me that a girl at his workplace was also a lazy pregnant and had been attending a prenatal yoga class in the local community centre. I had always been a little skeptical of paying good money to sit around breathing in and out with my legs crossed, but the first trial class was free, so I dragged myself there one day after work. There was no harm in trying, I naively told myself.
We sat in a large circle on green mats — legs crossed, of course. The room smelled faintly of teenage boys; I believe there was a karate class held there in the mornings. I could see a leftover white sock dangling on a table behind the instructor. After she had reminded us again to breathe, she did the head-tilting thing and asked if we could introduce ourselves in turn, saying our name, how far pregnant we were, what kind of birth we wanted, who would attend, and if it was our first.
First up was a woman who looked like she was about to explode or give birth right there. For the first time in four months I felt small. Her belly was hanging down from her oversized men’s T-shirt, blue veins for the world to see. She was nine months pregnant and was going to have a Caesarean section. I didn’t blame her, not with that whopper in there. It took some time for everyone to impart all the unnecessary information before the class started, but once we were off we were positively flying. We did some shallow breathing, then moved on to some deep breathing, then we had to bend forward and hold our knees while breathing again. It was surprisingly hard work.
“Put your hands on your bellies and feel your baby,” the instructor gushed, her hands on her sagging stomach.
I found the thought of her with child a little nauseating. She began to look rather like an old witch, heavy with the spawn of Satan. She would have benefited from a black cloak to cover the tights. I had a feeling of impending doom; call it pre-mother’s intuition.
“Just remember, you are beautiful.”
I vowed inwardly that I would try, in between feeling irritable and sick and a little bit like a whale.
After a time we had to try to put one foot on the other leg without falling over; it was laughable. The woman in front of me couldn’t even stand properly on two legs; she was wobbling around like she was drunk. I hoped she wasn’t. Then we were told to grab one of the community centre chairs, stacked precariously in one corner of the gym. We were to place it in front of our yoga mats and bend over at ninety degrees, holding onto the back of the chair for support. The aim was to stretch our backs and calf muscles simultaneously, which is harder than it sounds. I stared at a ball of dust on the fake wood floor and wondered what to make for dinner that evening. I was starving.
Vaguely aware of the instructor drifting through the class, correcting postures and flatness of backs, I made an attempt to straighten out my hunchback stance. She came up behind me after a time and hovered for a moment, silent. Then I felt her spongy body attaching itself to me from behind. She pushed upwards on my bottom with her groin, stretched out my back a little further. Admittedly the stretch felt good, but the body contact was vile. Did she really need to use her nether regions to enhance my pose?
Then came the goosing. She put her fingers into my bottom — I was quite sure of it. I say that because friends have since asked, “Are you quite sure?” She felt for my underpants first, moved them over, then consciously put two fingers just there. I jumped up to standing and squealed “Oh!” She sighed heavily, said, “Another one with body issues,” and walked away. I had been dismissed as a disappointment, an uptight complainer.
You can imagine I was in shock. I’d never been to yoga before; perhaps goosing was what they did. But it couldn’t be right, surely. I wanted to say something but she was already at the front of the class, ringing her bell to signify the end of the exercise and the beginning of a relaxation session. Relax? I looked around, desperate to catch someone’s eye, but the other fatties were busy smoothing out their mats and placing green foam bricks under their heads. I hesitated, wanting to leave, but felt strangely reluctant to walk out, as if that would somehow be more mortifying than having her fingers in my crack. So I grabbed a brick and went about the business of unwinding to some tinkling whale music. I lay with my knees up, not ready to shut my eyes yet, staring at the yellow-stained ceiling. The brick was quite hard and the music a bit irritating. I wasn’t sure yoga was going to be my thing.