Eaten By Ants • 17 October 2007

Tonight, during Prasarita D, I had an urge more intense and crazy than anything I’ve ever experienced on the mat. It struck, and filled me with restlessness all the way to the brink of giggles. I pictured myself following through on the urge and had to scurry out of the room to stop myself.

It’s that I wanted to walk over to a fellow student, swipe his cheat-sheet up off the floor, and take a bite out of it. Then I wanted to chew it thoughtfully, look him meaningfully in the eyes, and say something like:

“Better hurry up and learn this sequence, because I’m taking a bite out of this paper every day ‘til it’s gone.”

The man is named M and I find him inspiring as hell. Of course we’ve never spoken, but I have overheard his amazing story. Something about a life of hardscrabble business dealings and incredible stress, interrupted early this year by a violent attack that left him barely more than dead. And now he’s starting a second life—one that includes yoga every afternoon. His body, covered in new scars, looks like it’s been through decades of hard, blue-collar life. He comes in when I’m towards the end of the standing postures and sets up next to me. He hums at first, which is great. Often he smells of a cigar, which doesn’t bother me because I'm too charmed by the guy. Other days, there is a vague nacho aroma. He has a bath towel and a basic blue mat that is usually rumpled, but that in the past two weeks he’s been lining up carefully parallel to our mahogany floorboards. Nice to see a little ashtanga analness taking root.

This is someone for whom you would want to make every exception in the world. He is still figuring out who he is this time around; he is visibly filled with gratitude and consistent in his practice; perhaps, too, he's still a little disoriented from the trauma. I figure you let the guy have his cheat-sheet, even for months if that is what feels right to him.

When I scurried from the room to stop myself from eating his paper, the teacher and my friend J were on the other side of the door. I was so freaked out and disoriented by the impulse and its strength that it showed on my face. When they asked what was wrong I wasn’t sufficiently ahead of myself to say anything but the truth.

I am usually reserved and methodical, so the little drama probably came off strange.

J nodded. I know exactly how that can be, when you get those urges. His paper must be yummy. The teacher took it all as a sign that I crave more starch in my diet and made me promise to eat root vegetables for dinner. Yes, ok: ketchari with potatoes and chickpeas.

I nodded at them both, flummoxed, and went back to practice. It was clear to me that the root urge was to play the teacher with M, not to eat, but I didn’t take the time to explain. Especially because it's not an unproblematic urge.

When I thought it through again after practice, I realized the joke my mind had been playing. There’s an old story SKPJ tells, about going to some library with his guru Krishnamacharya, and finding there the true ashtanga sequence written down on banana leaves by sages of old.

And where are the precious documents now? When asked this, SKPJ says they have been eaten by ants. And so: lost to the mists of time.

It appears that what I wanted in that moment was to do M the favor of being his ant.