Remember Ally Sheedy’s character in the The Breakfast Club? Allison Reynolds. The Basket Case. The freak show. She slunk into the yoga studio, plunked herself down in a lobby chair, and immediately turned her back to the room. She sat hunched, eyes down, body language screaming leave me alone — don’t look at me, don’t talk to me. She wore street clothes instead of yoga attire. She carried a sack purse instead of a yoga mat. She was unkempt, mismatched, and nothing fit well. I thought she might be homeless. Maybe she came in to get warm. I went about my business. Let the studio staff deal with her.
I browsed the yoga merch, my aforementioned business. Across the lobby where I loitered, Allison Reynolds sneezed. Reflexively I turned to look at her and offered the standard blessing. She did not respond. She appeared to deliberately ignore me. I returned the favor and went to my mat, settled in, and started my warm up. Whatever. She was obviously uncomfortable. Not my problem. But I did hazard a few glances as the minutes ticked by. She unpacked a bunch of crap from her bag, filling up a side table, and put in earbuds. Still hunched and bunched, not speaking or looking at anyone, she sat.
Uh oh. She’s setting up camp. Someone better do something. The studio was filling up quickly with New Year Resolutioners. The staff was busy and distracted. But class would start soon and then it wouldn’t matter. Not to me. The door would close. The Basket Case would be stuck in the lobby with her reckoning. I focused on breathing and stretching but stray thoughts of recent public shootings streaked across the ticker tape of my brain. What if? Does she mean us harm? Should I say something? Should I surveil? What’s my obligation here? Wouldn’t I regret my hesitation if the worst happened? Do I want to be that person? And what if I’m wrong? Do I want to be THAT person?
Yoga studios have rules. Yoga studios also have Karens. These Karens are not necessarily yoga staff but they nonetheless take it upon themselves to enforce the rules. One rule is no shoes on the practice floor. There is a shoe removal area complete with shoe storage. Every studio has one. Remove your shoes before you enter the practice room. Also, store your personal items in the designated area. Coats, bags, etc.; use the cubbies, shelves, lockers, etc. Don’t drag in your stuff and clutter up the practice floor with it. But the Big One? Rule of All Rules? Turn OFF the goddamn cell phone. Not vibrate, not silenced — OFF. No exceptions. If the staff doesn’t handle these missteps the Karens pick up the slack lickety-split and lose their everlovin’ shit over them.
While I was warming up and silently suspecting Allison Reynolds might be a mass murderer, she blindsided me. From my starboard side she came stomping into the practice room with her loud clompy shoes on, carrying all her dumpy stuff, and threw it down against the wall at the front of the room. The teacher’s area is the front of the room. Karen piped up fast and furious from behind me, demanding Allison take off her shoes. Allison ignored her so Karen raised the voice of her demand significantly. As Allison continued to ignore her Karen began yelling Hello? HELLO? HEL-LO?! Allison remained stoic, silent, and noncompliant. Then to the horror of all she pulled a cell phone out of her bag and plugged it into the wall outlet, leaving it there resting atop Mt. Shitpile. Karen got up and ran to tell. Allison stomped, with her shoes still on, across the practice floor and locked herself in the bathroom.
Teacher arrived. Zoom students logged in. Newcomers bustled in. Latecomers hustled in. The door closed. Class began. I glanced behind me at the bathroom door. Allison was still in there. Maybe she really is homeless and this is how she’s found a way to stay without getting tossed out into the cold. But wouldn’t she want her stuff in there with her? Unless she really does have a gun and plans to bust out any minute and mow us all down in blaze of black powder and Sanskrit. Is that why her phone is staged at the front of the room? Is she recording this? If so it’s too late to do anything about it now. Guess I’ll just practice on and hope I’m wrong. If not … well, whatever, if I’m going out practicing yoga I might as well make it my best yoga ever.
I got busy with my practice. So busy, in fact, I never heard Allison come out of the bathroom and unroll one of the studio mats directly behind me. I noticed her during a twist, lying in an odd position on the mat and playing with her hair. At least her shoes had been removed. After that I caught glimpses of her as the poses allowed and each time she appeared out of sync with the class or opting out of the cued pose, putting her hair up and taking it back down over and over. Also grunting and sighing in all the wrong places. I surmised I probably wasn’t getting Quentin Tarantinoed after all and tried to carry on with the practice. I tuned her out and tried not to pay attention.
That is, until Allison began shedding clothing. At my next downward dog I noticed Allison had removed several articles of clothing and deposited them in mini-laundry piles around her mat. It’s another rule. Keep your clothes, towels, and props out of the walkway. Allison’s discard piles formed a blockade in every direction. One ratty hoody was tossed unbearably close to my mat. That’s another rule. Mats are sacred space. Thou shalt not encroach or besmirch. Plus we have COVID cooties with which to contend these days. What is her problem? If she’s not here to kill us, why is she so … so … ugh, let it go, Mercy.
Final relaxation. Reclined upon our mats. All is calm. All is dark. Savasana. Bliss. Om. Until Allison started snoring. Not kitten snores. Grizzly bear snores. Loud, long, penetrating snores, disturbing one and all, I assumed, judging by how much it disturbed me. When prompted to rise to seated meditation, Allison slept on, but at least now there was the teacher’s spoken guidance upon which we might fix our attention. Then, just before the benediction, Allison’s cellphone comes to life blaring an alarm, and drowns out the teacher. Not a ringtone; an alarm tone, which means it was premeditated and preset. Allison woke and shuffled to the phone too late. The end of class was ruined.
As the lights came back on I began to collect and pack. Sliding into my socks I noticed Allison lay herself right back down on the mat and pretend to go back to sleep, laundry piles still littering the floor, cell phone still plugged into the wall. As I listened to the post-class conversations going on around me I learned her real name was not Allison. She was well-known to the staff and some of the regular students. She’d simply not been coming on my night each week. She was also staying for the next class which commenced within the next few minutes. Before I left I saw someone kneel down and speak to her. I saw Allison nod. I heard Allison say Okay. But it was time for me to go. Perhaps Allison’s visit was a one-off.
Let it go, Mercy. Just let it go.
It was not a one-off. Allison Not Allison came back again the next week on my night. This time she was persuaded to remove her shoes but refused to stow her cell phone. Again she plugged it into the wall at the front of the class along with her backpack and strongly resisted all alternative suggestions. She spoke to the staff this time, in defense of her cell phone. Among her list of justifications was a need to be able to see it at all times even if she wasn’t using it. At least this time there was no alarm. Again though, I was distracted by her rummaging around behind me, cherry-picking poses to practice, or propping herself up on bolters wearing sunglasses and a slouchy toboggan, watching the rest of the class. It was unnerving to swivel around in the course of a flow and find her staring at me but I tried to reset and refocus each time.
After class I wondered if this was going to be a regular thing. Should I move my mat to the opposite side of the room? Should I start attending class on a different night of the week? Say something? Suffer in silence? You’ll notice me not letting it go. Not at all.
I didn’t let it go the first time. I didn’t let it go the second time. I thought about Allison Not Allison in earnest all week after each encounter with her. I thought about my reactions to her and my assumptions about her. My suspicions about her. The comparisons I made. My first spouse strongly identified with the Allison character in the movie when playing the game Which One Were You in High School? I thought about how in a sense I’d been married to Allison for a while. I considered my resentment over Allison’s disturbance of my beloved yoga class. I confessed curiosity about her awareness of the disturbance, especially since she was allegedly a regular student. I wondered if she was neurodiverse.
But after all of these thoughts I settled on one thought which put all the others to rest — it’s her class too. Those of us who conform to the social norms of public yoga classes are no more entitled to the class than those who do not. It’s her class too. We call it a judgment free zone. We call it a safe place. We say practice at your own pace and opt out of anything which makes you uncomfortable. We say all are welcome. And then we promptly suspect anyone not fitting the yogi etiquette standard of being a murderer. Or at least I did, and I’m a yoga teacher as well as a student. This all says far more about me than about Allison. Hell, even the cell phone transgression is routinely forgiven and yet here I am two weeks later still preoccupied with it because it was committed by Allison.
It’s her class too. The Allison character reveals she attended Saturday detention in the movie because she didn’t have anything better to do. They ignored her at home in the movie. Allison in the movie was lonely. Why had it never occurred to me before that some folks with social and/or behavioral challenges might come to yoga class because they are lonely? Because it’s a safe place? Because it is a place of relief and respite from other places, including home? Oof. Gut punch. Which character am I in the movie? I am Mr. Vernon demanding an explanatory essay from people I’ve already stereotyped. This is yet another example of yoga which isn’t a pose.
Yoga classes can only be safe and welcoming places if the people who populate those classes keep them safe and welcoming. For everyone. For Karen. For Allison. And for Mr. Vernon learning his lesson.