I’d booked a private one-to-one session with her for an hour on the afternoon of the day she flew in. I’d booked it casually, thoughtlessly, on a recommendation, a month in advance, unaware of her reputation. I’d dutifully filled in the form she sent me, circling problem areas on a drawn representation of my body, and mailed it back. It was only as the appointment drew near that I began to take heed, when overhearing talk at the yoga centre, of the excitement at the imminent arrival from across the pond of the great Linda Strong (as we’ll call her). The impression was of a St Paul scheduled to visit Antioch for a few weeks to whip the faithful into shape.
The day, then the hour, of our private session came. I arrived at the yoga centre in a lather after driving like a maniac to get there on time and sprinting up the hill. I’d had a stressful day and was off my head. Following my one-to-one session with Linda, I planned to have a good drink at a gig by a wildly popular local ska band and I was wearing my Fred Perry polo shirt and sweater.
The door of the yoga centre opens on to the changing area. I went in and there she was, in person, flown in from America that afternoon, now taking payment from the gent with whom she’d been having the one-to-one session before mine. One glance was enough to verify her credentials. Seeing was believing. Here was an athlete at her peak, radiating health, strength, poise, power. Above all, power. In that small room she was an overwhelming presence, formidable in skintight pants, resting her weight on one bare, muscular foot while accepting a cheque from a client.
She’d asked the bloke for £110. As he went, closing the door respectfully behind him, I said, ‘Is that how much you are going to charge me?’ ‘It is,’ she said. ‘Unless you can’t afford it.’ It seemed a lot and I swore horribly. (As I say, I was a bit off my head.) Then I said, madly, ‘I don’t know whether you are going to stick your finger up my arse or give me a massage, or both, or what, but I’m all yours.’
She came close, facing me squarely. Her eyes wandered dubiously over my Fred Perry clobber. Hadn’t I brought anything more suitable to wear, she said? I hadn’t, I said. She reached down to my thigh and took a pinch of my jeans to see if the fabric had any stretch. ‘We can work with you in your jeans,’ she said. I took off my sweater, shoes and socks, and emptied my jeans pockets on to the bench. She studied my medical form to remind herself of my case. ‘You fractured your pelvis in 2009,’ she said. ‘Interesting. How?’ ‘In a car crash after a football match,’ I said. ‘I was completely drunk. I hit a bus head-on and wrote the car off. I woke up in hospital on a trolley with a policeman standing over me. I was on my back for six weeks afterwards.’
She gave my form further perusal. ‘It says here you are a journalist,’ she said. ‘Are you a sports journalist?’ Before I could answer, a sky-blue 50mg Viagra tablet, from among the effects I was transferring from my jeans pockets to the bench, slipped through my fingers and fell on to the floor. Exactly like a tiny blue rugby ball, it bounced erratically and unpredictably from one side of the room to the other, while the international yoga teacher and I, fascinated spectators, watched it go. ‘Do you need to get that?’ she said.
She asked me to lie on the floor, which I did, and she stood astride me. From below she looked magnificent. She asked me to raise my pelvis towards her. I did this. ‘Relax your jaw,’ she said. ‘You are tensing your jaw. Have you ever noticed how you tense your jaw?’ I had a think. ‘Occasionally, yes,’ I said. ‘In the past. When I’ve taken drugs.’ ‘Which drugs?’ she said. ‘LSD,’ I said. ‘Ah,’ she said. ‘Coke,’ I said. ‘Amphetamine, MDMA, mushrooms.’ ‘Jeremy,’ she said, a towering colossus with a serious face. ‘The question I think that you have to ask yourself is a very simple one. It is this. Do you want to live or do you want to die? It’s up to you to decide.’
It was indeed a great question. It was a question that was easily worth £110. If I’d turned up in a lather and she’d asked me that question without teaching me any of those exercises, and then sent me away again, it would have been worth it. I paid up without demur, determined to go away and think about it.
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