It was the era of hot yoga. Before Bikram went bust in 2017, I was an avid practitioner of the 105-degree practice. That all changed the day I was forced to focus on a man standing on his black mat diagonally in front of me wearing tighty whities shaded slightly gray.
“Are those drawers?” I mouthed to my friend on the mat next to me.
“Yes,” she mouthed, eyes wide.
Anyone who has ever tried hot yoga knows it’s a challenging, almost masochistic 90-minute exercise. With shut windows and humidity on blast, the rooms were usually blazing, windows sweating, before anyone made the first move. The 26 poses are a combo of standing and floor asanas, many that require practitioners to lift, stretch and hold awkward positions, while going “deeper, deeper, deeper,” as a microphoned teacher always instructs.
Picking my head up from my mat and waiting for the instructor’s signal to begin, I noticed Tighty Whitey had moved his mat next to mine. Looking in the large mirror at the front of the room, I couldn’t stop staring at his undies. To be specific, I couldn’t stop staring at the crotch area. I tried to look at myself instead, but kept returning my gaze to his panties the way a tongue automatically works at crumbs in a mouth.
Having gone to hot yoga for months at that point, I had seen women wearing what looked like bikinis and men wearing swimming briefs. And while those outfits felt a little like look-at-me to me, they at least were moisture-wicking. Guess what doesn’t manage copious amounts of sweat well?
I found my focus halfway through the routine, as sweat rolled down my legs, pooled in my arm cruxes and beaded up on my bare toes. We were all reaching, reaching, reaching damn near attempting to fly. And then there was a simultaneous turn and bending — a unified swan dive that brought booties in the air and lifted heads. And there went my focus. I was staring at Tighty Whitey’s not-so-tight, but very loose, wet butt. The middle of his undies sagged with his sweat, threatening to let his privates loose. I was so offended and surprised that I started to wobble in place, dug my toes deeper into my mat, but fell forward, into his butt and then straight onto my face. My focus was fried.
Some in the room laughed. I composed myself by covering my shame and mortification with child’s pose for a minute. Tighty Whitey must have seen me coming and braced himself, because he did not fall and was gracious enough to not be a jerk. I was embarrassed, but hey, he was the only one in class wearing drawers, after all.
A piece of me was sad that I never returned to hot yoga, but I couldn’t reconcile staying with a practice that promoted extreme focus yet ignored a man doing leg raises in his undies. I didn’t want spectacle at yoga and I never wanted to fall on my face like that again.
These days I run alone for exercise and notice how the heat brings out the same kind of performance — people jogging in cheeky shorts, men somehow flexing their shirtless pecs as they sprint past me — but running is different from the ohm-inducing environment I sought from hot yoga. The runner’s uniform is skin — Flo Jo; or flash — Sha’Carri Richardson, and again, Flo-Jo. Running is so challenging at times that the only way I’m inspired to keep going is when I see someone enjoying their sweat so much that I — who is so focused on pace, and on keeping the sweat out of my eyes — catch their contagion.
Now, nearly 10 years after my first run attempt, I also work out in a pair of cheeky shorts. Hopefully, on the track, I will never have the displeasure of losing my zen to a pair of tighty whities running by.