Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My cup is half empty.

Dispatch from Planet Yoga. Today,I showed up for a crowded class taught by the Strawberry Man. As I lay my mat down in the front row, I noticed the receptionist, one of a half dozen boho babes who work at the studio in exchange for free yoga classes, setting up three people down from me. I turned my attention back to my own mat as the Strawberry Man began recounting the legend of Shiva and Shakti, which he saw as a parable of male/female relations. The Strawberry Man seems to think about the man/woman thing quite a lot.

But back to the receptionist. It's not that I was staring – like a good yogi, I do my best to turn inward and focus on my own practice. But as I contorted my spine to try to achieve a perfect revolved triangle, I caught sight of her doing the same. My soft yogic gaze suddenly sharpened and fixed itself on four giant ringworms on her back. Bright red, like Target logos. Except for the one on her neck which looked like an out of control hicky.

So much for turning inward. Ringworm is contagious. Highly contagious. Almost as contagious as Ebola, Pink Eye or the Macarena. I spent the whole rest of the class obsessing over whether the poor girl was using a communal mat. I always bring my own, but while I wasn't personally at risk, the thought of the entire kula breaking out in circular fungus blooms was just too nasty. Especially when, at the end of class, the receptionist rolled up her mat and slipped it back on the shelf for the next unsuspecting yogi.

What should I do, I wondered? Talk to her? How rude. She might get mad and she's bigger than me and why would I want to make the poor girl feel bad? She probably had no idea about the ringworm. How often does one look at one's back anyway? (The only time I ever check out mine is after a carbohydrate binge, when I feel compelled to do a butt-check, and I'm invariably sorry I looked.) And yet, I couldn't just stand idly by while Molly Ringworm infected the entire studio.

In the row behind me, I had noticed the Strawberry Man's sister, also attending class. She is a fantastic yoga teacher in her own right, and an empathetic person. Perhaps I could quietly alert her to Molly's fungus situation and the studio would stage a dermatological intervention. But by the time I thought of this, class was letting out and the Strawberry Man's entourage had dispersed. There was no one else at the studio whom I felt comfortable narcing to. So I took the coward's way out; I went back to my car and left a voicemail.

The next morning, I got a voicemail back. The receptionist was not contagious, she had been cupped. This is a form of alternative medicine in which heated glass cups are applied to places on the back that may or may not correspond to acupuncture points. As the cup cools and contracts, it forms a vacuum, sucking up the skin. The oldest mention of cupping is in a 1,550 year old Egyptian medical textbook called the Ebers Papyrus, but it seems some version of the practice exists in every culture, from China to Europe to the Middle East. My mother remembers cupping from her French girlhood, albeit none too fondly. The procedure may be tonic, or therapeutic, or simply have a placebo effect – I have no idea. But it does leave unsightly red burn marks that look a lot like ringworm.

Anyway, now I don't have to feel bad about embarrassing the receptionist at the yoga studio. It seems I've embarrassed myself instead.

Ringworm? Cupping? Tattoos by Target? You be the judge.

Zorba and Bouboulina share an intimate moment.


Gwyneth Paltrow loves cupping.

The cupping runneth over.

A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup.