From The Story of O by Pauline Réage

Supta Baddha Konasana or Reclining Bound Angle Pose

‘Then, and it was for the first time, in spite of the fear that gripped her, in spite of the despair into which René’s treachery had thrown her, she abandoned herself completely. And so mild were her consenting eyes when they met the burning pale blue eyes of Sir Stephen, that, for the first time, he spoke to her in French’

At the risk of offending thousands of yogis by comparing their practice to BDSM, O’s journey toward a sexual nirvana in the classic French erotic novel perhaps surprisingly does have echoes of what we do on the mat. When O meets the terrifying, cold, closed English (of course) aristocrat Sir Stephen, she cannot submit to him as to her true lover René. O, we realise, is not truly submissive, her submission to Rene is bound up with her knowledge that he loves her, her security in that and almost her revelry in it; it is quite self-centred, and she is proud of herself for coping with the all the floggings and bondage. True submission, Sir Stephen wishes to teach her, is about abandoning everything; fear, vanity, ego, and accepting that what will be will be and there is nothing she can do about it, and what she thinks and feels do not matter at all. He knows that when she does this, the pain he is inflicting will become exquisite, and transcendental. O takes some time to realise this; she is rebellious, and holds back, and tries to cheat – which is pretty hard I guess when you are naked and tied to a sofa. She has an anxious mental chatter, when with Sir Stephen she worries and worries about René, worries about her personality, worries about her colleague Jacqueline, and cannot get any happiness from the process as she had in the past with René. However, finally, Sir Stephen manages to get her to understand and give her mind and body completely to him; and of course it is then that he rewards her with tenderness, and in fact then falls in love with her, thus actually giving her the control she so feared she lacked.

This mental journey is recognisable. Often when you try a new asana, or one which seems difficult, your mind is flooded with a panic-stricken inner voice. ‘this hurts, I can’t do this, I’m going to fall, can everyone see, what am I meant to be doing…’ . Your pulse races and your focussed breathing goes out of the window, you tense every single muscle in your body, and all you can think about is getting out of the asana as soon as possible. However, if you come to accept that yes, it will hurt, but there is nothing you can do about that, that where you are right now is in this posture whether you like it or not – that is when actually it starts to feel amazing. You are opening yourself, your mind and body, up completely and in some ways relinquishing control; though in other ways achieving a different, more complete kind of control.

Supta Baddha Konasana is not a pose like that; to me it rather represents O when she has understood submission. It is the asana which as soon as I am in it I feel open, vulnerable, but at complete ease. Completely flat on the floor, legs and knees and arms open, it seems to say ‘I’m yours, universe, do what you will!’. And somehow, this makes it both relaxing and energising. Also, this is one of the main postures where you cannot really ignore how much it looks like a sex position. I think, when something makes you think about sex in yoga, it’s best to observe it, smile to yourself and move on, rather than deny it was ever there, obsess about why, or worse, feel ashamed. Which, I guess, is how one might approach reading erotica too…