January 13, 2011

“Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses” A book review

picture courtesy Claire Dederer

Claire Dederer begins her book Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses with a prologue that describes what it was like to take up yoga while being a mom, a wife and hardly a spring chicken.  She continues this thread throughout the 28 chapters and an epilogue that follow with honesty and eloquence.  Dederer shares tales with the reader about being a mom, feeling imperfect as a female, struggling in her relationship and the oddities of her childhood while weaving a yogic thread through it all.  There are the challenges of trying to be the wholistic mom her community seemingly requires, and finding her own space in a sometimes drowning relationship.  She describes the unconventional way she grew up with her dad and her mom remaining married despite the presence of her mom’s boyfriend Larry for the lion share of her childhood.  There are the challenges of making time for herself, fostering her relationship with her husband and making the sacrifices to allow him to further his career.

In her book, yoga poses act as the scaffolding to telling her stories:  elegantly framing and shaping the narrative without becoming it.  Dederer’s attention to yoga is akin to a beginner’s series at your local studio:  thorough, expansive and yet not preachy.  The reader is left feeling like they’ve been given the knowledge to try advanced classes without actually preparing for them.  Her chapters range from basics asanas that helped her realize something in her life, to simple pranayama that reminded her of the need to breathe.  There is humor, humility and an everyday-ness to her approach to yoga that will resonate with many readers.  People looking for an intensely religious/spiritual experience similar to that found in the India chapter of  (and mysteriously missing from the movie ) Eat, Pray, Love may be left feeling unsatisfied.  However, it is clear that teaching the reader to love yoga is not Ms. Dederer’s intention.  Rather, she shares how it has helped her find space, breath, humor and even new muscles in her body.  It is central to her survival during the years she relates, but not to her story itself.

There is something for everyone in this book:  stories of love,  family, questioning self worth,parenthood, and yes, of yoga.  Dederer’s uses her yoga to show the reader how none of these themes stand alone.  Like asana without pranayama or the Yoga Sutras without Patanjali, Dederer’s perfectly imperfect life would seem wildly chaotic without the structure she has imposed upon it.  Her brilliance in connecting her yoga to her experiences shows the reader not only the depth of her practice, but also the creativity of her writing.  Spiced with New York Times crossword puzzle worthy vocabulary, Dederer has offered the reader a sweet and savory book perfect for a a sunny beach vacation or when you need a break from your yoga mat and the family that sits next to it.

Check out Claire Dederer’s fantastic interview with the equally fantastic Tom Ashbook on NPR’s On Point.

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