January 27, 2011

Poser: The #elej Interview with Claire Dederer.

Photo from www.clairedederer.com

When I first read about Poser: My life in twenty-three yoga poses I knew instantly I had to track down Claire Dederer and ask her some questions!

She was a yoga practitioner, a mom and a writer: in other words it was a real no-brainer to this yogini, mom and writer.  The openness and warmth with which she tells her story in the book is only paralleled by the same in her personal correspondence.  Claire was more than willing to answer a few questions with her trademark eloquence and honesty.  Even more perfect was the fact that when she sent me her replies the email was only half there because her son hit “send” before she could stop him.  On the other end of cyberspace this mom had just put her kids to bed after a long snow day of wrangling time on the computer.  It was an instant reminder of why her book hit home to me and to so many other readers:  she is one of us!

Luckily for us Claire had a few minutes in her now busy book tour schedule to answer some burning questions about her book, her practice and who would play her in the movie version.

Nancy:  One of my favorite aspects of the book is how you constructed the lessons (or adventures) of your story around yoga poses.  (I recently did the same thing before I heard of your book on my blog www.flyingyogini.wordpress.com for my New Year’s resolutions). I am curious about the organization of the poses and how you chose the ones you did.  Did you purposefully select hard poses to be intermingled with easier ones?  Why did you pick the poses you did?

Claire: It was hard to choose the poses–a Sophie’s Choice kind of situation. I had to leave off a lot of my favorites. I really wanted, for instance, to write about bird of paradise. But they needed to fit the themes of the chapters. Some of them were obvious connections: Childhood chapters combined with child’s pose; scale pose encompassing the idea of judgment. Some of them were more intuitive, like lion. The image of the lion kept coming up, and along with it the theme of fearlessness.  I noticed that I was more interested in hard poses, but I tried to weave in plenty of easier ones. Both because they have a lot of iconic power–corpse, mountain–and also because I think they open the book up to readers who might be beginners at yoga.

Nancy:  I LOVED that you chose Lotus pose for one of the first three chapters.  As a teacher of many beginning students I am eternally surprised by how often I’m asked to get them into Lotus without their bodies having the capacity to do so.  I find myself saying “this is an advanced pose” very often. What is your advice for new students on how to step back and allow the harder asanas to find you rather than you finding them?

Claire: I love how you put that–letting the harder asanas find you. I still struggle not to force myself into certain poses. I think this is where the rubber hits the road in terms of understanding that in yoga, you should always go by how you feel, rather than how you look or what you think you ought to be doing. If a beginning student is really being honest about how he or she feels, lotus probably isn’t even going to be a possibility. I think teachers can facilitate and foster this honesty in lots of ways, including keeping mirrors out of the studio and using humor to defuse students’ expectations.

Nancy: Which asana are you still working on feeling at ease in and are there any you wanted to include in the book but didn’t? Any poses you hate and why?

Claire: I didn’t go into in the book, but I have chronic vertigo. Everybody’s got their something, right? So inversions will probably always be really tough for me. As soon as I go upside-down, the room starts spinning in tight, sickening bursts. Handstand is terrifying to me. I’ll do it, but it can be a bit of an ordeal. I often waver around and fall.

Nancy: Obviously there will be lots of comparisons between your book and Eat, Pray, Love because they both are stories of growth and yoga.  However, one of the things that is very different is how you focus on the changes one can get from a yoga practice that are less spiritual (swami, guru, God) and more everyday (space, breath, focus).  Do you find these to be the aspects of yoga you benefit from most and why?

Claire: I really wanted to write about the way most people in America do yoga. Many of us are not on a spiritual quest. We’re trying to do our jobs and take care of our kids and get to the grocery store. We don’t feel like we have the time to pursue a more spiritual approach, or the means to go on a quest. I’m most interested in the way we can pick up the emotional and even spiritual benefits of yoga through physical practice. I find the idea wonderfully paradoxical; and I also find that it works.

Nancy:  Are there any similarities between motherhood and yoga?  writing books and yoga?

Claire: Practice. It’s all just practice. Writing a book is an incredibly daunting task, but ultimately it’s like undertaking a yoga practice; a little every day and you might amaze yourself. I realize this sounds hopelessly earnest and goody-goody, but for me it’s really true.

Nancy: The chapter that describes your first class is a great reminder to teachers and studios to create a welcoming environment for new students.  Do you have any advice for people wanting to try yoga who might be hesitant to step foot in their local studio?

Claire: I would say, as hard as might seem, before class you should take a moment to introduce yourself to your teacher. Yoga teachers are almost always friendly souls; introducing yourself to the teacher makes the whole thing more human and less intimidating.

Nancy: Any favorite yoga books besides the Yoga Sutras?

Claire: You can’t go wrong with Iyengar’s Light on Yoga and Jois’ Yoga Mala. I love Stephen Cope’s books. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is surprisingly entertaining. Vanda Scaravelli’s Awakening the Spine is a must-own.

Nancy: Do you have a regular studio where you practice and what is it about that studio or the teachers that keep you coming back? What style of yoga do you practice?

Claire: I go to a hot yoga studio on the island where I live. It’s quite romantic, actually–a little wooden hut in the woods outside my teacher’s house. She’s studied with Baron Baptiste, Bikram, and Erich Schiffman, and her class represents that combination of physicality and irreverent spirituality.

I augment that with Anusara. There are a couple of Anusara teachers on the island who have really phenomenal knowledge of anatomy. That intense attention to how our bodies work makes a nice balance to vinyasa. Otherwise I can sort of a mindless go-for-it vinyasa nut and even injure myself.

I’m not hung up on a certain school of thought, though. I think wherever you live, you should just study with the best teacher you can find, whatever their discipline might be. I myself like a teacher with a good sense of humor and an inclusive attitude. It’s usually a good sign if they occasionally offer you a snack. Snacks are big with me.

Nancy:  Have you ever thought about being a yoga teacher?  why/why not?

Claire: No! You teachers amaze me. I intensely dislike public speaking. Public speaking while doing a pose–that’s the helliest of all hells to me.

Nancy:  Music or no music in a class? If yes to music what kind do you like to have on while you practice?

Claire: My teacher only plays music at the very end of class, and I am love with the eclecticism of her choices. She sometimes plays your yoga classics like Deva Premal or Krishna Das (who I love), but sometimes she’ll bust out the Neil Diamond (“September Morn” on a September morn) or Roberta Flack or some ultra-emotional movie soundtrack like “The Mission” that will just leave you crying like a baby. That seems to be her MO–make ’em cry.

Nancy:  If your book becomes a movie who should play you and why?

Claire: I want to be played by Bill Murray. Now there’s someone who’s comfortable with his messy humanity!

Nancy:   Finally, there’s a lot about being a mom in this book, so with that in mind: what’s the best thing about being a mom and the worst?  How does yoga help you with each?

Claire: The best thing about being a mom is getting to spend time with these amazing little people who’ve come into my life. The worst thing is having to watch them go through painful experiences. Yoga slows me down, so I don’t rush to fix everything for them–I try to let them actually have their own  feelings. That’s probably good for them in the long run. Or maybe it’ll be what they’ll end up talking about in their many, many years of therapy.

Thanks so much to Claire for her frankness and willingness to answer my questions and for a lovely book.  You can check out my review to see how she beautifully weaves life and yoga into a compelling, can’t-put-down read.

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