PoserPosted: February 21, 2011
A book about yoga written by a mother of young children, in crisis: of course I had to read it. For some reason I was skeptical at first — I didn’t want to like it. But I couldn’t help it. Claire Dederer is a fantastic writer, she’s very funny, and she has a fascinating family background, and although there were some things about her story I couldn’t directly relate to, there was a lot I could. I liked her, I liked her voice. I liked the fact that she came to yoga for a certain set of reasons and ultimately learned something entirely different.
When the book opens, she’s the new mother of a baby girl. She throws her back out with nursing and lugging Lucy around. Everyone recommends yoga, so she tries it. At first she views it as a way to get serene, so everyone around her will be impressed at how chilled out she is. And she’ll get her body back, she hopes. She also looks at it as something she’s going to master — she’ll jump in and just get better and better at it. She’s in the throes of trying to figure out how to be a “perfect” mother. She feels pressure from the other parents around her in North Seattle — attachment parenting, organic food, an co-op playgroups are the norm. She doesn’t feel like she totally belongs, but she knows she’d better go along with it all or she’ll ruin her kid. In the meantime her husband, Bruce, who’s also a writer (specifically an environmental journalist), is getting more and more stressed out with being the main breadwinner in their family; he’s slowly falling into depression, and she’s not sure what to do about it.
She tries a lot of different kinds of yoga — different styles, and different studios and teachers. It’s her lifeline. Like the journalist she is, she does her research — she finds the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, and various other books. She likes some poses a lot and some not as much. Naming each chapter after a pose sounds gimmicky, but it actually works — she’s able to find ways to relate the physical poses to what’s happening in her life at the time. The multiple Child’s Pose chapters all discuss her childhood in the early 1970s, when her mother, part of the generation of women who were disappointed with their lot as young wives, up and left her husband. Except her mom (whom she’s still very close to) took up with a younger man she’s still with and never did divorce Claire’s father. They’ve had an amicable relationship for 30 years. Claire and her brother grew up with this strange arrangement, and while she felt loved by all three parents, she wonders how it all really affected her.
Bruce is offered a fellowship at a university in Boulder, and the family, now with a young son, Will, on board, relocates to Colorado for two years. Bruce’s depression lifts, the kids love school, and Claire does more yoga and finds spiritual release with hikes into the mountains. The family learn to find joy in their day-to-day and ultimately decide to move home to Seattle, not out of a sense of obligation but on their own terms.
Claire is so not a poser, it turns out. Over years of practicing yoga, she goes from being unhappy and exhausted by trying to be good to realizing it’s okay to be good enough. She needs more joy and less judgment of herself and others. Real is better than good. That’s what yoga helps her to learn.
This is far from a “yoga book” — it’s the tale of a real, harried American mom and how yoga affects her life in practical ways. Though she thinks she’s lost, she’s actually very good at listening to her instincts about what works for her and what doesn’t. Near the end of the book, she’s talking about Downward Facing Dog and the fact that while it seems like a simple pose, it’s not — that she’s been working on it for 10 years and it’s still a work in progress. She says, “The longer I do yoga, the worse I get at it.” And she embraces that.
And did I mention she’s funny? This is worth reading.