Poser, My life in 23 Yoga Poses: Strike a pose

The book by Claire Dederer, is better than whatever movie version will undoubtedly be made out of it.


Muna Khan March 08, 2011

Julia Roberts will vie to play the lead, it will be set amidst magnificent views of the mountainous western US coast and the dialogue will be more schmaltzy than the book; it will attract yogis by the hordes, just like single women veered towards Eat Pray Love. Whatever comes of it, I am certain that the book, Poser, My life in 23 Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer, is better than whatever movie version will undoubtedly be made (read mauled) out of it.

Although the idea of a memoir by a yoga devotee may make you want to barf as it did me, Dederer’s book is clever, witty and devoid of any of the earnestness found in a yoga studio. It’s not yoga per se that grates on one’s nerves (OK, my nerves) it’s the yoga culture, yoga journals, yoga tea (yes, yoga tea for crying out loud!), yoga retreats, people dropping out of XYZ careers to become yoga teachers and so forth. (You must admit you know at least one yoga teacher which is more than you did last year.) And, if you frequent the West, the hysteria with which yoga has been absorbed is somewhat frightening, if not worthy of the sneers we in this part of the world—you know the part that err…created yoga — bestow upon yogis. So it was with mild trepidation that I decided to take a crack at Poser—and was pleasantly surprised, nay relieved, that it was not anywhere near the vomit-inducing stuff I expected.

In fact, it is funny in a self-deprecating way. Dederer talks about her life in a Seattle suburb, belonging to an elite group of super-parents who eat organic (but of course) and use phrases like ‘be mindful of the dog’ instead of ‘beware of the dog’. Naturally, everyone was a yogi, but Dederer wasn’t sold: “I thought yoga was done by self-indulgent middle-aged ladies with a lot of time on their hands, or by skinny fanatical twenty-two-year-old vegetarian former gymnasts. I was also unsettled by the notion of white people seeking transformation through the customs of brown-skinned people.”

Obviously Dederer changes her mind when she embarks on Hatha yoga to heal a back pain that results from feeding her daughter. Her journey, so to speak, is about her relationship with yoga, told through the poses she attempts, and the lesson(s) she takes away from those poses. Mothers may relate to much of what she writes—insofar as relates to challenges associated with child rearing—but readers will still be able to relate to her reflections on, say her mother’s decisions and how they impacted Dederer, or how she struggles to deal with what she perceives as the loss of her professional persona.

As we learn about Dederer’s life transformations—children, parents, husband, relocations—we also learn about yoga itself. What is the child’s pose, for instance, and where does it come from? It is told in the same carefree breezy manner in which she tells us about her attempts to do the full splits. It does not induce vomit like other popular writing on yoga does simply because Dederer is honest when she writes about the frustrations with poses and then joyous when she writes about conquering them. Much like I was about this memoir.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 6th, 2011.

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