Elevate Difference

Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses

I’ve always wondered what prompts people to write memoirs. It’s one thing to be a celebrity riding the wave of success, but quite another to be a regular Jane baring it all for the judgment of strangers. As a critic for publications as prestigious as The New York Times, Claire Dederer is no stranger to criticism; nor does she seem to fear it. In her first book, Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, she bravely opens the cloak of privacy to reveal herself to the world. I suppose she is a writer who was ready to tell her own story for once, as opposed to reviewing those of others. Full of sincerity and love, this book is a cleverly written homage to her family, her friends, her marriage, and of course, her yoga.

Those of you turned off by “yoga” in the title should reconsider, as this is nothing like the New Age self-indulgence that has given the ancient tradition a bad reputation. Instead, Dederer loosely ties her yoga practice to the peaks and valleys of her life. In each chapter she recalls anecdotes and tells them in the context of a different yoga pose. This structural device offers comic relief and surprising tangents like this: “Back in college, we used to have a silly rubric: Never have sex with anyone who doesn’t like Van Morrison…based on the fact that [he] is embarrassing, and sex is embarrassing.” Then onto the next paragraph: “And Lion was embarrassing. It made you feel like Van Morrison, all uncontrollable noises and strange eruptions.” These are also moments for the reader to self-reflect, and this is where her writing is most profound and relatable.

Apart from being an extremely talented writer, she is a poster child for the ultimate alternative generation. In typical Northwest grunge fashion, Dederer is admirably cool without trying. Her book is packed with dry wit, self-deprecation, and cultural references that I only understand because of my older, Gen-X sister. After enough time self-reflecting in Seattle, a city known for its constant self-perfecting, Dederer and her husband move to the mountains of Boulder. This is when she dives into the implications of her childhood, the fine line between selfishness and personal happiness, and the pros and cons of moving back home.

These universal and common issues make for a fascinating memoir that only a serious writer could pull off successfully. From beginning to end, this book carries the mantra that life can be as bizarre as putting your feet behind your head, and also as rewarding. Paraphrasing Patanjali in one of his Yoga Sutras: Yoga becomes firmly grounded when it is practiced for a long time, without a break, and with sincere devotion. I’d say that’s true of most good things in life, and why Dederer would choose yoga as the unifying theme for a book as dear to her heart as this. At one point she reflects, “What happens when a generation of children grows up with all these comings and goings; when a generation of children grows up with parents who want to be free, and who think that freedom is movement?” Well, Claire Dederer has personally shown us just exactly what happens, and why she chose to dig her heels in and never give up on her practice.

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Written by: Katy Pine, February 23rd 2011