Book Review: Poser-My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer

Poser_Claire DedererThere are many paths to the practice of yoga. Writer Claire Dederer’s path began when she hurt her back while breast feeding her daughter Lucy. And she writes about her path and her subsequent journey through the practice of yoga in her memoir “Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses,” using various yoga poses, triangle, mountain, downward dog, to describe this journey.

Despite her interest in yoga, Dederer has her reservations. In “Poser” Dederer muses, “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…”  She also wonders about privileged white people taking on an ancient practice and making it too trendy or elitist.

However, Dederer gets over her reservations and signs up for a Hatha yoga course. As she progresses in her yoga practice and gains more insight Dederer soon branches out into other yoga styles trying to find the right fit, not only physically, but emotionally and mentally, too. In amazing detail Dederer describes how she and her classmates tried to achieve their personal best in obtaining precision in their yoga poses, sometimes succeeding and sometimes not. She also wittily writes about the oddities found in some of her yoga classes, realizing as much as she loves yoga she might not be the ideal yogini exalted in the media. Still, she keeps at the practice.

But for Dederer, yoga is so much more than about balance, flexibility and maintaining the perfect “yoga butt.” In yoga, Dederer finds herself confronting both her present and her past. Dederer works as a freelance writer and is married with two young children. She makes her home in the Seattle-area where she tries to balance family and work and the idea that her generation could “have it all.” She admittedly gets upset at her husband, questions herself as a mother, and wonders if she’s losing her competitive edge as a writer. But instead of being a whiny navel-gazer, obsessed with her “first world problems,” Dederer looks at her life with both vulnerability and self-deprecation and at times she evoked both empathy and laughter in me.

And then there is Dederer’s past. When Dederer was a child her parents separated but never fully divorced. She and her brother were passed back and forth between her father’s new home and the home her mother made with her much younger boyfriend. As a young woman she dropped out of college, moved to Australia where she lived with her punk rocker boyfriend and made a living driving a forklift truck and loading boxes in a warehouse. Years later Dederer wonders if her desire to provide steadiness and stability to her own children and live up to some unobtainable ideal has anything to do with the chaos and uncertainty of her own youth.

“Poser” is not necessarily a book about yoga, and this might upset readers who might want to learn more about the practice and less about the musings of a middle-class white Generation X-er. However, it is entertaining, funny and at times, quite moving. Using yoga to open up about the messiness in her life is a very clever touch and proves Dederer is a creative writer with a unique voice. And I hope “Poser” isn’t the last of Dederer has to offer.