Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses, by Claire Dederer

This looks like either a self-help book or a saccharine-sweet story of a Western woman meeting the charms of the East through yoga. Luckily, it is neither.

Poser is a memoir by Claire Dederer, who apparently (according to the New York Times) is a clever, insightful book reviewer who probably took quite a risk by writing a book that ‘only’ dwells on motherhood, marriage and yoga.  Dederer took up yoga when she was so stressed out by life that she wasn’t enjoying it any more. She was getting to that stage of being anxious because she was anxious all the time.

She was nervous to go to yoga – what sort of people would be there, what right did she, as a westerner, have to practise an ancient eastern tradition, would she be fit enough, be supple enough, good enough? You can hear her brain whirring non-stop (and believe me, I know that feeling).

A wonderful sense of humour comes through in her writing, as she takes a wry look at her life and those around her. At the time of writing the book, she lived in North Seattle, where parents were trying so hard to be good parents, I’m surprised they even noticed that their children are growing up. They all practised what was called ‘attachment parenting’ – mothers breast-fed for years on end, the baby/child slept in the parents’ bed, children went to precious schools where they did every possible extra-mural.

Claire even took her daughter to some ghastly sounding school (playgroup) called the Co-op, where the parents took care of everything, from the teaching, to the food, to the cleaning and maintenance. I can’t think of much worse. Half the joy of playschool for me was being able to drop my kids off in the morning and not have to do anything with them for a couple of hours.

She and her husband were both working at home as freelance writers, so along with all those parenting issues, a terribly stressful birth of her daughter and financial strains, it was no wonder that Claire was feeling a bit frayed. She was a perfectionist who worried – which meant she was doing everything just fine, but couldn’t stop worrying that she wasn’t doing it well enough.

And then she became hooked on yoga. Obsessed. And, as a reader, you can see that she was doing more and more yoga to escape her home life, and you can see that she was trying too hard to be good at yoga. We can see all these things and have to wait for her to realise what is happening. And so it happens that yoga slowed her down enough and opened her emotions up enough for her to look at what the matter was with her life.

Memories of her very weird childhood emerge – her mother fell in love with a younger man, although never divorced her father, and so Claire and her brother shuffled between two households, never quite sure what was going on. Her account of her and her brother’s friendship through these years is poignant and, of course, made me wish I had grown up with a brother.

I have found myself in tears at the end of a yoga class. There is something about holding the poses and breathing that opens the body, stretches the muscles and relaxes the brain enough that true emotions are able to come out, whether you want them to or not (which is why I am a bit worried that I am no longer getting to my yoga classes). This releases of emotion is what happened to Claire – she realised she was deeply unhappy in her marriage and her life.

She was able to address the problems and mend them, so, without going into the details because you are going to read it, I’m sure, the book has a realistically happy ending, thank heavens.

She writes very well and with a great dry sense of observation that makes this book a joy to read. My one problem with it, though, was that she sometimes disconnected from her voice and wrote in an almost academic style when talking about feminism and the history of yoga. This detracted from the immediacy of her story  and made me take a step back and think about her thinking about those subjects.

But that is the only small gripe I have about the book. If you enjoy yoga, if you are a mother, if you are a perfectionist, if you are a struggling writer, or if you just enjoy a good story, this is a book well worth reading.

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Author: Nella

Passionate reader, sometime writer, part-time librarian. I couldn't survive without books. And, I suppose, my children. Or my cats. Or my dog. I read books and look after others.

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