Monday, January 24, 2011

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

Carrie O'Grady welcomes a yoga book by a mother who wasn't very good at it

 The Guardian, Saturday 22 January 2011

An elderly psychic in Hilary Mantel's novel Beyond Black is fond of asking her clients: "Have you known the joys of motherhood, dear?"

It's not a phrase you hear nowadays. Motherhood is a terribly serious business, with terribly serious consequences: one misstep can doom your baby to years of therapy later on. Or worse, as one parenting manual warns: "Brain scans of impulsive murderers showed that under stress, [they] had lots of activity in the lower brain and very little in the higher brain . . . This can be the legacy of a childhood where children have not been helped to work through feelings of rage and distress by parents." Murderers! No wonder new mothers aren't feeling much joy.

Claire Dederer had her baby about 10 years ago in north Seattle, a liberal enclave of well-educated white folks and free spirits that trumps any British neighbourhood for right-on-ness. Attachment parenting – a philosophy that advocates breastfeeding on demand, co-sleeping and generally slinging your offspring about your person, like a monkey – was considered optimal, and, as Dederer reports: "For the kind of mothers we were, optimal meant mandatory." That is, if the authorities recommend breastfeeding for a year, you carry on for several; if you have a second baby before your first is ready to stop co-sleeping, you buy a bigger bed to get all four of you in. Dederer finds herself racked with anxiety – and baby-induced backache. This book tells how her love affair with yoga changed her way of thinking and eventually her way of life.

A wry eyebrow may be raised at this point. Not another westerner-healed-by-eastern-mysticism; not another journey to find oneself in the footsteps of Elizabeth "Eat, Pray, Love" Gilbert (whose endorsement graces the cover)? Thankfully, Dederer is too smart, too funny and too sceptical herself to follow that path. She skewers the hypocrisy of westerners who think they really, y'know, get yoga: "I had a feeling that doing yoga in a class, without knowing the philosophic and historical underpinnings, made me kind of a jerk." What's more, she's not very good at it. She can't get her head around the paradoxes in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, and she can't do the splits. Nor can she concentrate, at first: even when trembling with pain in the difficult poses, she finds her mind drifting helplessly. (Did Patanjali ever catch himself wondering what to give the kids for dinner?)

The full review at The Guardian

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