Discovering the meaning of life through yoga

2011-06-15 00:00

FOR reasons of pure prejudice, my heart sank when I saw Elizabeth Gilbert’s flattering cover endorsement of this book, which simply and asininely read: “I absolutely loved this book”.

Well, I absolutely didn’t want to read anything enjoyed, let alone loved, by the likes of Gilbert, author of the famous chic-lit memoir Eat, Pray, Love.

But I was disarmed on the first page by author Claire Dederer’s frank style of writing and her scepticism — not only towards the West’s love affair with yoga, but towards most aspects of her own life.

As a new mother and part-time writer living in north Seattle, ­Dederer is self-consciously consumed by the perfectionism of her social set — women who hold down jobs, breastfeed their babies, cook organic food, use cloth nappies, dress their children in organic fibres, enjoy an active sex life, and recycle — yet is painfully aware of her limitations. To a working mother living in a small city in South Africa, it sounded depressingly familiar.

Driven to yoga to correct a backache brought on by nursing her baby daughter, Dederer discovers that yoga offers many things, not least of all the luxury of an hour and a half just for herself. As her practice deepens, in the fashion of a professional writer, she seeks out the classic yoga texts, tries to digest some of the more accessible bits and, usefully, shares them with the reader.

Over time, she uses her yoga sessions as a prism through which to engage with and come to terms with an unconventional childhood which saw her “liberated” mother leave but not divorce her father and move in with a younger man. Most importantly, however, she learns to be “more real and less perfect”.

The book moves at a sedate pace — like life I suppose — and Dederer’s well-researched reflections on a range of matters, such as the notable spike in United States divorces in the seventies, while interesting, add weight to the book and tend to slow down its pace. But the momentum is successfully maintained by the clever alignment of yoga poses with true-life experiences, Dederer’s subtle irreverence and the well-honed style of a professional writer.


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