LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
When writer Claire Dederer first stepped into a yoga studio, she was - to put it mildly - dubious about the whole experience.
Ms. CLAIRE DEDERER (Author, "Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses"): (Reading) The scene was the very picture of white, female self-indulgence. There were no Indian people in this room, that was certain. A woman in her late 20s entered, and rolled out her mat in front of us. Her thick, blond hair was cut in an expensive bob. Her outfit was black and tight. She looked as though she had been a step aerobics teacher until about five minutes ago. She looked like her name was Jennifer. I am Atosa, she said, and I thought, like hell you are, sister.
WERTHEIMER: But Dederer stuck with it. Yoga appeared to be the answer to everything in her life as a hip, young mother in North Seattle. She found a teacher with a down-to-earth name, Fran, but that was just the beginning of her search. Claire Dederer tells the story of her attempt to become perfect at yoga and life in her new book, "Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses."
She joins me now from the studios of KUOW in Seattle. Welcome.
Ms. DEDERER: Hi. Thanks for having me.
WERTHEIMER: Now, yoga seems to have been the thing to do when you started it. You write a very funny description of the yummy mummies of North Seattle. I wonder if you could just give us a few of the things that you and all the other young mothers were trying to do.
Ms. DEDERER: Well, there was a list of rules, which kind of surprised me how stringent they were. You had to eat organic food, breastfeed your baby - well, at least until it could talk - carry your child in a sling; strollers were completely banned, expensive wooden toys, because plastic might off gas. You had to keep your job, but it had to be part time and you had to worry about it. Those are a few of the rules.
(Soundbite of laughter)
WERTHEIMER: And one of the cure-alls, I gather, for everything that ailed you -from, you know, back pain to occasional depression - was yoga.
Ms. DEDERER: That's right. Yoga was sort of a one-stop shop for everything that you needed. You could get your exercise, you could feel extremely virtuous. After all, it's exercise you do with your hands in prayer position. And you could also get a break from your house.
I'd go into the studio and I would think: This is a room I will never have to clean.
(Soundbite of laughter)
WERTHEIMER: But it obviously became more than that because you hang a memoir of - well, I don't know, this memoir goes all the way back to when you were 7 and all the way forward to the present. You hang a memoir on yoga: 23 poses.
Ms. DEDERER: It's true. As a literary structure, I was surprised to find that the poses were really elastic. They lent themselves to metaphor and to exploration in a way that I didn't quite expect. And yoga itself was a path for me to try to become more perfect, more virtuous, completely good.
WERTHEIMER: Completely good?
Ms. DEDERER: Yes.
WERTHEIMER: Reading the book, I get the impression that one of the reasons you needed to be completely good was that your mother was not completely good.
Ms. DEDERER: Right. My mom was a matron in Seattle until 1973, and happily married. And one day, she went to a pig roast - a classic '70s trope - where she fell in love with a hippie eight years her junior, and ran off with him, and took us with her. And our life after that was a much more chaotic and complicated, interesting, adventurous life. And adventure is great, but it's not necessarily what children want.
And I started to notice that my brother and I were both very concerned with this good kind of parenting, with this sort of always only buy the organic milk. And I felt that there were dots to connect between the chaotic way that we had experienced those years of my parents breaking up, and our own experience as parents - that we were saying, no, we will never create this kind of chaos in our life. We're going to follow all the rules, and everything will be fine.
WERTHEIMER: So, I mean, everybody spends some time trying to separate themselves from their mother. Did yoga help with that?
Ms. DEDERER: Well, at first, yoga reiterated a lot of the stuff that I was thinking and feeling at the time about trying to be good, and trying to follow all these rules. So I sort of went to yoga expecting to be better and better and better, and to improve until finally I was perfectly virtuous - and I could, you know, do a transition from scorpion into chaturanga.
But what I found instead was that I would sort of fall down and be a mess and sweat and pass gas, and do all the crazy things our bodies do - and that it was fine. And so yoga really ended up teaching me about loosening up, and getting away from some of this perfectionism.
WERTHEIMER: I loved in the book - I mean, I think we ought to say that despite the obviously serious concerns that you had, that you wrote a funny book about your life. You shopped around - among other things - for yoga teachers. And you learned a little bit about yourself from each of your yoga teachers, like the lady who told you that in your yoga practice, you just should stay within the four corners of your mat.
Ms. DEDERER: She said: You need to husband your gaze - which I thought was a really funny phrase. Like your gaze was sheep, and you were the shepherd, and you were keeping all the sheep very close to you. But it was good advice. Stop looking around at what everyone else is doing. Put your focus right where it is. It's probably the best piece of yoga advice I ever got: Just keep your attention within the confines of your own mat.
WERTHEIMER: In the end, do you think that you found some kind of path that took you where you needed to be?
Ms. DEDERER: I think I found the opposite of a path. I think I stopped looking for a path. I think I started to be more content with what I had, and stopped being so concerned with trying to make everything better all the time.
WERTHEIMER: Do you still do yoga?
Ms. DEDERER: I do, many times a week.
(Soundbite of laughter)
WERTHEIMER: That is Claire Dederer. Her new book is called "Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses." Thank you for joining us.
Ms. DEDERER: Thank you so much for having me.
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