Claire Dederer admits to an occasional, tiny bit of anxiety. It’s part of the reason she started doing yoga, coupled with an attempt to eradicate some nagging back pain after the birth of her daughter. So it’s probably no surprise that yoga itself caused her some moments of worry: “I was troubled by what I perceived as the inauthentic nature of my yoga practice,” Dederer writes in Poser, her awesomely funny and candid ode to life, love and yoga. “I had a feeling that doing yoga in a class, without knowing the philosophic and historical underpinnings, made me kind of a jerk. I had begun to notice that I felt guilt whenever I met a person of Indian descent.”
As it turns out, you can learn a lot about the history and many forms of yoga in Poser, and Dederer uses the centuries-old practice as the fascinating backdrop to her deeply personal story. In late-’90s Seattle (“Where the sun won’t shine and the rain won’t rain and there’s a kind of high, bright, headache-inducing light that makes you want to go to the movies for the rest of the day, or maybe the rest of the winter”), Dederer and her husband are raising their young family and grappling with their choice to be freelance writers. On the one hand, what freedom! On the other hand, they are besieged by constant worries over money and work.
When she first steps into a yoga studio, Dederer is transformed by what simple poses could do for her body and mind: “There was a pleasure in becoming something new. You could will yourself into a fresh shape. Now all I had to do was figure out how to do it out there, in my life.” Figuring that out takes two children, a few years’ escape to Boulder, Colorado, away from her loving but dysfunctional parents, and many, many yoga studios: in strip malls, in rundown cinderblock buildings, in cottages that look like noodle joints. It also takes some delving into her own family history, which she writes about with clarity and an amazing lack of self-pity.
Poser is ultimately about one woman’s rambling journey to self-acceptance. “Here’s the truth,” Dederer writes. “The longer I do yoga, the worse I get at it. I can’t tell you what a relief it is.