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Learning To Embrace Mess And Chaos Through Yoga

When author Claire Dederer first stepped into a yoga studio, she was, to put it mildly, dubious about the whole experience.

"The scene was the very picture of white female self-indulgence," she writes. "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 eyebrows were fancily mowed. 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.'"

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. 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.

The Rules of Motherhood

Dederer tells Weekend All Things Considered host Linda Wertheimer that she turned to yoga after her daughter was born, in an attempt to keep up with the hyper-competitive young mothers in her neighborhood.

"There was a list of rules, which kind of surprised me how stringent they were," she says. "You had to eat organic food, breastfeed your baby – well, at least 'til it could talk. [You had to] carry your child in a sling; strollers were completely banned." There were a host of other unspoken maxims for moms, too.

Yoga Doesn't Necessarily Lead to Perfection

Dederer says she hoped yoga would not only soothe the back pain she suffered while breastfeeding, it would make her a better person. "Yoga itself was a path for me to try to become more perfect, more virtuous, completely good."

And she needed to be good, because she was unconsciously measuring herself against her mother, who left Dederer's father in the early 1970s for a much younger lover, taking the children with her. "Our life after that was a much more chaotic and complicated, interesting, adventurous life," she says.

She had promised herself she'd never create that kind of chaos for her children. And yoga was part of the plan: Do the poses and become a perfect, calm, contented mother.

But she found in the end that although yoga helped strengthen her family, it actually led her away from the idea of perfection. "What I found instead was that I would sort of fall down and be a mess and sweat ... and that it was fine. And so yoga really ended up teaching me about loosening up and getting away from some of this perfectionism."

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