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Real "Poser"

Claire Dederer comes to Olympia to talk about yoga and life

Claire Dederer

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Like many people - even liberals, even in Western Washington - Claire Dederer was a yoga skeptic.

But when she threw her back out nursing her baby daughter, Dederer decided to give it a try, despite what she calls a "longtime policy of never entering a structure adorned with Tibetan prayer flags."

After a less-than-graceful start, Dederer, of Bainbridge Island, found in yoga something she hadn't even know she was seeking.

Now she's not only a yoga person, she's the author of a book about yoga, Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses, which was released in December and has been greeted with a flurry of praise.

"(Poser) is a powerful, honest, ruefully funny memoir about one woman's open-hearted reckoning with her demons," Dani Shapiro wrote in The New York Times Review of Books, while Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) writes, "I absolutely loved this book."

The book is as much about life, particularly parenthood and Dederer's relationship with her own mother, as it is about yoga.

Motherhood led her to yoga. And the pressures of motherhood - in a culture that expects babies to be carried in slings, breastfed into toddlerhood and then weaned onto an organic diet - increased her lifelong struggle to be perfect.

"We grew up with ‘do whatever you want,' " says Dederer, who lived in Seattle's Phinney Ridge when she became a mother in the late '90s. "Then you become a mom and there are all these intense rules. I was wrestling with motherhood."

That struggle has resonated with the readers she's met on her book tour. "Young moms have responded really emotionally," she says. "There's been crying. ... I had this young mom come up to me and say, ‘It's not just Phinney Ridge. It's everywhere, and it's getting worse,' and she burst into tears. There have been people who recognize their own experience and are happy to have it articulated. That's what it's all about."

When she gave yoga a try, the author hoped that it would make her a better person.

She ultimately learned quite a different lesson, asking herself: "What if the opposite of good wasn't bad? What if the opposite of good was real?"

However, the road to that profound realization was neither simple nor smooth.

"The first time I went to a yoga class, it confirmed all of my preconceptions," she says. "Yoga is this weird thing that most people are both intimidated by and contemptuous of, which is a funny combination.

"The teacher was super smug, and there were all these very fit ladies with glossy ponytails. It was really hard, and I kept falling out of the poses, and I felt like a big, sweaty failure."

Eventually, though, she found the right class. (The ingredients, she says, are a teacher who can laugh and fellow students in an array of shapes, sizes and ages.) And more than a decade after she first set foot in a yoga studio, the author has an almost-daily practice. At least, she did until last week, when she fell down a flight of stairs and dislocated her shoulder. (A trip to the hospital forced her to reschedule our phone interview.)

Reached a couple of days later - in pain and traveling to speak about her book - Dederer spoke anew about the power of the practice.

"The paramedics said it was one of the most severe dislocations they'd ever seen," she says. "They had not seen someone with that severe a dislocation have the shoulder reset without a sedative."

They wanted to take her to the hospital; she could feel her muscles tensing and asked them to reset the shoulder immediately, at her home.

"That was yoga," she said. "I breathed and stared at something and just decided I could do it. I don't think I could have done that without the ability to find equanimity through breath."

[Olympia Timberland Library, Claire Dederer reading from Poser, Friday, March 18, 7 p.m., free, 313 Eighth Ave. SE, Olympia, 360.352.0595]

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