Why Are Yoga Memoirs So Damn Popular?

If yoga is, as the New York Times claims, the new incarnation of the female midlife crisis, why do we love — in spite of ourselves — to read about them?

Part of the answer is easy. It's a substitute for doing it ourselves. It's not just the escapism of watching Elizabeth Gilbert bike through Bali, but the pleasing contours of a finished narrative: the sense that things end happily-ever-after for someone, somewhere. Just as a food memoir reduces life to a cozy set of recipes, so too does a yoga memoir (which shows all signs of being a new genre) break it down by pose, by breath, by sound-byte. It's like watching a sports or dance move; at the end, you sort of feel like you've achieved something — or, anyway, someone has.

Writing about Claire Dederer's new "Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses," MyDaily writes that the author

uncovers a topic that most women are afraid to admit: We are deeply, profoundly imperfect. And yet, we are a generation of mothers, wives, friends and daughters who are consumed with trying to do everything right. For Dederer, this pursuit of perfection started with the birth of her first child — whose life began with a serious condition that resulted in months of quarantine — and a lifelong bargaining promise to "do everything perfectly and avert disaster.

In other words, she's taking relatable chaos and making it manageable — in 23 poses. Even as, ironically, Dederer writes with honesty about falling short of the parenting ideal of her Seattle community or the lofty goals of her generation, the contours of her journey are still comforting: we feel she will get there, and the manageable goals of achieving each pose become all the more satisfying for their larger context. And whereas Gilbert gave us fantasy — actually pursuing a kind of spiritual authenticity — Dederer's take is lower-pressure. As she tells MyDaily,

We're all doing "wrong yoga," but that's kind of freeing because you can do whatever works. Mainstream yoga gives us what we need. People here are so uncomfortable with silence, holding still and being in-tune to what they're experiencing, and the yoga here gives us that. It's all pretty beneficial.

Yoga may be Dederer's route to well-being — and for many a reader — but in a sense, it's the journey that matters — whether that be travel, cooking, butchery, reading an encyclopedia or living like a Biblical character for a year. We like the illusion of life made manageable. The Times contrasted this with the more overt escapism of Fear of Flying — and you could argue that Eat, Pray, Love gave us a little of that — but nowadays, achievable serenity is at least as exotic. And romantic.

Is This The New Female Midlife Crisis? "Poser: My Life In Twenty-Three Yoga Poses" [MyDaily]
Fear (Again) Of Flying [NY Times]