Secondhand Yoga

Claire Dederer by Claire Dederer | January 25th, 2011 | 1 Comment
topic: Personal Growth, Relationships, Yoga

Cartoon man doing yogaFor years, my husband struggled with depression. He doesn’t feel depressed these days, thank goodness, and hasn’t for a while. But for a while there things were pretty rough. I’ve thought a lot about the part I played in his depression. I know, I know, this sounds like a classic co-dependent attitude. But the fact is, during the years my husband was depressed, I myself was a young mother, overwhelmed, uptight and rigid with fear that I was going to screw up. I can’t help but think that we were feeding off each other.

I chronicle these years in my new book Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses. At the time, I clung fervently to the idea that if I could just be a more perfect mother, everything would be fine. I kept a close eye on my husband, convinced that if he didn’t take care of the baby exactly the way I did, it would be a disaster. And the way I took care of the baby was a teensy bit fanatical, in a groovy, organic kind of way. My standards were high — I ground my own baby food; I bought toxin-free wooden toys; I carried my baby in a sling as much as I could, even though she was so large and healthy she seemed sometimes to weigh more than I did. Sometimes I would look at her and think, “Why don’t you carry me for a while?”

I was, frankly, a nervous wreck. And then I started doing yoga. Yoga was, to be honest, part of my plan to be an even more perfect mother. I would be serene! And have that famous yoga glow! But the longer I did it, the more it made me feel that maybe I could, you know, relax a bit. Yoga was something I enjoyed, right down to my toes, and yet the notion of mastering it was absurd. I was never going to perfect my Monkey, or be able to transition from Scorpion into Chaturanga. I was faced, inexorably, with my imperfections. It took a while, but eventually yoga’s lesson — the idea that you are fine the way you are — began to take hold.

And, consequently, I started to be less of a nut at home. I began to loosen my standards. I stopped watching my husband with an eagle eye, trying to figure out how he was going to fail me next. Lo and behold, he slowly emerged from his depression. I’m not saying I was responsible for his depression, or for its fading away, but I believe it was a dynamic, and that I contributed to it.

This makes me wonder: How does our yoga affect the other people in our lives? Is secondhand yoga like secondhand smoke? Does it curl away from us in invisible tendrils? Do our in-studio inspirations somehow transfer to and get absorbed by the people with whom we’re closest? I realize this sounds like a gigantic justification for all the time I spend on the mat, but still. Yoga makes me less of a nut. And that makes my husband less of a nut. Maybe sometimes life really is as simple as that.


  1. I love this notion! Makes me think about energy, and it cannot be created or destroyed, just transformed from one thing to another. So, perhaps your yoga practice and “high” afterwards did have an effect on your husband, and probably others around you, too. I know yoga makes me less of a nut and although my husband hasn’t suffered from depression, before my regular practice he did suffer from my more frequent bad attitude! ;)

    Stacy | January 25th, 2011 | Comment Permalink

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