Tuesday, October 2, 2012


... of a Garden State Yogi: a book review.

I'll admit to being more than once annoyed along the way as I read Brian Leaf's new book, Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi: My Humble Quest to Heal My Colitis, Calm My ADD, and Find the Key to Happiness.  Which is not a bad thing--getting annoyed, I mean.  It suggests the author "had me going"--paying attention, in  other words, and being affected by what he wrote.  Better that, by far, than another book I received at the same time as a review copy, which seemed no more than a dull and rather preachy repetition of the Buddhist principles.  Utterly inoffensive and agreeable, it did not engage me.  At this stage of my life, I'm picky about the commitment of my time, so I abandoned it after the first few pages--and will not name it here.

But here's the point: there's great potential benefit in being annoyed.  And the fact that I was particularly annoyed by Leaf's book makes good sense, because it serves to reinforce the book's message.  As he tells the story, the author made it his business not to ignore the annoyances in his life--the colitis, the ADD, for example, mentioned in the subtitle--but to take them as signals that work needed to be done.  His narrative proceeds by indirections, learning to identify the path he needs to take by paying attention to the signs and using his intuition, rather than by reason or logic alone.  Each problem he encounters becomes the opportunity to find out more about what it has to teach him.

There's much about Leaf--and this is a book, as the subtitle suggests, that is unabashedly about Leaf--that reminds me of the difficulty I have with Woody Allen.  He shares with the indie movie maker a good deal of the neuroses, the compulsive self-examination and self-deprecation, the sometimes frantic, sometimes merely comic hypochondria and accompanying self-diagnosis, his obsessive comparison of himself with those around him--and usually, I have to say, unfavorably.  Hence, "humble."  Most of the book describes his struggle to get past all this and be a mensch, to grow up, out of prolonged adolescent self-absorption, to "find himself" and own his place in the world.

So that's a part of it--and the part I have difficulty with, the part that, in the vernacular, "pushes my buttons" as I read.  My difficulty arises unquestionably from what Leaf mirrors for me: my own doubts and insecurities; but also my intellectual skepticism about those things he comes to embrace along the way, which seem to include every healing method from sesame oil enemas to Reiki therapy and Bach flowers.  The solid center of all this, though, is his discovery of yoga and his passionate, even joyful recognition of its benefits for him.  Yoga, I get.  Ayurveda, not so much--but I'm quite ready to confess my skepticism arises not from knowledge but from ignorance.  It's an ancient and well-tested means to health.  And my prejudice asks me to examine, Leaf-like, just what that prejudice is about.  And maybe even find the health benefits of ayurveda medicine.  I'm tempted...

As a love song to yoga, "Misadventures" is otherwise a pleasurable, inspiring, and often outright funny read.  Leaf provides the reader, along the way, with his eight useful and well-tested keys to happiness.  In a series of appendices at the end, he also provides a sampling of yoga stretches, guides to meditation and relaxation, along with an ayurvedic survey and health recommendations.  So if, like me, you're all too easily annoyed and have endless (mostly negative) judgments about "New Age" panaceas, you'll find a lot to annoy you--but more importantly a lot to learn in this little book about how to change your life and lead a healthier one.

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