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Neal Pollack was a journalist enjoying some success from the publication of his first book, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He had been taken under the wing of writer Dave Eggers and appeared to be a rising star, but one horrible public appearance led to another, and Pollack soon found himself on a bitter downward slide directly out of the limelight. While wallowing in his own misery, he had little resistance to his wife's suggestion that he try yoga with her, especially given that classes were free at the gym which they belonged to at the time.
To his surprise, Pollack clicked with yoga immediately, as his first class left him feeling both worked out and significantly calmer. Shortly thereafter, when his family moved to LA, Pollack searched out a local yoga studio, soon expanding from general hatha classes to an Ashtanga practice as well. Pollack relished the changes that yoga made to his middle-aged body; in fact, he recognized that he might be flaunting the new Neal a little too much. More importantly, however, were the changes occurring in his mind, which he discovered began to revolve solely around yoga (displacing even sex, his previous top priority).
Pollack goes on to describe his need to find ways to support his increasingly expensive yoga habit (luckily, his studio offers a volunteer program), his forays into new styles of yoga such as Bikram, and the merging of yoga with his writing career. Regarding the latter, he is asked to write several features for Yoga Journal magazine, which has the added advantage of paying for his attendance at classes and conferences. And it is at the San Francisco Yoga Journal Conference where Pollack connects with his guru, Boulder-based Ashtanga teacher Richard Freeman, whom Pollack later follows to Thailand on a yoga retreat.
Accompanying Pollack on his journey from yoga at his local YMCA to Yoga Thailand is an interesting, irreverent ride. Pollack alternates between mocking his fellow yogis for their "middle-class hobby" to allowing the reader brief glimpses of how yoga has helped him to find his "best self." Yet at the same time that Pollack is professing that yoga should be something "private, quiet, and sacred" (p. 296), he is continuing to show up for yoga classes high on marijuana--not exactly a sign of reverence. And while Pollack's tone regarding his own foibles is sometimes sheepish, it is not exactly apologetic, something I found to be a bit disconcerting. For readers who are able to look past this, however, Stretch offers a unique perspective on one man's transformation through yoga.
© 2011 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.
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