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by Brian Leaf
New World Library, 2012
Review by Beth T. Cholette, Ph.D. on Dec 11th 2012
Yoga is no longer just for women, with the latest trend being an influx of memoirs from male yogis. In 2010, Neal Pollack published his irreverent Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude. Now yoga instructor, massage therapist, energy worker, and Ayurvedic healer Brian Leaf offers the slightly-more-serious (but still quite manly--there's even a road trip!) Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi: My Humble Quest to Heal My Colitis, Calm My ADD, and Find the Key to Happiness.
Actually, Misadventures is part memoir, part self-help. Throughout the book--which is written more or less chronologically, covering mainly Leaf's college years through his yoga teacher training--Leaf efforts to share the wisdom of what he has learned with the reader by offering his eight "Keys to Happiness." These are mostly quite simple (e.g., the first is "Do Yoga," and the fifth is "Meditate"), although Leaf becomes a bit more nebulous over time, concluding with "Become More Real."
Along the way, Leaf tells his story. Book One is the shortest section, covering Leaf's discovery of yoga in college. He signed up for his first class on a whim, but when he was hit with a second bout of the colitis that had severely sidelined him in high school, he was amazed to discover that committing to a short yoga practice several times a day brought a quick end to his illness. After that point, Leaf was a yoga convert. He did give up yoga briefly (he experienced disillusionment when Kripalu's founder, Amrit Desai, left the ashram in disgrace), but he was reinvigorated by plans to travel cross-country with an old friend; this would be his chance to experiment with various yoga styles across the United States. For the next 70 pages or so, Leaf's recollections read like a coming-of-age chronicle with a bit of yoga thrown in. He and his friend, Zach, share many adventures, some of which involve yoga, some of which do not. During this journey, Leaf experiences various insights as well as discovers Ayurveda, leading to his third and fourth Keys to Happiness.
Leaf's trip also facilitates his decision to pursue yoga teacher training, and his reflections on this period form the third and final part of the book. This segment--with its chapter titles such as "Catharsis," "My Anger Mattress," and "Becoming Most Real" felt the most overwrought. As Leaf studies at Kripalu, he has to learn how to release anger which he has stored up for years (hence the anger mattress). To control his ADD tendencies, he has to balance his vata...but does so at the expense of his pitta. And finally, he has to realize (in the Epilogue) that although he can't make a living as a yoga teacher, he can become a renowned tutor.
In short, Leaf's presentation is somewhat over-the-top, especially in the latter part of this account. However, he is an engaging, amusing writer, and I did enjoy reading this book. I do think that the intended audience for this work is mainly yoga practitioners, as non-yogis are likely to be bored with Leaf's many inside jokes and references to the yogic world.
© 2012 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.