Book Review: Rain Mitchell's "Tales From the Yoga Studio"
Published in January 2011, Rain Mitchell's "Tales from the Yoga Studio" (Plume) isn't the most current of releases, but it gets a vote for one of the year's most enjoyable. The book weaves together a series of poignant and frequently hilarious vignettes starring five women who are linked by the sometimes inspirational, often pretentious and always fascinating world of the Los Angeles yoga scene.
- The axis around which the entire novel revolves, Lee is the talented and down-to-earth yoga instructor and co-owner of Edendale Yoga, a markedly unpretentious yoga studio nestled in Silver Lake, the Eastside L.A. neighborhood that Mitchell aptly describes as "a crazy mix of new hippie, old-style-rock-and-roll and California cool."
- Katherine is the funky massage therapist and recovering addict who swapped alcohol and drugs for a deeply personal and intense yoga practice. She also wears super cute outfits that she makes herself, is crushed out on Conor-the-hot-fireman and sails around Silver Lake on her retro pink bicycle like a punked-out Zooey Deschanel.
- Stephanie, the self-proclaimed Hollywood insider (read: failed film producer), is obsessed with A-list one-name celebrities, breaking into the Big Time and is actually not as annoying as she sounds.
- Graciela, a beautiful dancer working through an Achilles tendon injury courtesy of her insecure and semi-abusive boyfriend, is anxious to heal herself through yoga in time for her big audition for the next Beyonce video.
- And Imani Lang, the TV star who dropped off the map after a miscarriage and the subsequent slide into depression that temporarily derailed her career, is looking for some of her own yoga healing. She's egged on in this endeavor by her best buddy, yoga fanatic and fellow TV star Becky Antrim, whose characterization bears a striking resemblance to Jennifer Aniston.
Photo courtesy of Plume
The Skinny: From page one, Lee struggles to reconcile a genuine spiritual connection to yoga with cravings for the occasional cig, the demands of her devoted but needy clientele and the fact that Alan, her business partner slash self-absorbed man-child of a husband, has just moved out on her and their two young children in the interests of "honoring" his "need" for more "space" to get his "head together."
She's also being headhunted by a pair of New Age lunatics who own a successful and cutthroat yoga studio franchise -- YogaHappens -- and want to market and copyright her teaching style for their own nefarious purposes. For Lee, it's come down to selling out for a fat paycheck and salvaging her marriage -- now that Alan, who's been included in the deal as house harmonium jockey, has put the pressure on -- or hanging on to her flagging sense of integrity.
Reasons to Love It: "Tales" is a keen observation of how yoga, once the domain of off-the-beaten-track spiritual seekers, has been co-opted by the fakey spiritual types who have a desperate need to be seen as The Most Serenist of All Time and enough cash to think they can buy it. Mitchell also paints a scathingly accurate and funny picture of some classic yoga cliches:
- The painfully thin (but toned within an inch) yoginis, overpriced clothing artfully rumpled yet carefully planned out, obsessed with discussing their latest "triggers" (caffeine, sugar, vitamin supplements, you name it) and the latest trends in "diet, sinus rinsing, high colonics [and] sweat lodges."
- The de rigeur yoga predator, laughable but revolting all at the same, here personified by Brian aka "Boner," he of the "white stretch pants that scream I'm serious about yoga, ladies -- and circumcised."
- And the moneyed hipster mommies who only ever feed their children organic anything, drive hybrid SUVs and wax endlessly about the benefits of "techno-free" days: "No cell phones, no computers, no TV. [...] It always ends up being our most romantic day of the week, if you see what I mean."
But not to be confused with a satire, the novel wears on its sleeve an honest appreciation for yoga and the beauty and self-knowledge inherent to this ancient spiritual practice. Mitchell strikes the perfect balance between poking fun and celebrating her love of yoga all at the same time.
Prediction: I'm smelling a sequel, but then I do sort of have an inside scoop here. In an email to Constant Chatter, Rain Mitchell told me that a follow-up is slated to hit the stands May 2012: "It's called "Head Over Heels," and it picks up one year after the first book ends. I'm getting very attached to these characters and enjoying following them on their journeys." Yeah, me too.
Advice: If you haven't read this book yet, run don't walk to your nearest bookstore, online or off. And at the risk of jinxing everything that makes "Tales from the Yoga Studio" as good as it is, this book is just crying out to be optioned for TV and film. Can you see it? I'd like to.
More: Visit the official "Tales from the Yoga Studio" website for more on Rain Mitchell, her personal blog, where to buy the book and upcoming events.