These are the words of one of my student employees after I encouraged him to read a segment from Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude by Neal Pollack that I found particularly brilliant, in which Pollack details a gurgling fart incident in one of his first anusara yoga classes.
“Don’t you mean hilarious?!” is my reply. I start to worry that he will not take my authority very seriously after this.
“Oh yeah, it is very funny, but also very gross.”
I imagine Neal Pollack would be okay with this assessment, although I for one find Stretch to contain humor to rival the top comedic authors of our day, with honesty and a questioning of life that surpasses them.
In Stretch, Pollack, who may not be a household name, but who was one of the first writers for McSweeney’s, an accolade which really means something to the hipster generation, describes his transformation from a prematurely surly thirty-something writer on a downward slide, to an uplifted yogi who, despite some serious skepticism concerting yogi rap and some forms of chanting, has found something to believe in and a way to feel calm, good, and happy with himself.
The bare plot outline of the book is that Pollack attends a yoga class with his wife and becomes addicted to the point that much of the book revolves around activities such as a 24-hour yogathon, a Yoga Journal conference in San Francisco, and a yoga retreat in Thailand. Stretch is more than just a funny memoir filled with fish-out-of-water anecdotes about a balding sports fan farting his way through yoga classes throughout greater Los Angeles.
Pollack actually knows a lot about yoga, and Stretch is just as valuable as a guide to the types and principles of yoga as it is a humorous, easy read. Imagine David Sedaris explaining the sutras in one of his essays, and you have an idea of how Stretch reads; but somehow Pollack pulls the flow together perfectly so he can move flawlessly from painting a disturbing image of himself doing a sexy yoga dance for his wife in his briefs to explaining the yogic concept of brahmacharya.
Pollack is a surpassingly sympathetic and easy-to-relate-to character. As a youth, he wholeheartedly believed in the beauty of the world and the goodness of humanity, and was ready to publicly link arms and cry with other teens at Anytown USA summer camp because of this belief. Yet, after a couple more decades of success and then failure, Pollack had lost that boy who joined a group called H.U.G.S. in high school within the slightly pudgier physique of a cynical misanthropic man. Which among us has not felt that creeping cynicism of the years, and wondered exactly which hard knock was the one to knock our optimistic youth out of our increasingly aching head? On top of all that, he is openly narcissistic, which strangely makes me even more favorably disposed to him.