Review: _Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi: My Humble Quest to Heal my Colitis, Calm my ADD, and Find the Key to Happiness_ by Brian Leaf (Novato, California: New World Library, 2012). 265 pages. Trade Paperback. Price: $14.95
By Colin Carman
The seventh and most compelling key to happiness outlined in Brian Leaf’s new book Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi (2012) is “Speak and act from your true self.” The exhortation not only guides and adequately encapsulates Leaf’s yoga memoir, brimming with wisdom and humor, but it’s reflected in all that the author has to share about his journey from a Georgetown undergraduate who discovered yoga back in 1989 to his current post as the owner and director of the New Leaf Learning Center in western Massachusetts. Leaf is also a certified graduate of the New England Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine. His book details, in short sutra-like chapters, some of the zanier steps along the way. There’s an accidental visit with a prostitute, a seventy-day cross-country road trip replete with a more acidic kind of trip at a Grateful Dead show, an epiphany at White Sands, and the discovery of Kripalu yoga to remedy the symptoms of colitis and ADD. Leaf’s Misadventures is an utterly unique hybrid of comedy and spiritual knowing.
After all, speaking, acting, being yourself is infamously harder than it sounds. “Act natural” isn’t just bad grammar but bad logic. The real strength of Misadventures, then, is that its author makes speaking and acting from one’s authentic inner self look so easy. Leaf opens with “Moooola Bannnda,” an eyebrow-raising account of his experience inside what he calls a “special post-colonoscopy bathroom” wherein he is rolled from side to side to relieve gas. Worse, the nurse is the mother of a girl he once liked in high school. Leaf writes: “Colonoscopies are supposed to be reserved for seventy-two-year-old men and repeat alien abductees from North Dakota who expect this sort of violation. One time the doctor showed me how much rubber tubing had been involved in that particular day’s probe: a full three feet.” This comic kind of candor can only be described as “gutsy.” But bathroom humor aside, Leaf’s teachings range from the anecdotal – a footnote informs us that the sticky yoga mat was invented in the 1980s, a improvement on the tiger hides that served as mats for “Indian yogis of yore” (10) – to the substantial, such as a discussion of the ten yogic yamas and niyamas and the values of “colistening.” Leaf recommends picking one yama or niyama and focusing on it for a week at a time, cultivating what he calls “increased consciousness,” which is “intuitively clear” (79). Vital energy, or prana, is nicely explored in the context of Kripalu yoga, and the seven appendices include tips to asana sequencing and a vata-balancing chart.
Some facets of Leaf’s book are less helpful. The author is undoubtedly a fan of pop-culture and no stranger to the movies – I counted no fewer than fifty-seven allusions to film and television – but they pile up fast. A single page in Chapter 9 contains six such references ( to CSI, Basic Instinct, Yes Man, Law and Order, Donnie Brasco, Silkwood) and not all of his free-associations help to clarify matters. Descriptions such as “He was like Russell Crowe in Gladiator (or was it Mel Gibson in Braveheart)” (76), or talk of “following the energy” that triggers “references to Donald Sutherland in Animal House or Gary Busey in Entourage” are unnecessary and distracting. Such playfulness, however, is always offset by Leaf’s tremendous sense of humor and his faith in intuitive clarity. “You can’t plan where you’ll find bliss and transformation,” he concludes his book, “you can only follow the whispers as they call out to you.” In this way, Leaf’s Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi is like a sun salutation: it lets the light in.