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Blog Book Review: enLIGHTend

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by Jessica Berger Gross
Reviewed by Merle J. Huerta

At twenty-five, Jessica Berger Gross, overweight, depressed from a recent breakup, and craving self esteem, was coping the only way she knew how – through comfort foods, cigarettes, and alcohol. Raised in an abusive, emotionally dysfunctional family, Jessica fed her unhappiness with bagels and cream cheese, and though she was an overeater, she had come to assume that her constitution was genetically predetermined. While heading to a local bagel shop one day, she wandered into a neighborhood yoga center and joined the others doing Sun Salutations. After an hour of stretching and doing "om's," Jessica noticed an emotional release and an elevated mood. She became a yoga teacher, adopted yogic principles in her life, began eating pineapple for breakfast, took long walks with her dog, Salem, and changed her physical constitution to a leaner, vibrant, healthier one.

Sound a little too fairy-tale-ish? In five hundred words or less, it might. But what Jessica Berger Gross outlines in her newest book, enLIGHTened, How I Lost 40 Pounds With a Yoga Mat, Fresh Pineapples, and a Beagle Pointer, is an effective and applicable road map that any overwrought mommy lost in the mire of dirty laundry, sleepless nights, and poor eating habits can integrate into her life. Anchored by yogic principles, healthy eating suggestions, yoga poses, and painfully humorous vignettes of her own transition from emotional dysfunction and fluctuating weight to enlightenment, Jessica provides a pragmatic approach to changing poor lifestyle habits.

At first, I was skeptical. In the sea of memoirs where the narrator seeks spiritual and emotional enlightenment, few outline a constructive, easy-to-integrate approach. And in my real life, children, work, bills, and too little personal time made it implausible for me to seek enlightenment, whether by escaping to an ashram in Tibet or to a small, rustic shed on the Cape for a year of self-reflection. Just locking myself in the bathroom for fifteen minutes of meditation while a four year old banged on the door was difficult enough.

I decided to put enLIGHTened to work from Chapter 1. So, one weekend morning, I cut open a pineapple, broke the book binder, spread the book open on the living room floor, and practiced the yoga poses. And though my three year old climbed in and around my twisted body, in the end, I felt like I had indeed accomplished something personal. At night, while my husband zoned on B-rated Sci-Fi movies, I lay in a Final Resting Post. I learned how to do a headstand, something I hadn't done since fifth grade, and taught my younger children the approach. I adopted some of Jessica's vegetarian recipes – some that were met with "oooh's," some that were met with "ich's." And finally, I joined a gym so I could do more constructive yoga with other grownups.

In the end, I did indeed integrate some of Jessica's philosophies. And most importantly, if I skipped a day, the omission wasn't viewed as an overall personal failure. The book's inherent applicable nature is precisely what differentiates it from other memoirs. While some, written from the perspective of a fictional romance novel, are enjoyable simply as an escapist read, enLIGHTened drops breadcrumbs so that real women and mommies can find their way back to an emotional center.

Caroline M. Grant served on the editorial board of Literary Mama for over ten years, including five as Editor-in-Chief. She is currently Associate Director of the Sustainable Arts Foundation, which provides grants to writers and artists with children.

She is the co-editor of two anthologies: The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat (Roost Books, 2013) and Mama, PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life (Rutgers University Press, 2008). Her column, Mama at the Movies, ran on Literary Mama for six years; she has published essays in a number of other journals and anthologies.

She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons; she writes about food and family on her blog and at Learning to Eat. Visit her website for more information, including clips from her radio and television events.

Caroline is former editor-in-chief for Literary Mama.

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