cover image First There Is a Mountain: A Yoga Romance

First There Is a Mountain: A Yoga Romance

Elizabeth Kadetsky. Little Brown and Company, $23.95 (274pp) ISBN 978-0-316-89096-0

While ostensibly a memoir about Kadetsky's growing self-acceptance, which slowly evolves through her yoga practice, this book is actually more a chronicle of the mythic history of yoga and the contradictions of its most worshipped living teacher, the 80-year-old B. K. S. Iyengar. Kadetsky received a Fulbright grant to study creative writing, and her prose can be mesmerizing when she describes the fetid conditions she endures traveling to India to study with Iyengar and his family, or her frustrations trying to perfectly execute yoga asanas, or poses. It's another story, however, when she wades through 14 generations of yogic history: it's challenging to keep Kuvalayananda straight from Krishnamacharya, especially since Indians themselves argue over which stories are legends and which are facts. Iyengar himself is portrayed as a tyrant who berates other teachers for defiling yoga's purity, even though he has done more to break its traditions and promote its Westernization than his rival instructors. Yoga aficionados will likely be fascinated by Kadetsky's spiritual renewal--which helped her overcome both an eating disorder and depression--and how that renewal was achieved through months of brutal practice in India. But other readers may be more surprised by her expose of what she depicts as the cruelty and hypocrisy pervading the Iyengar empire.