Yoga Is as Yoga Does…

kadetsky.jpgElizabeth Kadetsky’s First There Is a Mountain is described in the subtitle as a “yoga romance,” and her yoga practice spanning nearly two decades features prominently. She took her first yoga class in a dojo at UC Santa Cruz because, she writes, “I’d already tried Tai Chi and Frisbee in New York.” Something about the way that first class left her feeling kept her coming back for more but, she admits, that wasn’t entirely a good thing, and she goes on over the course of the book to rigorously examine how doing the poses tied in to an anorexic-like desire to destroy her body in order to attain a more “pure” level of existence.

Kadetsky also had the opportunity to study in India under B. K. S. Iyengar, and therein hangs another tale.

Iyengar was one of the first yogis to leave India and teach yoga to Westerners, thanks in large part to the patronage of Yehudi Menuhin, and much of American yoga today can be traced back to Iyengar’s methods. So studying at the guruji’s institute in Pune is a unique opportunity; Kadetsky had to wait years before she could actually get into the program. Her experiences there called into question the regimen she’d been practicing for years, but it also opened her eyes to the complexity of yoga’s place in modern Indian culture, and she does an effective job of weaving the historical context into the personal account.

You don’t need to know much about yoga to appreciate this book. I happen to be an intermittent practictioner; that is to say, I need to jumpstart my ass into doing it on a regular basis. I’ve generally been more interested in its physical effects and consequently have little more than passing knowledge of the spiritual component. (And, of course, what I do “know” is more than likely a mishmash of various Eastern traditions some of which might have little if anything to do with yoga historically.) But I followed her descriptions of the various poses with no difficulty—and more of the story takes place outside the classroom than in. Anyone who grew up with divorced parents in the 1970s and ’80s, for example, will instantly recognize Kadetsky’s depiction of how split family dynamics chip away at the adolescent psyche. Then there’s growing up with the detritus of the New Age; I didn’t get it direct from my mother like Kadetsky did, but we seem to have done much the same tour. (Though I don’t know what tarot deck she found “the Jack” in…)

Kadetsky teaches journalism at Columbia and has freelanced all over the map. Here are two articles on environmentalism for Science & Spirit, one focusing on science and another on spirit.

10 January 2004 | read this |