Monday, June 4, 2012

first there is a mountain

I just finished reading Elizabeth Kadetsky's bittersweet book, First there is a Mountain. The book chronicles her life as it intertwines with her practice of Iyengar yoga as well as her experiences with the Iyengar family in Pune. If you were expecting a glowy yoga changed my life book, this is not it. It is a reasonably thoughtful but journalism-esqe portrait of Iyengar and the institute at Pune.

My favorite parts of the book were her stories about herself and her family, and her constant sense of not truly belonging to either side of her jewish/christian family. It is this sense which fuels her interest in yoga, and in Iyengar the man, because she sympathizes with his story as an outsider. Even his ability to communicate is fraught with complications- he speaks a different first language than the people of Pune, and even of the rest of his family. Ironic for a style of yoga that seems incredibly dependent on language to express alignment information.

She continually brings up Iyengar's successes, yet his ongoing disappointment that yoga is not appreciated and practiced seriously by Indians. She likens it to a re-playing of colonial attitudes - that westerners take over the yoga but misunderstand and appropriate it, as with other eastern ideas and practices. One thing I did not appreciate before reading this book, was how hard it must have been for Iyengar to come to the west. He encountered racial prejudice in his travels, and had to deal with power issues of working for the cultural elites of Europe.

The other thing that is quite sad to read about is the rivalry/feud that Iyengar has with Jois. Did this go both ways?

One caveat: the author's interest mainly lay in physical asana practice and in researching Iyengar's life. I kept wishing she was more interested in the other limbs of the practice, because I would have loved to read her reflections on them.


  1. Finished it a few days ago too, liked it overall, some very interesting and provocative sections that had me googling away. Favourite parts though were the scenes in Iyengar's Library, would love to be able to spend time in there mooching around.

  2. I bet you would like that library :)

    i was pretty intrigued by the way the classes were taught (seemed rather ad hoc from her description, though she didn't take the medical classes), and the space they practiced in (slate floors..hmm...).

  3. On the "feud":

  4. hi isaac,

    thanks for the more reason for me to subscribe to namarupa once my kindle arrives

  5. Translation of the Jois Iyengar conversation from that issue can be found here

  6. thanks grimmly. interesting article (and blog). sounds like iyengar's concerns were more with K's teaching methods..which i have read in places as well.