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First There is a Mountain: A Yoga Romance    by Elizabeth Kadetsky order for
First There is a Mountain
by Elizabeth Kadetsky
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2004 (2004)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Elizabeth Kadetsky shares a very personal journey with us, as she searches for her own spiritual roots, while exploring the history and development of yoga during years with her guru, B. K. S. Iyengar, in Pune, India.

The author tells us that yoga is 'a collection of philosophies sprung from the Vedas ... that espouse a quest for liberation from the bonds of the material world' and describes 'aging and charismatic' yoga master Iyengar being perceived as 'a populist who brought the esoteric to those who never had legitimate claim to it'. Kadetsky tells us that she studied yoga because it felt liberating, 'suggested we were more than what we were'.

The account becomes a mix of yoga and 'East meets West' when the author journeys to India to meet her teacher. She investigates his personal background (initially as a student of Krishnamacharya who apparently gained his wisdom in Tibet). And she explores the resurgence of yoga in the context of post-colonial India, at a time of 'new thinking in which the spiritual, the physical, and the political were increasingly intertwined'. We learn of its export (involving well-known figures such as Yehudi Menuhin) to the Western world where yoga became 'a feel-good alternative to a competitive sports culture'.

Though parts of this book will be dense reading for those who are not yoga aficionados, I enjoyed it for its insights into the discipline and its different practitioners. And I especially enjoyed Kadetsky's sharing with the reader the gradual development of her understanding of a very different culture, and of a guru whom she admired greatly, despite flaws revealed by familiarity.

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