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First There is a Mountain: A Yoga Romance

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The author chronicles her lifelong battle with eating disorders and starvation diets, her journey to India to study at the yoga institute of the renowned B. K. S. Iyengar, and her discovery of a spiritual discipline that helped her find peace.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published January 2, 2004

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About the author

Elizabeth Kadetsky

6 books137 followers
Elizabeth Kadetsky's memoir in lyric essays, The Memory Eaters (University of Massachusetts press in March 2020), is winner of the Juniper Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She is author of First There Is a Mountain (Little Brown, 2004; Dzanc rEprint series, 2019), On the Island at the Center of the Center of the World (Nouvella, 2015), and The Poison that Purifies You (C&R Press, 2014). Kadetsky's short stories have been chosen for a Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best American Short Stories notable stories, and her personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, Guernica, Santa Monica Review, Antioch Review, Post Road, Agni, and elsewhere. She has traveled extensively and can utter phrases convincingly in Spanish, French, Italian, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Malti, and Portuguese. She has traveled to Guatemala as a journalist covering the underground adoption trade for the Village Voice, to Southern Mexico covering the war in Chiapas for The Nation, to Malta as a creative writing fellow at the St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity, and to Spain and France as a fellow in the arts at Camargo Foundation, Funadción Valparaiso, Fondation La Napoule, and elsewhere. She studied Arabic in Fez, Morocco, and in Cairo as a research scholar at the Center for Forced Migration Studies at American University of Cairo, and she was a Fulbight fellow to India in creative writing. Her experiences in India became the subject of her first memoir, published with Little Brown in 2004 and scheduled for rEprint with Dzanc Books. Her undergraduate degree, from University of California at Santa Cruz, is in Latin American Studies, while she holds an MS in journalism from Columbia University and an MFA in fiction from UC Irvine. She is associate professor of fiction and nonfiction at Penn State.

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5 stars
30 (19%)
4 stars
53 (33%)
3 stars
48 (30%)
2 stars
22 (14%)
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3 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 21 of 21 reviews
Profile Image for Maiga Milbourne.
73 reviews46 followers
August 4, 2011
Kadetsky wanted an academic treatment of yoga blended with a memoir. Hefty goal! However, I loved it. I found certain story lines unsettling (a somewhat romantic treatment of her struggle with an eating disorder) but others so refreshing (she gave a really honest and engaged investigation of gurus and yoga history). So much yoga literature is a blend of myth and history with little to no footnoting. I really wanted a writer to begin parsing out history, culture, belief, and myth. Hers is the first real effort in that direction I've found.
Profile Image for Lisa.
295 reviews7 followers
March 2, 2010
As a longtime yoga enthusiast, I enjoyed this book tremendously for the light it shed on yoga's development, both in India and the West. Kadetsky's insider/outsider perspectives were especially valuable as she negotiated the sublime and the ridiculous that is not only yoga, but just plain human. I especially appreciated her nuanced view of Iyengar, as well as her excellent writing. I would recommend this to anyone who wants a well-balanced (no pun intended) view of this popular practice.
Profile Image for Emily.
70 reviews3 followers
January 9, 2020
Interesting to learn more history of yoga and the more political aspects of Iyengar's career.
39 reviews
April 20, 2020
I could easily relate to this book as I am just finishing up yoga teacher training. For someone new to yoga or wanting to learn about it, this book may be a hard one to get into as it is primarily experiential.
Profile Image for April-lyn.
118 reviews10 followers
July 15, 2010
I was enjoying this greatly, but found my interest waning close to the end (mostly I just got distracted by shinier things); I'm sure I'll return to it someday soon to finish it up.
Profile Image for Shaila.
8 reviews
January 15, 2023
A must-read for anyone in yoga teacher training, whether you're training classically or in fitness yoga. Helps understand the abusive dynamic between Iyengar and Krishnamacharya (Ashtanga); also that sometimes extreme flexibility often comes at the expense of extreme injury. As a female teacher in America, there are some aspects of the yoga traditions-- misogyny, guru worship, abuse, casteism --that are better off not "imported" to our modern culture. Still, Iyengar shows up worthy with integrity pretty much intact, a true icon of modern yoga. BTW, I didn't mind the author's personal struggles incorporated into the story. We need to understand all forms of eating disorders and body dysmorphia as teachers. A holistic yoga practice will change your relationship w/ your body and that pans out.
Profile Image for Elisa.
429 reviews14 followers
December 26, 2020
Kadetsky, an American journalist, waits for years to be accepted to the yoga institute of legendary B. K. S. Iyengar in Pune, India. While studying under his tutelage, she wins his grandfatherly affection and permission to use his library to research the history of Iyengar yoga. This book was almost 2 stories: one, the story of an anorexic Californian on a quest for wholeness; the other, the thousands-year-old mystery of how yoga came to be. I found the parts where the author focused on herself banal and frustrating; the parts where she stuck to the history and the myths and the legend was fascinating. 12/25/20 — 3 1/2 stars
Profile Image for Michelle.
219 reviews13 followers
November 15, 2011
The book started off very slowly but once the author is in India and studying with Iyengar, it picks up.

I really wanted to like this book, but it seemed to be all over the place, and perhaps it was meant to be, as a reflection of how the author felt about herself during various times of her life.

The book is a memoir about her life and how yoga affected her at various times. It's also about her relationship with Iyengar.

If I didn't enjoy yoga so much and learning about yoga, I don't think I would have read it. I found the history of yoga and the interactions of the author with Iyengar to be the most interesting parts of the book.

I found the parts of her memoir about her childhood, her parents, and her eating disorder to be boring and trite - I'm tired of reading first hand accounts of individuals who grew up with money and had good educations, yet as adults, they whine about their childhoods when nothing traumatic happened to them, other than their parents divorced.

She never says she has an eating disorder, but she says enough that it's obvious. However, she never lets the reader know how she got over it. The reader is left to think that the first trip to India "healed" her and she lost her anorexia and food aversions.
Profile Image for Margaret.
186 reviews12 followers
April 7, 2014
Kadetsky's yoga memoir is poorly served by the cover art, which is very "lady travels the world to find the strength that was always inside her"-y. She does use words like "journey"--major yoga foul, in my book--but overall her book is both a carefully reported introduction to the historical currents behind Iyengar yoga and a personal story. As I read, I suspected that Kadetsky was more invested in presenting the fruits of her research than the particulars of her time in India, which was fine by me. The historical clashes between the Brahmins who founded the modern physical yoga movement are fantastically complicated. Kadetsky, to her credit, never tries to simplify, instead convincing the reader that any attempt to work out a lineage for yoga without reckoning with the various religious, political, and familial conflicts that shaped the relationships between Iyengar, Jois, and Krishnamacharya is a fool's errand, and maybe not necessary. In the end, she finds a practice that gives her spiritual and physical comfort, which is really plenty. You want that and the truth? Try another discipline.
166 reviews
January 19, 2010
What a beautiful book. Finally a book about yoga that explores the topics no one wants to talk about: yoga's connection with Hindu fundamentalism, to what extent yoga's relationship with the west is imperialistic/orientalist, what is the relationship between the classical yoga of Patanjali, medieval hatha yoga manuals, and the modern yoga movement, what is the nature of the rivalries between Iyengar, Krishnamacarya, Pattabhi Jois, and others? What a pleasure to read Kadetsky's always informed and intelligent take on these issues.
What I especially liked was how Kadetsky weaved these stories into her own story of her relationship with yoga - which is really by definition her relationship with her body, mind, with food, with joy. A gift.
Profile Image for Jane Settles cigarran.
17 reviews4 followers
July 19, 2016
Some interesting thoughts on yoga and meditation well explained. And hearing about her experience with Iyengar was interesting but when she started talking about her eating disorder and exercise addiction it turned in to a different kind of story about a privileged white girl that I didn't feel like reading. I also didn't finish it...to be fair.
Profile Image for Heather.
687 reviews4 followers
May 8, 2007
A look at the Iyengar family both as they influence one woman in the United States and as she travels to India. This book is good for anyone interested in the Iyengar school in India and some of the history of the family.
Profile Image for Meghan.
31 reviews1 follower
July 6, 2009
I liked this book a lot because I've just finished my second yoga teacher training and I'm interested in the beginnings of yoga in India and its translation to the west. If you are not a yoga enthusiast, this book may be hard to get through.
Profile Image for Peri Yanmaz.
1 review2 followers
September 25, 2014
this book is about İyengar family and memoir of Elizabeth Kadetsky. If you are wondering the BKS, you have to read this book. There are a lot of important information of YOGA, this is good for beginner yoga students.
11 reviews1 follower
August 6, 2010
Interesting memoir about her journey learning yoga, meeting Iyengar and India
Profile Image for Melissa.
Author 6 books10 followers
December 31, 2016
I loved this book, such a masterful blend of research, memoir and immersive creative nonfiction.
6 reviews2 followers
April 9, 2007
Since I'm still reading it, I haven't formed an opinion yet.
Profile Image for Patricia.
Author 3 books45 followers
October 28, 2018
I've had this book on my shelf for years. It was published in 2004, and I just might have purchased it then because I have hardback and I usually wait for books to come out in paperback before I buy. Whatever compelled me to buy the hardback did not transfer to getting the book read. This year, I made a commitment to read ONLY books that are already on my shelves instead of buying additional books, so I finally got to First There is a Mountain.

I have to admit that I did not find the Iyengar story as intriguing as the author did. And I did not feel like the memoir part of the book came to a satisfying resolution. I was annoyed by the author's exploration of pain to the point of possible damage to her body. Of course, I'm 70, and she was in her late 20s when she wrote the books, so we undoubtedly have different perspectives.

That said, I enjoyed what she delivered about the history of yoga in India and its mythical, almost insubstantial origins. My favorite part is the title of the book and the little anecdote about the teacher from whom she first heard this instruction. I LOVE Mountain Pose and its subtle intricacies. Glad I read the book and wonder how it might have been to read it 14 years ago. I certainly would have read it differently then.
Displaying 1 - 21 of 21 reviews

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