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Bending My Soul

An American in India learns firsthand how yoga practice releases emotions and awakens the heart.

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Longtime yoga devotee and prize-winning journalist Elizabeth Kadetsky went to India on a Fulbright grant with a desire to return to the roots of the practice and to study under B.K.S. Iyengar, the world-renowned guru who helped popularize yoga in the West. Kadetsky was prepared for the harsh, grueling rigor of Iyengar’s school in Pune, but she never imagined that her toughest lessons would come from his daughter, Geeta, whose sometimes rough teaching style forced Kadetsky to test her mettle and transform her pain. The Editors

This article appeared in our February 2004 issue. “You people,” Geeta Iyengar said as she began class. It was a stock phrase, a shorthand sentence, its second half rarely spoken. “You people” meant that you Westerners were too materialistic, too driven by goals, too disrespectful of the Indian masters. We nodded. We knew we were those people, knew that to fit in we needed to become somehow otherwise. “Your Western marriages,” she went on. She marched over to a Frenchwoman who, sitting in a cross-legged, twisting asana, had a cowed expression, perhaps owing more to Geeta’s badgering than to any innate predisposition toward shyness. Geeta stood behind her and, gripping one hand over each of her shoulders, dug her knee between the student’s shoulder blades. Geeta pulled, causing the woman’s sternum to move forward from her shoulders several inches. The woman looked instantly more confident, though the illusion faded as Geeta moved again across the floor. “Your marriages are always falling apart,” Geeta went on. “Your poses are like your Western marriages. You think, I want to do this nice pose, this …

Elizabeth Kadetsky is the author of First There Is a Mountain: A Yoga Romance, Little, Brown and Company, January 2004. Elizabeth Kadetsky’s reporting has appeared in Glamour, Self, and other publications. She has been a correspondent from Mexico and Central America for The Village Voice, L.A. Weekly, and The Nation. Her short stories have been published in Gettysburg Review, Natural Bridge, and elsewhere.


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