Who was Indra Devi?
Indra Devi is the first woman yogi and the mother of Western yoga. Indra Devi was a pioneering instructor of Yoga as exercise and a young student of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, also known as the “father of modern Yoga.” Born Eugenie Peterson in 1899, she came to India from Latvia with the ambition of becoming a film star and acquired the stage name Indra Devi. At 15, Devi became fascinated with India after reading a book by the poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore and a book on Yoga by Yogi Ramacharaka. She is lovingly called Mataji by her followers. Her method of Yoga was based on Patanjali’s writings and the Yoga Sutras, and her practice included pranayama, asana, and diet. Indra Devi passed away in 2002 at 102 in Buenos Aires.
Early yoga career
Eugenie Peterson rechristened as Indra Devi, became the first foreigner to take yoga from India to the world. She became the first woman to study under the guidance of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, also known as the “father of modern Yoga.” Being a foreigner, it was not a cakewalk for Indra Devi to learn Yoga in India. After initial rejection by Yoga guru Krishnamacharya for being a Westerner, the Maharaja of Mysore persuaded the guru, and she was accepted as a disciple in his Ashram. At Krishnamacharya’s ashram, she shared space with renowned Yoga personalities like B.K.S Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois, who became famous gurus.
Yoga in the USA
She became the first foreigner to teach Yoga in India. Her dedication to promoting and popularising Yoga in the US earned her the nickname “First Lady of Yoga.” Her hold on Yoga was such that famous people, including personalities from Hollywood, became her students.
Spread yoga globally
Besides America, Indra Devi took Yoga to Mexico, Argentina, China, and other parts of the world and made it a household name. During the Japanese invasion, she held her first Yoga session in China and established her first Yoga school in Shanghai. In 1985, she moved to Argentina, and there she was named the honorary president of the International Yoga Federation and the Latin American Union of Yoga in 1987 in Montevideo, Uruguay. Both federations were presided over by Swami Maitreyananda.
She authored several books on Yoga, citing its benefits, including reducing stress. Her advocacy of Yoga as a stress buster aided its widespread acceptance in the US. Some of her publications include
- Forever Young, Forever Healthy: Simplified Yoga for Modern Living
- Yoga for Americans: A Complete 6-Week Course for Home Practice
- Renew your life through yoga. The Indra Devi method for relaxation is through rhythmic breathing.
Founder of Sai Yoga
Influenced by the teachings of Satya Sai Baba, whom she also called her inspiration, she devised a new form of Yoga and called it “Sai Yoga.” Her Yoga style combined the teachings of Krishnamacharya and Bhakti so that she would use a more extended meditation and devotion besides the common Yoga poses.