I placed this book on hold at the library after Amazon recommended it to me. Reading the title and book description I found myself thinking ‘How in the world have I never heard of Indra Devi?’ because truthfully, I hadn’t. Historically, I hadn’t heard of any women studying yoga for the purposes of teaching. Now, this isn’t to say it wasn’t happening- it was. Many women have practiced yoga in history and no where in the sutras are women discluded from practice- I simply had no knowledge of any female renowned yoga teachers historically. And boy, was that a gap in my knowledge.
So when I read about Indra Devi, an aristocratic European woman who was a student of Krishnamacharya (along with B.K.S Iyengar, K. Pattahbi Jois and many many more yoga influencers!) and a main player in the ‘bringing yoga to the west’ movement, my mind was instantly hooked. The author, Michelle Goldberg, calls Devi’s life ‘audacious’ which after reading, I can honestly say, I agree.
Devi, born Eugenia Peterson in 1899 Riga, Latvia , started reading up on yoga & meditation at 15 (the same age I started attending yoga classes!). In reading these books and poems she was inspired to go to India. As the Russian revolution hit, Devi fled Latvia for Poland, then Holland. In the 1920s Devi married her first husband and took her first travels to India, where she became an actress in Indian silent films. As she was now an actress, she took on another name as suggested by her friend Mishra. She became known as Indira Devi (Devi being the sanskrit work for goddess and the extra ‘i’ being dropped later on in her life).
One day, as circumstances unfolded, she found herself in the presence of Mhatma Gandhi on one of his days of silence. This awoke her dream to pursue yoga as it had been somewhat quieted in the years she had gotten married and been acting. She wrote in one of her diaries “Was this why I had come to India? To become a popular hostess and party-goer?” By this time she was 32 years old and seemed resolved to depression (although she never described it as depression).
So how does she end up learning from the inventor of modern yoga himself (and yeah, if you’re doing a difficult asana, you should probably be thinking ‘damn that Krishnamachraya’) and then moving to China (and teaching yoga) then to Hollywood (and teaching yoga…to stars such as Greta Garbo!) and then to Argentina to create the Fundacion Indra Devi? You’ll have to read the book to find out! What I can say is I was enthralled with her life while reading. She was truly a multi-dimensional woman and is now one of my favourite yogi’s of all time. As someone who has felt in awe of yogic knowledge and asana and meditation and Indian culture and sanskrit and more Devi’s push to know more astounded me. Her resolve to try to figure out what she wanted and why she wanted it reflects many a modern yogi’s troubles. To have children or to not have children? To study more or to teach more? To practice yoga or to do something more socially/financially acceptable? Devi tackles questions that many women have and have had which allows for such a deep connection while reading.
To all my yogi readers, I highly recommend this book for opening my eyes and touching my heart.