New book provides look at life of Indra Devi

This post’s a little change of pace.

I spotted this review at our, ahem, hometown paper, the Los Angeles Times. It’s on a new book about Indra Devi, one of the people who helped bring yoga to the West. It is by Michelle Goldberg and is called The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West. From the review:

Even if you don’t care enough about yoga to hold a pigeon pose for the length of time it takes to say that title, Indra Devi, born Eugenia Peterson in 1899 in Riga, Latvia, remains no less a fascinating character: Constantly searching as she moves from Eastern Europe to India to Shanghai and the United States, she changes names, marries twice, acts and dances — finally making it big about halfway through her century-long life as a yoga teacher, author and lecturer.


Goldberg says that researching the book made her think about her own yoga practice in Brooklyn. “On the one hand, it’s obviously demystified yoga for me, both for good and for ill. There is a sort of magic to yoga when you don’t kind of quite know where it comes from and what is an ancient esoteric secret. So I guess it is a bit of a loss when you realize it’s British army calisthenics repurposed,” she continues. “At the same time, I used to have a bit of anxiety about authenticity that I’ve kind of gotten over.”

I also noticed this: “Eventually, [Goldberg] became hooked on an “excruciating” ashtanga-style class. She came across Devi’s obituary while researching the connection between her Brooklyn class and the ancient idea of yoga.” I assume that’s the excruciating asana practice we all know.

If you’re wondering why the Times is reviewing the book, I suspect this has a lot to do with it (my emphasis added):

It was in that decade that Devi began her formal yoga training, eventually under the direction of the legendary teacher Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who, after months of disciplined practice, told Devi to teach yoga in other countries. She was fearful, Goldberg writes, “but he was her guru. She couldn’t refuse.”

Her mother encouraged her to go to the United States, just as India’s independence neared. And in 1947 she left for Los Angeles, “the ideal place” for starting anew, Goldberg notes. Devi opened a yoga studio on the Sunset Strip and started to teach “a commonsense exercise and relaxation system, utterly practical and wholesome, promising transformative results without the grunting agony of other physical culture regimens.”

So maybe check the book out for some summer reading. And maybe this is a chance to open the comments up to other suggestions for good summer reads (yoga-related, obviously).

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

3 thoughts on “New book provides look at life of Indra Devi”

  1. Neal Pollack’s “Stretch” is a fun read, an autobiographical story of a writer who goes from skeptic to serious Ashtanga practicioner, trying out a bunch of other styles along the way.

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