Michelle Goldberg in her new book, “The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life Of Indra Devi, The Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga To The West”, delves into this amazing woman who is almost solely responsible for bringing yoga from the east to the west(and back again). Ms. Goldberg was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air in advance of the book’s release and the story is fascinating.
Indra Devi was born in 1899 in Latvia as Eugenia Peterson. In 1914, after the start of WW I, Indra found and read the book "Fourteen Lessons In Yogi Philosophy And Oriental Cultism" after finding it in her mother’s friends library. The author, Yogi Ramacharaka, was actually an American author under a pen name. The book goes through his story in some detail and it too is quite a tale. Ms. Devi went on to study it in India. She traveled around the world and introduced yoga to political leaders in Russia and Shanghai. In 1947, she came to America, where her students included Hollywood celebrities.
The yoga practiced in Chicago and the world is generally thought to be a thousands of years old practice from India. What Ms. Goldberg discovers is that this could not be further from the truth. She describes how they took some practices that had been part of the kind of mystical yogic tradition going back to medieval times. They combined them with physical practices that came from Indian wrestlers, what they called dands or push-ups. Then they took elements from a gymnastics system that had become popular with the British Army - so kind of British Army calisthenics and gymnastics and elements of traditional Indian gymnastics, things that had not before been seen as part of any sort of a religious or spiritual tradition. There were a number of innovators who were kind of mixing all of these things together. Devi followed a young guru named Swami Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya was the yogi-in-residence at the Mysore Palace. The maharajah of Mysore was a very progressive nationalist figure who wanted to unite the best of the East and the best of the West. He sponsored Krishnamacharya to run a yoga school in the palace. He put together many of the poses and moves we do today in our yoga classes including jump-backs and the chaturangas. What is interesting is that all this was created for 8 year old boys. The best examples today are the Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga taught in many practices.
Without completely rehashing the book, Indra Devi convinces Swami Krishnamacharya to take on a female from Latvia as a student and from there she takes yoga to Russia, China, the US and South America. Students in Hollywood included Gloria Swanson and Gretta Garbo. Indra Devi was more than just yoga as you will discover.
“The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life Of Indra Devi”, The Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga To The West by Michelle Goldberg will be released June 9. Find it at a local bookstore near you.
Planned Property Management buildings are located close to many independent bookstores where you can preorder this book and scores of yoga studios where you can keep up or start your practice.
There are too many yoga studios with varying practices and instructors to discuss it in detail. You can do yoga on the beach, many health clubs have yoga classes, independent yoga studios are abundant, and the park district offers yoga at many locations. A great way to try out different places is to look for Karma Classes. These are classes many studios offer at least once per week and the cost is simply whatever donation you wish to contribute. Health clubs will offer a free trial day or week. The park district is almost always affordable. This site seems to give the best selection of Karma classes around Chicago, FreeYogaChicago.
To get a copy of “The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life Of Indra Devi”, when it comes out on June 9, try one of the few remaining independent book stores, the Chicago Public Library or the modern way via Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Unabridged Bookstore at 3251 N. Broadway St. in Lakeview is close to many PPM buildings. Other independent stores in the general vicinity include Roscoe Books located at 2142 W. Roscoe St., The Book Cellar at 4736 N. Lincoln Ave., City Lit Books at 2523 N. Kedzie Blvd., and Sandmeyer's Bookstore located in the South Loop at 714 S. Dearborn St..