The First Lady of Yoga, Indra Dewi

DID YOU KNOW that Yoga was a purely male-centric practice until 1937?

Let me introduce you to Indra Devi (or Mataji), also known as The First Lady of Yoga. Formerly known as Eugene Peterson, Eugene was born in 1899 in Russia. Her journey with Yoga began when she moved to Germany in 1917 in the wake of the revolution in Russia. It was in Germany that she trained as an actor and dancer and became a part of a theatrical troupe that toured all over Europe.

During the course of her travels, she met the renowned philosopher and yogi J. Krishnamurti, and grew fascinated with India. Initially, though obsessed with visiting India, Eugene didn’t possess the means to do so. A stroke of luck led to a wealthy banker to propose to her, and her saying yes only on the condition that he paid for her trip to India before the wedding. He agreed, and soon she was on her way to India. 3 months upon her return, and her first meeting with her fiancee, she returned her ring. 

In 1928, she sold all of her possessions and booked a one-way ticket to India. Soon, she became a Bollywood movie star, taking on the name ‘Indra Devi’, and found great success. But she always felt that something was missing, and prayed for direction.

In 1937, what presented itself as an unfortunate turn of events where she suffered from a cardiac illness and was directed to take treatment from the renowned yogi Krishnamacharya, was truly an answer to her prayers. However, it didn’t come easy – he’d refused when she first visited him for treatment. But upon observing her dedication, Krishnamacharya eventually offered to hone her into a Yoga Teacher, and Indra Devi ended up staying with him for a year, being possibly the first westerner taught by Krishnamacharya to be a Yoga Teacher. She was taught the gentle style of Yoga – given that she was recovering from a heart condition. 

From then on, Indra Devi played a tireless role in spreading the art of Yoga all over the world. Today, the female to male ratio of Yoga Practitioners 72% to 28%. Given her contribution to Yoga, she is referred to in modern day as The First Lady of Yoga.