3 Devi, Indra

Devi, Indra

   Western hatha yoga teacher
   Indra Devi was a highly popular Russian-born yoga teacher. In her long, active life she established a series of learning centers in several countries on three continents, popularizing yoga among celeb-rities and ordinary people around the world.
   Eugenie Peterson was born on May 12, 1899, in Riga, Russia, the daughter of a Russian noble-woman and a Swedish bank director. In 1920 Eugenie and her mother escaped the turmoil of the Russian Revolution and settled in Berlin, Ger-many. She joined a theatrical company as an actor and dancer and toured throughout Europe.
   In 1927, she toured India as a member of the performing troupe and remained there for 12 years. She married Jan Trakaty, a Czecho-slovakian diplomat in Bombay (Mumbai), and became a movie star in Indian films, taking the stage name Indra Devi. She met many leaders and teachers in India, including Jiddu KRISHNAMURTI, RABINDRANATH TAGORE, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the maharaja and maharani of Mysore. The maharaja requested that she be allowed to study with him. He accepted his first non-Indian female student. At the palace at Mysore, Eugenie met Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, a yoga master, whose students included B. K. S. IYENGAR.
   Devi, also known as Mataji (revered mother), discovered her passion in life. She stayed in India, studying and practicing yoga until 1939. Healed of a serious heart condition through her practice, she became an avid student. She followed her teacher’s methods of HATHA YOGA, which advocated a unique practice for each individual body. She studied PRANAYAMA (breath work) and dhyana (MEDITATION). She continued her studies in the Himalayas after the death of her first husband. She adopted the name Indra Devi for her persona as yoga teacher.
   In the late 1940s, Devi traveled to Southern California. She founded a yoga studio in Holly-wood and taught many people, including celeb-rities. In 1953, she married Dr. Sigrid Knauer, a physician and humanitarian. They bought a ranch in Tecate, Baja Mexico, which served as a home, school, and retreat center for 24 years. She traveled throughout the world teaching yoga and lecturing.
   In 1966, Devi met SAT YA SAI BABA, who pro-foundly affected her subsequent practice and instruction. She developed Sai Yoga, a system of moving through ASANAS (yogic postures) with spiritual consciousness.
   In 1985, she moved to Argentina and estab-lished the Indra Devi Foundation. She traveled all around the world and included many famous people as her students, including Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Jennifer Jones, Olivia de Haviland, and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. She popularized yoga and meditation in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s and, through a series of books and innovative classes, helped to promote yoga in China, the Soviet Union, and Latin America. She remained active well into her 90s, teaching two classes daily. She died on April 25, 2002, at the age of 102.
   Further reading: Indra Devi, Forever Young, Forever Healthy (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1962); ———, Renew Your Life through Yoga (New York: Paperback Library, 1969); ———, Yoga for Americans: A Complete 6 Weeks’ Course for Home Practice (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1959); ———, Yoga for You (Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 2002).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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