Indra Devi, upper left; Anne T. Hill, bottom center (record album cover)
May 12, 1899
|Died||April 25, 2002 (aged 102)|
|Other names||Eugenie Peterson|
|Spouse(s)||Jan Strakaty (1930–1946, his death)|
Sigfrid Knauer (1953–1984, his death)
Eugenie V. Peterson (Russian: Евгения Васильевна Петерсон; May 12, 1899 – April 25, 2002), known as Indra Devi, was a Russian teacher of modern yoga who was an early disciple of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.
Born in Riga, Russian Empire, to Vasili Peterson, a Swedish bank director and Alejandra Labunskaia, a Russian noblewoman, Eugenie attended drama school in Moscow as a girl and escaped to Berlin with her mother as the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917. In Berlin, she became an actress and dancer.
Devi's fascination with India began at 15 when she read a book by poet-philosopher Rabindranath Tagore and a yoga instruction book by Yogi Ramacharaka. In 1927, she sailed for India and adopted a stage name that would sound Hindu (using "dev", the Hindi root for "god") and acted in Indian films. In 1930, she married Jan Strakaty, a commercial attache to the Czechoslovak consulate in Bombay.
The famous Yoga guru Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya accepted her as a student, only after the Maharaja of Mysore spoke on her behalf, and in 1938 she became the first foreign woman among dedicated yogis. She studied alongside B.K.S Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois who would also go on to become world famous yoga teachers. She met every challenge Krishnamacharya set out for her and was so successful that the guru asked her to work as a yoga teacher, when he learned that her husband was to be transferred to China and she would leave India.
In 1939, she held what are believed to be the first Yoga classes in China and opened a school in Shanghai at the house of Madame Chiang Kai-shek, wife of the nationalist leader and a new yoga enthusiast. There were many Americans and Russians among her pupils. More and more people began to call her Mataji, which means mother. Indra Devi gave lectures on yoga and free lessons in orphanages.
Following the unexpected death of her husband in 1946, with eight years of teaching experience gained in India, the renowned guru left for the United States in 1947. A year later she opened a yoga studio in Hollywood.
Indra Devi used her Indian teachings to lay claim to her own forms of yoga, these claims included Indian yoga asanas, breathing techniques such as the Indian form of Pranayama and diets. Later in life, Indra Devi stressed that her method relied on the Indian classical yoga of Patanjali.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no record of her ever teaching Marilyn Monroe. While Monroe did own her bestselling book Forever Young, Forever Healthy, there is no proof that the two women met in person. A popular photo that shows Eva Gabor training with Devi in 1960 is commonly mistaken for Monroe.
In 1953 Indra married the well-known German physician Dr. Sigfrid Knauer. In the mid-1950s she was granted American citizenship and put her Indra Devi pseudonym in her new passport.
Indra recorded several instructional talks on yoga in the 1970s, including "Renew Your Life with Yoga."
In 1961 Indra Devi opened the Indra Devi Foundation in Tecate, México, in Rancho Cuchumá. Mataji was very close to Sathya Sai Baba a Hindu guru and she traveled often from her Yoga Foundation in Tecate Mexico to Bangalore and Puttaparthi. Indra Devi closed the International Training Center for Yoga Teachers in 1977 and moved with her very ill husband to Bangalore. In 1984 she made a trip to Sri Lanka with her husband Doctor Sigfrid Knauer where he died the following year.
Later years and death
In 1985 she moved to Argentina. In 1987 she was elected president of honor of the International Yoga Federation and Latin American Union of Yoga under the presidency of Swami Maitreyananda at Montevideo, Uruguay. She died in Buenos Aires in 2002.
- 1953 Forever Young, Forever Healthy: Simplified Yoga for Modern Living. Prentice-Hall. OCLC 652377847
- 1959 Yoga For Americans: A Complete 6 Week Course for home Practice.
- Aboy, Adriana (2002). "Indra Devi's Legacy". Hinduism Today. Retrieved 13 September 2008.
- "Michelle Goldberg's book 'The Goddess Pose' paints vivid picture of yoga pioneer Indra Devi". Los Angeles Times. 28 May 2015.
- Martin, Douglas (30 April 2002). "Indra Devi, 102, Dies; Taught Yoga to Stars and Leaders". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
- Rolfe, Lionel (17 April 2015). "Indra Devi was not just a nice old lady". Huffington Post.
- "Indra Devi, Mother of Western Yoga - Amazing Women In History". Amazing Women In History. 2 October 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
- Jean R. Miller on findagrave.com
- Schrank, Sarah (2014). "American Yoga: The Shaping of Modern Body Culture in the United States". American Studies. 53 (1): 169–182.
- Sigfrid Knauer on findagrave.com