The Goddess Pose:

The life of Indra Devi - Yoga asana is as much off the mat as on the mat

This article is not about Utkata Konasana, also called Devi Asana or the Goddess pose. Utkata means fierce or difficult. This article uses the life of Indra Devi (Eugenia Peterson), to illustrate that success in and benefits of Yoga, are fully realized by the effort put not just on the mat but equally off it too. The title is inspired by a book written by Michelle Goldberg on 'the audacious life of Indra Devi, the first woman who helped bring yoga to the west'.

This book is well written and is a worthwhile read for people who are interested in knowing about the dimensions of asana beyond the mat. The brief portion, where the middle aged Russian lady, meets and is (at first reluctantly) tutored by T. Krishnamacharya, is particularly interesting. Krishnamacharya, later, asked her to spread yoga to the west, after her tenacity and her desire to learn yoga won him over as a teacher.

A snapshot of two pages from the book on Indra Devi's encounter with T.Krishnamacharya and his tutelage is below.

She was terribly disappointed at first by his depressing conservatism, in refusing to take women, especially western women, as his students. She felt that it was at odds with the kind of unconventional and lofty wisdom she had expected to discover, such as the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas. Yet, she persisted and spoke directly to the Maharaja of the Mysore palace, where she was a guest, as the wife of an influential foreign diplomat. For all his intellect and brilliance, Krishnamacharya was a very difficult person with a "frightful personality" as described by B.K.S. Iyengar, his brother-in-law. His moods were unpredictable and could be harsh toward his students. All this made it even more difficult for her to learn from him, at first.

Unlike the wiry Pattabhi Jois and other students in their teens, Eugenia was already a middle aged woman when she started her training with T. Krishnamacharya. He knew this and gave her a set of asanas that are different from the dynamic 'exercises' he gave the wiry teens. Because Eugenia suffered from excess weight, anxiety, depression, horminal problems, bloating and digestion issues, he restricted her diet to avoid foods that caused more irritation. By that time Eugenia had already been a vegetarian for a long time and therefore this was not an issue. But cutting coffee and tea had been difficult on her.

She was totally disappointed by the regimen, hoping that she would be undergoing some kind of mystical and occult training (just the same way modern yoga seekers get disappointed) but all she got was, in her own words, "I was questioned about the movement of my bowels and the effect of diet and exercise on my system".

Whatever the mechanism of all these were, it did work on her. As the months passed, the benefits of her new lifestyle began to show on her. She lost weight, her bloating was gone, her digestion became better and her skin became radiant. She was able to do asanas she never even thought possible. She wrote, " I felt as light and carefree as a schoolgirl on a summer vacation".

Indra Devi, as Eugenia Peterson would change her name to, lived upto the age of 101 and performed great service by bringing yoga to the west, in a gentle form that benefited common women and hollywood stars alike.

The Goddess portrayed in Indian classical dance

Utkata Konasana or the Goddess Pose