Latvian born Eugenie Peterson grew up in Russia and was a trained actress and dancer who was introduced to aspects of yoga through hearing Sanskrit chanting at a conference and reading instructional books in her teens. She travelled to India for 3 months in 1927 and returned from that trip knowing that it was to be her new home. She returned there under the stage name Indra Devi where she became a dancer and actress in Indian films.
Indra became a socialite and defied gender traditions by attending grand events and meeting extraordinary people including the Maharaja of India. After suffering from an illness which she could not find healing for, she approached Krishnamacharya whom she had been introduced many years earlier. She was refused by him due to being a woman and a Westerner, but Indra’s friend the Maharaja intervened and Krishnamacharya took her on – the first woman and Westerner to receive his teachings.
She later opened her own yoga school in China, with the support of Krishnamacharya, before returning to India to become the first Westerner to teach yoga in India. After her husband passed away, Indra moved to the US where she opened a yoga school in Hollywood and attracted attention from socialites and celebrities in her attempt to spread yoga in the West.
She is the author of several books and widely credited as being a pioneer in bringing yoga to the West along with other students of Krishnamacharya such as Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois. For her achievements she is often referred to as the ‘First Lady of Yoga’.
N.B This is just a short extract of the history of Indra Devi and by no means an exhaustive biography.