Daily Archives: September 4, 2015

*** The Goddess Pose by Michelle Goldberg

The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West stars Eugenia Peterson (or perhaps Labunskaia, since she refused to use her father’s name), born in Riga at the end of the 19th century, through an amazing adventurous life that took her throughout Europe, including revolutionary Russia, to India, China, and the United States. She trained as an actress and her name, Indra Devi, was a pseudonym from a brief time spent as a film actress in Mumbai — but her real skill was to be able to connect with people, whether Indian gurus or American actresses.

Against the background of her amazing personal adventures, including multiple spouses and lovers (and I mean multiple spouses at the same time), the book tells the story of the creation of modern yoga, owning more, perhaps, to a Danish PE teacher than ancient Indian tradition, and its introduction in the West in general and the US in particular. An amazing story of a decidedly modern and fearless woman.



An elegant and richly drawn biography. . . . With a jeweler’s eye for detail, Goldberg presents a singular woman. A quasi feminist ahead of her time. . . . The Goddess Posecanters through landmark events from India’s independence to the American invasion of Panama. . . . There is much to enjoy in Goldberg’s cleareyed view of Devi’s life, and there is also a lesson: While (for some) yoga as a discipline may be infallible, the gurus who teach it never are.” —The New York Times Book Review

“[A] groundbreaking biography. . . . Goldberg’s impressive research is . . . far-reaching. . . . Her clear prose illuminates the forces of war and social change and reveals the complex roots of our country’s yoga boom. . . . The Goddess Pose builds to a thrilling conclusion, exposing the power struggles and sex scandals within Sai Baba’s inner circle, a tale reminiscent of recent bad behavior by other male gurus.” —San Francisco Chronicle

The story of how Devi came to embrace yoga and spread its gospel in America is as fascinating as it is unlikely. . . . A remarkably coherent, fascinating narrative. . . . Goldberg refuses to moralize—her goal in writing The Goddess Pose seems to have been not just chronicling the life of one of the world’s great iconoclasts, but also providing a history for how hatha yoga went from an Indian spiritual tradition to an everyday part of western lives. She succeeds admirably on both counts, writing with understanding and a healthy sense of skepticism.” —The Guardian

“Captures Devi’s Forrest Gump-like propensity to live parallel to some of the most important moments of the previous century. . . . Indra Devi died in 2002, just weeks shy of her 103rd birthday. ‘For much of her life,’ Goldberg writes, ‘Devi’s only goal had been to make yoga known to the West.’ Today, 20.4 million, or 9% of all American adults, have practiced yoga in their lifetime. She certainly succeeded.” —New York Post

“Goldberg’s book is lots of fun, running through the Russian Revolution, the Weimar Berlin nightlife, Indian independence, 1950s Hollywood and 1960s counterculture. . . . Even if you don’t care enough about yoga to hold a pigeon pose for the length of time it takes to say [the] title, Indra Devi, born Eugenia Peterson in 1899 in Riga, Latvia, remains no less a fascinating character: Constantly searching as she moves from Eastern Europe to India to Shanghai and the United States, she changes names, marries twice, acts and dances—finally making it big about halfway through her century-long life as a yoga teacher, author and lecturer.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Most stories of yoga’s journey to the United States have a male protagonist—but not this one. . . . The book tracks [Devi’s] fascinating path through multiple countries (China, Mexico, Argentina), two marriages, and Hollywood fame as a teacher to the stars. Devi lived fearlessly until her death in 2002 at age 102, but her story and influence live on in this can’t-miss memoir.” —Yoga Journal

“It’s hard to believe that the life of Indra Devi, the Zelig who helped turn yoga into the plaything of midcentury Hollywood, Noriega’s Panama, and the rest of the world, hasn’t been made into a blockbuster film, never mind a fascinating work of nonfiction. Without idolizing or condemning her, Goldberg evokes Devi’s complicated nature as deftly as she does the Russian Empire, Weimar Berlin, occupied Shanghai, and so many of the other places where Devi worked, loved, and proselytized before her life ended at 103, not long after the century she helped define.”

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