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The Goddess Pose
Cover of The Goddess Pose
The Goddess Pose
The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West
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New York Times best-selling author Michelle Goldberg tells the globetrotting story of the incredible woman who brought yoga to the West.
When Indra Devi was born in Russia in 1899, yoga was virtually unknown outside of India. By the time of her death, in 2002, it was being practiced around the world. Here Michelle Goldberg tells the globetrotting story of the incredible woman who helped usher in a craze that continues unabated to this day. A sweeping picture of the twentieth century that travels from the cabarets of Berlin to the Mysore Palace to Golden Age Hollywood and beyond, The Goddess Pose brings the Devi's little known but extraordinary adventures vividly to life.
New York Times best-selling author Michelle Goldberg tells the globetrotting story of the incredible woman who brought yoga to the West.
When Indra Devi was born in Russia in 1899, yoga was virtually unknown outside of India. By the time of her death, in 2002, it was being practiced around the world. Here Michelle Goldberg tells the globetrotting story of the incredible woman who helped usher in a craze that continues unabated to this day. A sweeping picture of the twentieth century that travels from the cabarets of Berlin to the Mysore Palace to Golden Age Hollywood and beyond, The Goddess Pose brings the Devi's little known but extraordinary adventures vividly to life.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book INTRODUCTION

    I NEVER WOULD have started doing yoga if there had been aerobics in the Himalayas, but I was desperate.

    The few times I'd taken yoga classes in college, my failed attempts to relax redoubled my anxiety. Each pose was a reminder of the lifelong inflexibility that had often mortified me. When I was a little girl, a sadistic ballet teacher barred me from a holiday party because of my terrible splits. In elementary school, I dreaded being forced to sit "Indian style," because it left my hips and back screaming. Later, trying yoga, my awkward efforts to keep my legs and back straight while touching my toes and my inability to do even a half lotus only left me tense and humiliated, convinced that the practice was best for those who were already calm, willowy, and graceful.

    Besides, while I'd been captivated by India's kaleidoscopic religious richness during months of traveling, I was wary of anyone purporting to peddle enlightenment to credulous Westerners. On my first trip to the country, a short backpacking sojourn in the late 1990s, I'd read and loved Gita Mehta's Karma Cola, a wry Indian look at the Western spiritual tourists who flock to the subcontinent, and the enterprising Indian sages who've risen to meet the demand. "As our home industry expands on every front, at last it is our turn to mass market," she writes. The hippie spiritual scene interested me as a journalistic subject, but I certainly didn't want to participate in it. I wasn't sure if I could even chant "Om" with a straight face.

    Yet, I needed exercise. Living in McLeod Ganj, a mountain village just outside the city of Dharamsala, where the Tibetan exile movement was headquartered, I was sick of hiking. My husband and I—we'd eloped the previous year, when I was twenty-four and he was twenty-eight—were about six months into what would be a year-long trip through Asia. Prior to our departure, he'd worked at an Internet start-up. When he cashed out his stock options before they bottomed out in the crash of the late 1990s, we became Internet thousandaires, with a sum in the low five figures that seemed, at the time, to be a fortune. Both of us loved to travel. Putting all our stuff in storage, we flew to Ho Chi Minh City.

    After three months bumming around Southeast Asia, we went from Singapore to the tip of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, then west to the relatively idyllic state of Kerala, where, while lying on a beach, we were approached by movie producers looking for extras for an Indian musical. They were shooting a scene in an ashram, and since no Indian ashram is complete without a handful of flaky Westerners, they asked for our help. Delighted, we agreed. On set, we met a thirty-two-year-old Argentine devotee of the real-life guru Sai Baba, about whom I'd long been curious. His followers believe he's God, and I'd seen his face, beaming beneath his surprising Afro, on stickers and trinkets for sale all over the country. A former medical student, the Argentine had given up her studies and her Buenos Aires apartment after dreaming that Sai Baba summoned her to India.

    Later, as we snaked our way north, we visited her at Sai Baba's enormous Prasanthi Nilayam ashram, in a barren corner of Andhra Pradesh, one of India's poorest states. The ashram boasted a shiny planetarium, two hospitals that treated patients for free, a college, a music school, and a brand-new airport for wealthier devotees with private planes. Around the edges, luxury apartment buildings were replacing mud huts. Rather than requesting two of the ashram's ten thousand beds, we checked into a nearby hotel. Every afternoon, a loudspeaker piped in music...
About the Author-
  • Michelle Goldberg is a journalist and the author of the New York Times best seller Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, which was a finalist for the New York Public Library's Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award and the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize. A senior contributing writer at The Nation, she has also written pieces for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Newsweek, The New Republic, Glamour, and many other publications. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and children.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 27, 2015
    Curious about the roots of yoga, journalist/author Goldberg (Kingdom Coming) began digging for clues to the connections between the yoga of India and its Americanized version. She came across the obituary of 102-year-old Indra Devi (née Eugenia Peterson), often called the First Lady of Yoga. This fascinating biography delves deeply into Devi’s life (she was born in Latvia in l899 to a family of Russian aristocrats) while chronicling a wider history: Devi, a Zelig-like figure who was a student of the legendary sage Krishnamacharya, seemed to show up wherever the action was. Her life story, which touches three centuries (she died in 2002), goes from the Russian Revolution, Weimar Berlin, the Indian independence movement, and Japanese-occupied Shanghai to Hollywood, Vietnam, Mexico, Argentina, and Panama, where she was spiritual advisor to Noriega’s second-in-command. Goldberg painstakingly renders the details of Devi’s kaleidoscopic journey and also explores the underpinnings of her outlook, including a yogic disavowal of attachment, a yearning for freedom, and an unflagging (but not saccharine) sense of trust and positivity. Devi taught yoga well into her 90s. Though the text will be of particular interest to practitioners and teachers of yoga, this sparkling tale of a remarkable trailblazer should enlighten and inspire every reader.

  • Kirkus

    April 15, 2015
    Investigative journalist Goldberg (The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, 2009, etc.) fluidly explores the extraordinary life of Indra Devi (1899-2002), the woman who helped transform the ancient Indian discipline of yoga into a worldwide phenomenon. Born Eugenia Peterson to a noble family in Riga, Latvia, Devi's early life was marked by instability and separations from family members. Her father vanished after divorcing Devi's mother, who pursued a peripatetic life as an actress. After graduating from school in 1916, Devi followed her mother from Moscow to Berlin, where both immersed themselves in cabaret culture. In 1926, Devi had a life-changing encounter with Jiddu Krishnamurti, who introduced her to the Indian-inflected spirituality known as theosophy. She traveled to India, a place that so beguiled her with its "constant sense of transcendence" that she found she could no longer live comfortably in the West. She returned to India, where she continued her involvement in esoteric spirituality and began serious study of yoga, then an all-male practice. Yet she was able to charm some of the discipline's leading exponents, including Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, into teaching her. Just before the outbreak of World War II, she moved to Shanghai with her diplomat husband, where she began teaching yoga and going by the name Indira (later changed to Indra) Devi. By 1947, she had found her way to California. There, she gravitated into the orbit of cultural luminary Aldous Huxley, taught yoga in Hollywood, and, after a divorce, married a homeopathic physician named Siegfried Knauer. Devi opened a yoga school in Mexico and became close to the Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba. Eventually, she moved to Buenos Aires, where she continued her work as a yoga teacher and lecturer. Goldberg's book, which uses material she uncovered about Devi on four continents, is not only thoroughly researched; it also offers insights into a magnificently elusive figure, the culture she loved, and the yogic practice she bequeathed to the West. Fascinating reading about an intriguing woman.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from April 15, 2015

    Inspired by her interest in yoga, journalist and author Goldberg (The Means of Reproduction) gives us a highly readable biography of the so-called "first lady of yoga," an eccentric personality who has also been called a female Forrest Gump because of the wide-ranging nature of her experiences. Born Eugenia Peterson in czarist Russia, the self-proclaimed Indra Devi (1899-2002) reinvented herself many times over as she traveled throughout Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the United States over the course of her century-long life. Fascinated with spiritualism and the occult from an early age, the rebellious and nomadic Devi journeyed to India to learn the secrets of yoga and brought her craft to southern California in the post-World War II years just as New Age culture was emerging. A tutor to Gloria Swanson, Jennifer Jones, and Greta Garbo among others, Devi became internationally renown as the global interest in yoga exploded in the 1990s. This painstakingly researched book is more than mere biography, however. It helps readers to understand where yoga, as we practice it in the West came from, and how it differs from its roots. VERDICT Highly recommended for general readers and cultural historians alike. This fascinating and groundbreaking book should be enthusiastically received by a wide audience. [See Prepub Alert, 11/17/14.]--Marie M. Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • The New York Times Book Review "Elegant and richly drawn. . . . With a jeweler's eye for detail, Goldberg presents a singular woman."
  • San Francisco Chronicle "Groundbreaking. . . . [Goldberg's] clear prose illuminates the forces of war and social change and reveals the complex roots of our country's yoga boom."
  • Yoga Journal "Fascinating. . . . [Devi's] story and influence live on in this can't-miss memoir."
  • New York Magazine "It's hard to believe that the life of Indra Devi . . . hasn't been made into a blockbuster film. . . . 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."
  • Los Angeles Times "Goldberg's book is lots of fun. . . . 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 . . . remains no less a fascinating character."
  • The Times of India "Engaging. . . offers fresh insights into commonly held assumptions, including the relatively new origins of many physical asanas. . . . Goldberg's own discovery of yoga and Indra Devi forms a riveting prologue to an expansive book that underlines how truly global yoga has become after it was taken from Indian shores more than a century ago."
  • The Guardian "The story of how Devi came to embrace yoga and spread its gospel in America is as fascinating as it is unlikely. . . . [Goldberg's] 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."
  • Rebecca Traister, author of Big Girls Don't Cry "Michelle Goldberg's masterful engagement with her astonishing subject--and with the diverse political, spiritual, and physical worlds she inhabited--is evident on every page."
  • Nylon "Goldberg's account of Devi takes the reader through three chronicled, influential centuries of the yogi, actress, and fearless voyager's life which will leave you with a better understanding of how westernized Yoga differs from its roots . . . and a major dose of inspiration to get you on the way to your next blissed-out savasana."
  • New York Post "[The Goddess Pose] captures Devi's Forrest Gump–like propensity to live parallel to some of the most important moments of the previous century."
  • The Globe and Mail (Toronto) "[Goldberg] expertly assembles the puzzle pieces of Devi's life, pausing to provide context for the growing influence of spiritualism on modern American life."
  • Katha Pollitt, author of Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories "Whether you're a student of yoga, a history buff, an armchair adventurer, or just a reader in search of an unputdownable story that happens to be true, you'll love this fascinating biography of one of the twentieth century's boldest, most influential women."
  • Susannah Cahalan, New York Times best-selling author of Brain on Fire "Goldberg brings Indra Devi, a complicated and incredible woman, to life in Technicolor brilliance. . . . I'll never think of yoga the same way again--and neither will you."
  • BookPage "Terrific. . . . An irresistible story of yoga's unlikely and, yes, even audacious origins."
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The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West
Michelle Goldberg
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