When the woman who would become 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 everywhere, from Brooklyn to Berlin to Ulaanbaatar. In The Goddess Pose, New York Times best-selling author Michelle Goldberg traces the life of the incredible woman who brought yoga to the West and in so doing paints a sweeping picture of the twentieth century.
Born into the minor aristocracy (as Eugenia Peterson), Devi grew up in the midst of one of the most turbulent times in human history. Forced to flee the Russian Revolution as a teenager, she joined a famous Berlin cabaret troupe, dove into the vibrant prewar spiritualist movement, and, at a time when it was nearly unthinkable for a young European woman to travel alone, followed the charismatic Theosophical leader Jiddu Krishnamurti to India.
Once on the subcontinent, she performed in Indian silent cinema and hobnobbed with the leaders of the independence movement. But her greatest coup was convincing a recalcitrant master yogi to train her in the secrets of his art.
Devi would go on to share what she learned with people around the world, teaching in Shanghai during World War II, then in Hollywood, where her students included Gloria Swanson and Greta Garbo. She ran a yoga school in Mexico during the height of the counterculture, served as spiritual adviser to the colonel who tried to overthrow Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, and, in her eighties, moved to Buenos Aires at the invitation of a besotted rock star.
Everywhere she went, Indra Devi evangelized for yoga, ushering in a global craze that continues unabated. Written with vivid clarity, The Goddess Pose brings her remarkable story as an actress, yogi, and globetrotting adventuress to life.
An elegant and richly drawn biography. . . With a jeweller's eye for detail, Goldberg presents a singular woman. A quasi-feminist ahead of her time. . . . The Goddess Pose canters through landmark events from India's independence to the American invasion of Panama. . . There is much to enjoy in Goldberg's clear-eyed 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. — 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
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
The Goddess Pose, Michelle Goldberg's-yes, audacious-new biography of Indra Devi, is not just an investigation of one of the twentieth century's most fascinating and fearless iconoclasts, but a celebration of female freedom and everything it can bring: an appetite for adventure, fearlessness in the face of challenge, and, most important, discovery and assertion of self — Anna Holmes, founding editor, Jezebel
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-plus a deep respect for the iconic Devi's ruthless dedication, and a major dose of inspiration to get you on the way to your next blissed-out savasana. — Nylon (Summer Books Preview)
In The Goddess Pose, Michelle Goldberg brings Indra Devi, a complicated and incredible woman, to life in Technicolor brilliance, as she bops, Zelig-like, through some of the most important events of last century-from the Russian Revolution to the rise of Nazism, to the JFK assassination. I'll never think of yoga the same way again-and neither will you. Even if you've never uttered the word 'namaste,' you won't be able to put this book down — Susannah Cahalan , New York Times best-selling author of Brain on Fire
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 of this terrific book. The Goddess Pose is a surprising adventure from beginning to end — Rebecca Traister, author of Big Girls Don’t Cry
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. Michelle Goldberg gets us as close to unveiling the mysterious Indra Devi as anyone is likely to get. Brava! — Katha Pollitt, author of Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories
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 a age 102, but her story and influence live on in this can't-miss memoir. — Yoga Journal
Goldberg 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. . . . [Her] 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. — Kirkus Reviews
Investigative journalist Goldberg, by dint of ardent research, adept synthesis, and narrative pizzazz, tracks her chimerical subject around the world to chronicle Devi's intrepidly improvised, nomadic, and seemingly charmed life with awe and skepticism. . . . Throughout this whirlwind biography, Goldberg provides fresh and enlightening insights into the evolution of modern yoga while Devi, who lived to be 102, forever at the 'spinning center of thing,' shimmers provocatively in her 'almost supernatural' charisma, ambition, contrariness, and resilience — Booklist (starred)
Curious about the roots of yoga, journalist/author Goldberg 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 1899 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. . . . 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. — Publishers Weekly
[A] richly stuffed, gloriously digressive biography — Sunday Times
This book is about more than simply yoga or Devi; it is also a sweeping portrait of spiritualism in the 20th century. Who couldn't be entranced by the tale of a daughter in love with a mother who abandons her for acting, who takes on dozens of identities, and then starts an exercise revolution? — The Times
Inspirational and yet quite sceptical, it examines the spiritual tradition of yoga, which I love, but grounds it in the
reality of the questionable behaviour of many of the so called gurus who teach it.
— The Pool