Student Reflections: Women in Yoga

Written by Jessica Charlton (teacher trainee 2018)

Meet Jess:

Jess is a current yoga teacher trainee, who is in the final term of her 500 hours of training. 

She is a mother of two teenage children who embarked on her yoga teacher training with the a particular interest in yoga for carers and using the tools of yoga to support all aspects of life. Having danced, Jess naturally loves all the asana poses but she has found particular interest in discovering the mental benefits. Now she REALLY just wants share her skills and knowledge to help people.

“Yoga has help me navigate through the complexities and challenges of everyday life.” Jess C

Here we share Jess’s History of Yoga assignment ‘Women in Yoga.’

Women in yoga. Krishnamacharya paves the way

Krishnamacharya gave his support and offered opportunities to women interested in the study and practice of yoga. “I’m happy to fight” said Krishnamacharya over women undertaking studies of yoga. “In difficult times rules have to be modified because in difficult times every rule has an exception” Sri T. Krishnamacharya.

When Krishnamacharya first was introduced to Indra Devi in 1937, he declined when she asked to be a student due to her being a westerner and a woman. Yoga was a practice for males and women were not taught or involved in yoga or vedic chants. Devi being persistent and a personal friend of the Prince of Mysore, became Krishnamacharya’s student in 1937 after the prince strongly encouraged Krishnamacharya to take Devi on as a student.

Krishnamacharya made life very difficult for Devi and expected her to keep up with the male routine, hoping she wouldn’t cope and leave. He implemented a very strict routine for Devi involving strong discipline, long hours of practice and dietary restrictions with only certain foods being allowed. Devi met every challenge and Krishnamacharya realised that she was there to stay; she was his student for a year.  After completing a year of study under Krishnamacharya, Devi was encouraged to teach yoga and spread the ancient discipline. This is exactly what Devi achieved spreading yoga to the western world. I find Krishnamacharya’s openness and adaptability to teaching women and changing his firm beliefs on this progressive.

Krishnamachary’s son T.K.V. Desikachar describes how Krishnamacharya’s  rules about women changed and was quoted as saying at the age of ninety eight “I think if we do not – encourage women, the great Indian tradition will die because most of the Brahman’s are not following the vedic rules and regulations and are all becoming  business people.”Krishnamacharya was also the first to teach women vedic chanting and Mala Srivatsan was one of his first female students performing vedic chants. What a legacy Krishnamacharya has left and even though he never travelled to the west he achieved the gift of sharing the yoga discipline with the world through his students and his teachings.

Devi initially went to China where she earnt the name “Mataji” meaning mother. Then moving to America, she taught some very famous people developing a following in yoga. Devi reached many people even, eventually legalising yoga in Russia, traveling there in 1960 to convince the Russian Government that yoga is not a religion. Devi was the first westerner to teach yoga in India and has written many books.  Devi travelled to many countries and lived in Mexico for many years giving training courses in yoga; she finally settled in Argentina and spent the rest of her life there. Passing away at age 102 on April the 24th2002. Devi managed to break all the cultural boundaries and spread the message of yoga. The training she received from Krishnamacharya of the ancient discipline of yoga was a gift that was so beneficial to the western world.

T.K.V. Desikachar when asked about his father and how he actually did much to encourage yoga for woman agrees. He advised that his mother Namagiriamma practiced regularly but was not actually taught and Krishnamacharya was never seen teaching his mother. His mother however, was able to correct her children’s postures and had learned the texts even though she didn’t have a high level of education, Namagiriamma’s sister also practiced yoga and accompanied Krishnamacharya on his tours and lectures. The whole family did yoga including his sisters who also assisted in class. T.K.V. Desikachar explains that one of his sisters is a yoga teacher as is T.K.V. Desikachar’s wife.

Devi became a female pioneer in yoga but also was instrumental in educating the western civilization in the ancient discipline. Devi, a natural communicator, spread the yoga discipline to the western world. Krishnamacharya believed that yoga can transform society as a whole; although quite orthodox in the beginning surrounding the teaching of yoga to women and westerners, his opinions changed.

There are many benefits that yoga can bring to one’s life, and it has certainly benefited me. I have been encouraged enough to want to be a yoga teacher, to really understand the discipline of yoga and be able to assist others on their journey. I’m grateful for the steps that others have taken before me to inspire me to follow this path. I believe it is important to highlight the decisions that Krishnamacharya made to expand the learning of the art of yoga to women and westerners. He was absolutely progressive and although people at first may make judgments at his initial refusal to take on Indra Devi as a student, he remained true to the vedic texts. Krishnamacharya changed his opinion to adapt to an evolving world. In 1937 yoga was new to the western culture and he supported and wanted the western culture to benefit from these practices. Krishnamacharya paved the way for the practice of yoga to not be lost and to expand the discipline beyond India. T.K.V. Desikachar mentions that his father’s greatest transformation was the transition to the support of women in yoga and had a belief that women and children are the future. As a result of this transformation my aunt became a personal pupil of T.K.V. Desikachar in 1974 and I am able to undertake my studies as a yoga student.

Thanks fort sharing Jess ❤

What does Michael de Manincor have to say? 

“Yoga has always evolved in ways that resinate with different who have different needs throughout history. This evolution has always maintained the connection with it’s roots in the authentic teachings. The challenge is for us to do the best we can to allow the authenticity of these profound teachings to remain in the modern evolution of yoga, and the role of women is very important to ensure this. ” Michael de Manincor

How can we support you? Join our next yoga teacher training information session or webinar with Michael de Manincor: MORE INFORMATION AND BOOK MY PLACE 

Copyright The Yoga Institute 2020

Built by IRONIC3D in Sydney