You may be surprised that women teach almost all yoga asana classes. Men traditionally practiced yoga for at least part of its history. Women were expected to be focused on their families. Historical evidence supports the claim that women have practiced yoga in certain circles for centuries, contrary to long-held myths.
According to popular yoga legend, yoga’s male leaders didn’t allow women to practice yoga until around 50 years ago. Historical evidence shows that Vedic tradition discouraged women from practicing yoga and did not allow them to be priests. It doesn’t mean that women couldn’t practice yoga, depending on your definition.
WOMEN IN YOGA – THE TANTRIC TRADITION
RameshBjonnes wrote “Women & Yoga: Dispelling A Myth” that women have been practicing yoga for thousands of years, at least in areas where Tantric Yoga was popular. Women have been practicing yoga for thousands of years if you view yoga as more than just postures. Instead, it includes chanting, ecstatic dancing, and meditation.
Take a look at this article by Bjonnes:
“The Bauls from Bengal are ecstatic singers and dancers who have traveled all over India since Middle Ages. Many of the Baul ecstatics were women, and many became gurus and yoginis, such as Ananda Mai Ma Ma, Arcanapuri Ma, and Laksmi Ma.
“The number and quality of female adepts in yoga may have been higher in India’s past when Tantra was more widespread. In his book The Yoga Tradition, Georg Feuerstein, a yoga scholar, writes:
“Allama Praphudeva, a tantric yogi of the Natha tradition, was contemporary with Basava (1120-1168 CE) and the head of an organization with three hundred realized practitioners. Sixty of them are believed to have been women.”
PIONEERING WOMEN INS YOGA
This is a tribute to three women who were pioneers in yoga and shared their love with the practice early on.
- Blanche Devries founded the first woman-owned yoga studio in the nation. Devries was her husband’s student, the famous (and controversial!) yoga teacher Pierre Bernard. She began teaching yoga in 1913. Her studio was opened in New York City in 1938. She was a teacher until 1982. Her influence on movie stars and teachers would continue to affect the practice.
- Indra Deva is the most famous of all the founders of modern yoga in the West. Indra Devi was born Eugenie Peterson in Latvia in 1899. She fell in love with India after she read several books about Eastern philosophy. After developing a heart problem, she moved to India. Krishnamacharya offered to teach her. He initially refused to teach her because she was a Westerner and a female. He eventually agreed to teach her and supported her in her desire to become a teacher. She opened a yoga studio in Hollywood, CA, in 1946. It attracted many stars in the film industry. Indra Devi died in 2002. Personal note: June Bains was my first yoga teacher and was a direct student under Indra Devi.
- Lilias Foulan Although she may not have been the original yogini, it is possible that she was one of the first to bring the benefits to the mainstream. Lilias, often called “The First Lady of Yoga,” taught yoga for nearly 30 years to viewers across the country. Lilias’s show, “Lilias, Yoga and You,” began in Cincinnati in 1970. It was broadcast on PBS until 1999, three years after its first broadcast. Lilias has since written three books, including The Popular Lilias! Yoga gets better with age.
WHERE CAN WE GO NOW?
These pioneering women introduced yoga to the West. Since then, more than 36.7 million yoga practitioners have been brought to this country by many wise and creative female teachers. Seventy-two percent of U.S. practitioners of yoga are women.
A senior Iyengar teacher and a friend from years ago remembered B.K.S. Iyengar expressed the belief that women are more intelligent than men. He said this because he believed women were more intelligent than men. “Because so much more women practice yoga!” It doesn’t matter what the reason is, and it’s inspiring to consider where today’s leading women in yoga are and those who will follow them.
Here are some articles that will interest you about women in yoga: