In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s talk about some of the most influential women in the yoga world!
From Indra Devi - the first female yoga teacher, to powerful teachers like Kino MacGregor and Jessamyn Stanley who’ve used their platforms to change the way the world sees yoga. These women have taken a practice that was originally created for men and bravely created lasting changes to the yoga landscape.
Women in Yoga You Should Know About
Indra Devi, nicknamed “the first lady of yoga”, was the first woman to ever study or teach yoga. Devi was born as Eugenie Peterson in Latvia. In her twenties, she traveled to India and became a film star.
Although at first her requests to study yoga were denied - not only because she was a woman, but also because she was a Westerner - she eventually studied yoga with T.Krishnamacharya. Devi practiced alongside other influential yogis such as K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar.
Devi went on to spread the practice of yoga all over the world. She taught the first ever yoga classes in China, brought yoga to stars in Hollywood, and even spread yoga throughout Latin America. In 1961 she opened the Indra Devi Foundation in Mexico, and later moved to Argentina.
Everywhere she traveled, Indra Devi spread the practice of yoga, bringing about a global phenomenon that persists to this day.
"It becomes necessary to learn how to clear the mind of all clouds, to free it of all useless ballast and debris by dismissing the burden of too much concern with material things." ~ Indra Devi
Lilias Folan, nicknamed “the Julia Child of yoga” by Time Magazine, brought yoga out of the fringes and into the mainstream with her television show Lilias! Yoga, and You. Her show aired nationally from 1972-1999 - that’s 30 years of sharing yoga and influencing the masses towards better health and wellness.
Folan inspired both students and teachers of yoga throughout the US, Canada, and Europe through her books, classes, television series, and speaking engagements.
Her style of teaching made viewers feel as though they knew her personally - like she was a friend. Her guidance was clear and instructions were detailed enough for anyone to follow from home. She made safety and accessibility her number 1 priority. “I have made 500 televised yoga classes, and I don’t think I’ve ever received a letter that said, ‘I have been injured from watching your television show.”
“What the mind has forgotten, the body remembers long after.” ~ Lilias Folan
Geeta Iyengar made a name for herself by following her father, B.K.S. Iyengar’s footsteps. The eldest daughter of B.K.S. Iyengar began her teaching journey at a time where women were still discouraged from practicing yoga. At the age of 15, she began subbing for him while he was away and eventually ran the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India.
Iyengar’s childhood looked much like her father’s. She endured a range of illnesses from milder stomachaches to typhoid and diphtheria. At only ten years old, after being diagnosed with nephritis - which she eventually lost all but half a kidney to - her father urged her to put down the medicines and start practicing yoga.
Iyengar made it her mission to help women practice yoga safely through all stages and cycles. She adjusted poses, sequences, and breathwork to better suit women during menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause. She published her first book Yoga: A Gem For Women in 1983, and her second book Motherhood: Safe Practice for Expectant and New Mothers in 2010.
Her fierce teaching style and dedication to sharing yoga has empowered women for decades.
"Gaining maturity in yoga practice involves learning to respect the paths that other people are on and acknowledging their merits, maybe even acknowledging that your own path is lacking in some area where another one excels." ~ Geeta Iyengar
Ana Forrest, founder of Forrest Yoga and author of Fierce Medicine, truly walked the path from dark to light. After a tumultuous childhood filled with trauma, abuse, addiction, and eating disorders which she describes in her powerful book Fierce Medicine, she found yoga at the age of 14. She says “Yoga saved my life.”
Forrest went on to study Native American healing techniques and medicine. Forrest Yoga utilizes the power of breath, strength, integrity, and Spirit in order to heal both mind and body. She has helped people across the world heal from trauma and learn to live in alignment with their truth.
Her teaching style includes long pose holds, core work, and chanting. She teaches to hunt down your fear, learn from it, and stop allowing it to define you. Her life story is truly inspirational and her book is one to reread year after year throughout your yoga journey.
“When you shift your perception of life from victim mode—Everything bad happens to me—or judging mode—This is great, this sucks—and shift to a curiosity and a desire to more fully discern the truth, then you are walking with Beauty.” ~ Ana Forrest
Rachel Brathen, known as Yoga Girl on Instagram and host of the podcast Conversations from the Heart, has been named one of the most important social media influencers by Forbes.
Brathen was born in Sweden, moved to Costa Rica where she became a yoga teacher, and eventually moved to Aruba where she now lives and runs the yoga studio Island Yoga with her husband.
Brathen began sharing her yoga practice on social media in the early stages of Instagram. She gained popularity quickly and soon became a well-known figure in the yoga world, selling out classes, retreats, and yoga teacher trainings all over the world.
Her first book Yoga Girl, which became a New York Times best-seller, chronicles her life from her rebellious teenage years to finding yoga.
She’s also known for giving back to the community through her non-profit organizations The Yoga Girl Foundation which gives back to women and children in need, and Sgt. Pepper’s Friends which is an animal rescue foundation in Aruba.
“Gather the scattered fragments of your broken heart. Pick them up off the floor and weave them into the tapestry of your life so that when you find the light again-and you will- you'll remember that love can only be lost because it was once found. You are healing and you are growing and everything you are is good enough.” ~ Rachel Brathen
Kino MacGregor, a Miami based Ashtanga Yoga teacher, author, and entrepreneur, is known on Instagram as Kino Yoga. She began practicing yoga at the age of 19 and became one of the youngest people to receive the certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by K. Pattabhi Jois at the age of 29.
She opened Miami Life Center, an Ashtanga Yoga studio in 2006. She created Miami Yoga Magazine in 2012, and OmStars, an online yoga platform, in 2017.
While MacGregor is known for her strength and dedication to the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, her teaching style offers a playful approach that inspires her students. When she’s not teaching in Miami, she travels the world offering classes, retreats, and teacher trainings everywhere she goes. Her message of spiritual strength reaches her over a million followers on Instagram, and other social media platforms.
“When you unroll your yoga mat and commit to the total journey of yoga, you unlock the mind’s power to transform physical substance with the power of spirit.” ~Kino MacGregor
Jessamyn Stanley has been featured in publications such as Time Magazine, Self, Forbes, CNN, The New York Times, Shape, Allure, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Yoga Journal, Vogue, and BET just to name a few.
The body positivity advocate gained popularity as a plus-sized woman of color through her Instagram account. She has gone on to write two books including Every Body Yoga, published in 2017.
Her work has changed the perception of what a yogi “should” look like through her body affirming attitude and focus on inclusivity.
Stanley’s teaching style not only affirms that strength comes in all shapes and sizes, but inspires many through her playful and approachable classes. She not only teaches yoga, but also helps students overcome the emotional obstacles that stop a person from feeling like they can do yoga.
“Meditation looks more peaceful than it feels.... You're supposed to have thoughts, and they're chaotic by nature. The point is to accept your chaos. When you accept your chaos, it gets a lot easier to put shit in order.” ~ Jessamyn Stanley