In Indian history, the gurus, swamis, masters and even practitioners of yogic disciplines were usually male. But Indian women in yoga have also played an important role in its propagation, and they have done so with grace, humility, dignity and integrity.
The five women below demonstrate that Yoga is a lot more than physical postures. They uphold those traditional elements that have fallen by the wayside in modern times and may have been lost in translation as Yoga spread around the world. Pranayama, karma, devotion, Ayurveda and the study of spiritual texts are some of the things that they continue to preserve and promulgate.
In a significant era of human evolution and female empowerment, it’s not only a pleasure, but a necessity to recognize and appreciate their unparalleled contributions to this ancient science of life.
“I never stopped practicing yoga at any point in my life. That’s the secret of my health.”
This flexible granny is the 2nd oldest yoga teacher in the world. She was born and raised in the south of India and has been a yogi since the age of eight. Now, at almost 100 years old, she continues to practice asanas in a cotton sari on a simple rug and still teaches at her school in Coimbatore.
Nanammal strictly adheres to the traditional form of yoga. For instance, she performs a maximum of 12 Sun Salutations; whereas modern classes would continue until you drop. She incorporates pranayama techniques which are all but lost in the West. And she believes that if you’re working up a sweat, you’re doing it wrong. After all, yoga is meant to be blissful.
Having received multiple awards for her remarkable achievements, she is currently focused on spreading awareness of proper health among the women in her community.
Don’t miss: The BBC’s article on Nanammal.
Ananta Ripa Ajmera
“Cultivate the garden of your mind. Cutting that which does not serve you makes room for something positive to grow in its place.”
Ananta Ripa Ajmera is an Ayurvedic Health Practitioner and Lecturer, a Teacher of Yoga and the author of the best-selling book, ‘The Ayurveda Way: 108 Practices from the World’s Oldest Healing System for Better Sleep, Less Stress, Optimal Digestion, and More.’
Actually, Ananta is American. But she is of Indian origin and descends from a long line of Ayurvedic healers in India. She received her yoga teacher’s certification from the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala and her Ayurvedic qualifications under the tutelage of Acharya Shunya. As Ayurveda is one of the sister sciences of Yoga, Ananta perfectly incorporates this Vedic system of natural healing with authentic yogic disciplines.
Don’t miss: Ananta’s superbly designed website.
“Don’t be discouraged by your incapacity to dispel darkness from the world. Light your little candle and step forward.”
Affectionately known as The Hugging Saint or Amma, this woman with a huge heart is one of the most cherished karma yogis of our time. Born in southern India to a family of conservative fisherman, Amma witnessed a lot of poverty, suffering and sadness in her community from a very tender age. Yet, she had always felt that it was her duty to show compassion, comfort and warmth to those experiencing pain. To her, everyone was equal and deserving of love, no matter what religion, history, caste or gender.
Amma has been extensively involved in activism, humanitarian efforts and charitable activities throughout her extraordinary life. In addition to karmic action, she is also a practitioner of meditation, Jnana Yoga (the yoga of knowledge) and Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotion). But her most famous act is healing people all over the world with the power of her hugs.
Don’t miss: Amma’s must-read blog on Speaking Tree.
“It is the yoga practice that to me, really helps me to be able to move every day. It is my prayer. It’s how I express devotion to God; it’s how I express devotion to myself. It’s how I feel alive. It has given me wings.”
After she suffered a rock-climbing accident, Deepika Mehta was told that she would never be mobile again. But she unfailingly sought a cure through meditation and breathing exercises, and eventually healed herself. Thus began her dedication to the practice and propagation of yoga.
As a teacher, Deepika started her journey at the Sivananda Ashram in India and then went on to find her niche as a Level 2 Ashtanga Yoga Instructor. Today, she teaches several well-known celebrities and conducts yoga courses around the world. Her mesmerizing presence on social media and television continues to inspire our generation towards optimal health and vitality. And what’s best is that she stays true to who she is.
Don’t miss: Deepika’s inspirational Instagram account.
Dr. Hansa Yogendra
“In Yoga, old age is defined by thoughts and not numbers. Old age starts from where the learning stops.”
Dr. Yogendra is not only a yogi, but an epitome of achievement. She is a charismatic speaker, a celebrated author, a well-known television personality, a respected educator and a sharp businesswoman. With prestigious positions in the Indian yoga community, an impressive degree in law, contributions to medical research and several accolades under her belt, she was also the only female yoga teacher to lead the record-breaking event at Delhi’s Rajpath on the first ever International Yoga Day.
As the director of The Yoga Institute in Mumbai, Dr. Yogendra is known for her compassionate personality and radiant aura. She has even taken it upon herself to educate women on how yoga can have a positive impact on their health and their lives. It’s no wonder that she was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award for being an ambassador of yoga, peace and harmony.
Don’t miss: The Yoga Institute’s YouTube channel.
Are there any other Indian women in yoga you would like to recognize? Leave your comments below!