First Iyengar Teacher Diana Clifton at 91

Once upon a time, 50 years ago, hatha yoga was not known much in India or the West. So it seems amazing that the first Iyengar-certified teacher was a 40-year old English woman, a housewife who was fed up of cooking and cleaning! Yet, it is not at all surprising that the first “certified teacher” was a Westerner. Certification was a new and alien concept in those days when hardly anyone practiced outside the ashram environment or the direct guidance of a guru. There were no “yoga teachers”, there were only gurus. I am impressed that  the first “certified teacher” was a woman.

We all arrive at yoga in our own ways, if we arrive at all. Other paths can be equally appealing. In this article, A Yogic Pensioner’s Progress, written by Daniel Simpson, 50 years ago Diana Clifton was an anxious and harassed mother of two in north London. She was fatigued and did not know why. She did not want to do housework. Does all this sound familiar? Well, Diana picked up a book, Forever Young, Forever Healthy, her teenage son had borrowed from the library. It seemed better to read the corny sounding book than do the washing.

The book, Forever Young, Forever Healthy, was written by Indra Devi who was Krishnamacharya’s first Western and first woman disciple. Indra Devi was born in 1899 in Latvia to a Swedish father and a Russian mother of nobility. Her guru Krishnamacharya was also B. K. S. Iyengar’s guru and brother-in-law. 

Diana did not see the yoga poses in Indra Devi’s book as “mumbo jumbo” as it was widely viewed at that time. The book started her yoga journey and transformed her life.  B. K. S. Iyengar’s famous, mercurial, temper did not deter her–the students at that time apparently joked that his initials stood for Bang, Kick, Slap.

At 91, Diana Clifton has made yoga work for her. Having outlived two husbands and a stroke, she is a fascinating person and her story is inspiring. Women, as shakti or divine energy, have played a crucial role in yoga!

Iyengar is 92.

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