holistic health magazine






A Legacy of Yoga

Yoga Pioneer Magana Baptiste tells of the
beginnings of yoga in America

by Magana Baptiste

Holistic Health Newsletter!


About Share Guide

Holistic Health Articles

Health Directory

Health Store

Product Reviews



Contact us

for your

Holistic Business
Click Here

vitamins and supplements at Whole Health

Magana Baptiste has been a renowned yoga teacher for over 50 years. She was the wife of Walt Baptiste (1917-2001), one of the foremost authorities and teachers of yoga in the world and an international authority and leader of the Physical Fitness and Human Potential Movement. Magana was the founder and director of the first school of Middle Eastern Dance in San Francisco. She is currently the owner, artistic director and choreographer of the San Francisco Royal Academy of Belly Dance. Her children Sherri Baptiste Freeman, Devi Ananda, and Baron Baptiste are all well-known yoga teachers as well.

Back in 1955, my husband Walt and I opened the first comprehensive yoga center in the United States. It was located right in the heart of Union Square, in downtown San Francisco. We were really pioneers, as yoga wasn't known like it is today. People were cautious, wondering about this strange science from India. This was at least a decade before yoga started becoming popular with the Love Generation. There weren't any Indian stores or boutiques, and the clothing and music of India were not popular yet. There were no other yoga studios or teachers&emdash;it was like the Dark Ages! However, the word soon got around, and a few brave souls came up the stairs to look around our Center and to register for classes. Many said things like "Please don't let my husband or wife know I am doing this!"

The going was a little difficult at first. Classes were small, and we were only charging the great sum of $5 a month, which barely made ends meet. There was an attitude in those days that there should be no charge for yoga instruction. I might mention that over the years we sponsored several thousand students who couldn't afford classes or instruction. Walt and I were often called upon to do free yoga demonstrations and shows with my Dance Troupe of 15 East Indian dancers and musicians.

At that time I developed what I call Yoga Dance, which is a combination of classical yoga postures, spiritual movement, Hindu dance and mudras (spiritual gestures). I am still offering these classes today in my San Francisco Studio, as well as yoga classes with my daughter, Devi Ananda. Our Center generated great interest back in the 1950s. Our classes grew from 2 or 3 in a class to about 20 within the first year. Eventually I was teaching 22 classes a week! There were visiting spiritual and yoga masters starting to come to America, and we were happy to present them in the auditorium of our 2-story Yoga Center.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi came to America for the first time, and we presented him in a series of lectures and initiations. Swami Vishnu-Devananda, yoga master and founder of the Sivananda Centers and Retreats worldwide, was another yoga pioneer who first came to our center for support. Prior to the opening of our Center in 1955, we had already been teaching yoga asanas, pranayama, concentration and meditation principles. This had always been the foundation of our system. Walt had already been expounding these truths since he opened his first Center at the young age of 17. He was introduced to these techniques by his Uncle Joseph Baptiste, who was a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda and instrumental in sponsoring Yogananda when he came to America back in the 1920s.

When I married Walt in 1944, he had the only studio in California of physical culture using weight resistance. The only other one was Jack LaLanne's studio in Oakland. The Great Saint and Spiritual Master, Sant Kirpal Singh Ji Maharaj, came to our Center the first year of our opening and blessed it with his discourses and initiations. Walt and I and my daughters Sherri and Devi were initiated into his teachings of Surat Shabda Yoga and commissioned to carry on with his teachings.

In the late 1940's, Sri Deva Ram Sukul, president and director of the Yoga Institute of America came into our lives and was a major influence. He later came to our studio, asking for our support in announcing his lectures to our students. His subject was the Raja Yoga System of Self Culture. We were initiated into his teachings, and the mantra we were given by him was the "Gayatri." This is the very sacred Vedic Mantra which is full of the secrets of yoga. Sri Deva Ram Sukul taught that the highest goal of life is spiritual realization and conscious communion with the forces and powers that are Divine. This conscious communion and awareness of Divinity is what yoga is all about. In his teaching he used color meditation on the chakras, and shabda or sound principles.

Throughout the 1960's, we were a center for the "Flower Children" or hippies. They were very beautiful souls seeking the Divine. They loved our work: the yoga classes, my dance activities and the nutritional and health principles. (We also gave classes in the famous Haight-Ashbury district.) We presented many performances with our concert troupe, performing on the same programs with Santana, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, and Timothy Leary. Madame Indra Devi, the first lady of yoga, frequently came to our Center. It was there that she introduced a film of Sai Baba for the first time in America.

In 1975, we established a beautiful oceanside retreat in El Salvador. We took groups 2&endash;3 times a year to practice daily yoga and meditation. There were also dance classes, spiritual hikes and more. We built a Mayan Meditation Pyramid, encrusted with crystals and holy rocks. Everyone experienced transformations on all levels.

Yoga changed my life. I went from a very chubby, weak young woman, to a strong and centered person. My whole figure and personality changed. In those days we were thought of as fanatics because our ideas were so far from the mainstream. It was thought that women should not use weights, as they would become too muscular. (I do not advocate the muscular giants that some women are training to be these days.) Using the Baptiste System of exercise, breath control, and visualization techniques, I became first runner-up in the MISS USA Competition held in Los Angeles in 1951. It's been my karma in this life to be a pioneer, an initiator, a catalyst for introducing and popularizing esoteric, transformational forms of movement for body-mind-spirit.

The work of Walt and myself is being carried on with our children: Sherri Baptiste Freeman, who is very active in Marin with her own yoga center; Devi Ananda, who is internationally recognized as a teacher of dance and hatha yoga; and Baron Baptiste, author of the bestselling yoga book Journey Into Power, and founder of the Baptiste Power Institutes in Boston, Cambridge and Philadelphia.

Magana Baptiste is the author of Breath Is Life, and a new book on yoga to be released soon. For more information, please call (415) 387-6833 or visit


FREE! If you liked this article, you'll love The Share Guide's
Holistic Health Newsletter. Subscribe for free!

Home Health Directory Articles Index Interviews

Shop Links About Share Guide Contact us

About Share Guide


Health Directory




Contact us


Avertising Info
Subscribe to magazine

Search this site

copyright 2004--The Share Guide--All rights reserved