India Supera Traveled the World to Find a Guru and Founded Feathered Pipe Ranch
For 44 years, India Supera floated around the property at the Feathered Pipe Ranch, welcoming new guests like old family, sharing meals on the lawn, and stories in front of the stone fireplace. Stories that included tales of her travels in the 1960s and the extraordinary circumstances that led to her vision for America’s first healing center of its kind.
The 2019 season, however, was different. She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and given two weeks to two months to live. Leaving her in full preparation mode for the ultimate adventure into the unknown—the transition of her body and transcendence of her soul.
“I see things differently now that I feel like I’m in my final act,” Supera says. “No matter how much you’ve studied, nobody knows what’s on the other side. Now the decades of mindfulness and meditation practice can come together to help me consciously leave my body without resistance.”
In the wake of the news, she’d asked me to visit, to listen as she reconciled the magic and mystery of her life, and ponder what’s next in the presence of an eager ear. With 40 years between us, there was so much to ask, to learn, to preserve from the woman I considered a teacher, an elder, a grandmother. I sensed my own attachments to our relationship taking hold. Desperate to keep her here, yet her steady surrender to what is continually guided me back to presence.
I walked quietly into the bedroom where she rested and slid horizontally across the foot of the bed, her two cats dutifully standing guard but willing to share the space with my warm body. After some shuffling for the four of us to find comfort, we began, as all good stories do, somewhere near the beginning.
Dropping out without Dropping In
Born in Orange County, California, to an artist father and a private detective mother, India Supera became serious about her spiritual path early in life, recalling her first out-of-body experience when she was just seven years old. “I’d tell my mom I was having a conference with my grandmother’s spirit, and she’d just tell me to come to bed whenever I was finished,” Supera says. “My parents never tried to interfere, which only strengthened my psychic abilities.”
Not surprising for a girl who’d rather contemplate alternate dimensions than go to the high school sock hop, Supera felt unmet by her peers. She knew there was more to life than what you could learn in a classroom—and she set out to find it. When she was 16, she ran away to Mexico, where she met John Lily and Timothy Leary, and they bonded over mystical and psychedelic experiences despite the 15 year age gap. “They used to say that I ‘dropped out [of the matrix] without ever having to drop in,’ because I was so young,” Supera recalls with a laugh.
As her appetite for enlightenment grew, her travel focus narrowed. The plan? “Go to India and find my guru.”
The Decade of Adventure
What followed was a decade of adventure: The Summer of Love in San Francisco. Hitchhiking across America. Flying Icelandic Air to Europe and traveling overland through Italy, France, Greece, and Turkey. Supera caught rides through Afghanistan. She contracted an almost fatal illness in Pakistan and was adopted and nursed back to health by the royal family. She was saved from the rushing waters of the Ganges by a group of sadhus then shaved her head, concealed her identity and became a wandering sadhu herself. She slept in Hindu temples, threw her passport into the river and renounced all belongings except for her toothbrush. She met friends along the way, and journeyed on her own when necessary.
Finding the Guru
Finally, she found her guru, Sathya Sai Baba, in Puttaparthi, India, where she lived for several years, learning Ayurvedic cooking, nursing, astrology, yoga, chanting and Hindu rituals. “Sai Baba’s in the 70s was a confluence of the world’s most interesting and influential people—professors, artists, musicians, politicians, philosophers, famous actors,” she recalls. “It was a fast-track to the type of education I valued, and even when I was just living under a tree at the ashram, I wanted to stay forever.”
As they say, the universe has different plans.
Feathered Pipe Ranch + Yoga Journal
In her early twenties, Supera was asked to return to America to care for a friend with terminal cancer. When her friend passed, she left Supera 110 acres of land outside of Helena, Montana—with a dying wish that it would become a healing center.
Owning land and living in the United States was far from Supera’s plan. For a year, she gave away furniture, thought about selling the land, meditated on the purpose of this inheritance, and held sweat lodge ceremonies to pray and connect with spirits, asking for guidance for the way forward. She even returned to India to call on Sai Baba’s wisdom. “Teach what you know,” he said. “Make it a place for leaders.”
Her vision began to become clear. Slowly, and deliberately, the Feathered Pipe Ranch was born. In the summer of 1975, Judith Hanson Lasater taught the first yoga workshop—three weeks for $250, complete with tipis, bonfires, asana and pranayama practices, and delicious vegetarian meals.
It was a spark that ignited the fire of yoga in the West and became internationally known in the yoga and healing space.
In addition to Iyengar-style yoga workshops, early programs included Journeys Out of the Body with Robert Monroe, Metabelief Operant Training with John Lily, Human Energy Systems with Jack Schwarz, Natural Healing with Dr. Bernard Jensen and Paavo Ariola, and Goddess in Every Woman with Jean Shinoda Bolen. “Because we were part of the Sai Baba community, we had the most amazing people in our circle,” Supera says. “We were young and had no money, but the right people showed up willing to help, and we did darn well from the beginning because we were the only ones in the country doing non-guru yoga and consciousness retreats—us and Esalen.”
William Staniger, a Montana-native, Janice Paulsen, a business-whiz, and Supera, who held the heart of the group, formed the Holistic Life Foundation (now known as the Feathered Pipe Foundation), which funded and organized the yoga programs at the Ranch. That same year, the foundation paired with Judith and Ike Lasater to create Yoga Journal. “We were a bunch of kids figuring it out, and we had our hands in multiple ventures at once in those days,” says Judith Hanson Lasater, international yoga teacher and cofounder of Yoga Journal. “The Feathered Pipe Ranch, Holistic Life Foundation and Yoga Journal formed a tripod, a three-legged stool of sorts. All helping each other to raise awareness for yoga and increase access to the teachings that we believed in and benefited from.”
Originally known for being “the hippies at the end of the Gulch,” India Supera and the Feathered Pipe Ranch family have built the center into a one-of-a-kind destination, dedicated to preserving the essence of yoga as a lifestyle and way of being. “When many other places have given in to the diffusion of yoga, the Ranch is dedicated to the traditional pillars of service, devotion and ceremony,” says Lasater. “After 44 years, it’s still one of my favorite places on Earth to teach—and to exist as a human being.”
A Final Acceptance
India and I talked for over an hour, resting between answers and allowing her time to sip her fresh-pressed green juice. Her lips turned upward in a childlike grin when I asked her to reflect on how far the Ranch had come since the original vision: “As silly as it sounds, I do believe the Feathered Pipe Ranch has changed the world,” she says. “We were at the beginning of a big paradigm shift in America, and although I pictured it to be more extreme—like the Earth splitting on its axis and everyone valiantly choosing peace—I look back and know this place has been at the center of a lot of healing.”
She adds that change doesn’t always have to be so loud, a sentiment distant from the intensity of her early life, yet a natural progression that’s stemmed from years of watching transformation occur softly every summer in Montana. “People come here and they lie on the lawn, canoe in the lake, participate in sweat lodges, laugh and eat good food—and find a place where they can be themselves, just like I was looking for all those years ago. That alone changes a person.”
Reflecting on her life, Supera tells me she can’t think of a single thing she’d do differently. “I have sheer gratitude for everyone I know—them knowing me and me knowing them. Gratitude to everyone along the way who helped me fulfill this vision. There are no mistakes; it’s really just one big love fest.”
India Supera, Founder, Feathered Pipe Ranch: September 4, 1946 – October 29, 2019
Andy Vantrease is a writer, wanderer and holistic health enthusiast. She is currently traveling throughout the Western United States, deepening her connection with the earth through simple living, spiritual practice and play. Follow her adventures on Instagram: @andy.vand