• Marilyn Monroe — The Complete Yoga Poses, 4/2013

    Posted in Blog by Eric Shaw

    Marilyn+Monroe+pretty

    Arguably, no movie star past or present is as enchanting as Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jean Mortenson, 1926 – 1962).  Her beauty, projection of joy and innocence, knockout measurements, marriages to two of the greatest men of her time, acting skills, and consummate control of her career arc (including its dramatic end) all make her biography both tragic and triumphant–a dramatic outpicturing of the primal power of the feminine in modern life.

    Her achievements were enhanced by the practice of yoga.  The first evidence of her practice appears near the time of her first acting contract (’46).  Of the 22 pictures below, the 5 stark black-and-white ones in the same white outfit are from a set of promotional photos sent out  in 1948.

    Orienting these pictures in local yoga history, they appeared the same year Krishnamacharya‘s student, Indra Devi  opened a yoga studio on LA’s Sunset Boulevard.  (Devi arrived in ’47, after a brief trip to Shanghai. She had been in India in ’46, teaching yoga and writing her first book).

    Devi soon had Olivia de Haviland, Ruth St. Denis, Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth Arden, Greta Garbo and other famous players in LA’s movie-making community as devotees.

    Devi shows Plow and Shoulderstand variations in her 1953 book, Forever Young, Forever Healthy

    Devi shows Plow and Shoulderstand variations in her 1953 book, Forever Young, Forever Healthy

    Bikram Quincy Jones

    The year Devi arrived was one year after Bikram Choudhury was born, and 23 years before yoga’s future bad boy drew Rachel Welch, Shirley Maclaine, Quincy Jones (at left, in 1978) and others to the practice, duplicating Devi’s feat. (Bikram got to Hollywood 8 years after Marilyn had died from suicide in nearby Brentwood).

    Gherwal Spring Vithaldas Composite

     

    I have often read that Marilyn studied with Devi, but there’s no statement by her, Devi, or someone who witnessed it, that it was so. No pictures of them together are known.

    Other major yoga teachers, Yogi Vithaldas. Clara Spring and Rishi Singh Gherwal (all pictured here–Vithaldas is hanging out his tongue with the violinist, Yehudi Menuhin to his right), along with Deva Ram Sukul (who taught Mae West) populated the LA scene. Marilyn could have learned from any of them, minor teachers, books, or someone outside SoCal.

    Devi’s Forever Young, Forever Healthy was published in ’53 with a list of her star clients.  Monroe–at the height of fame then–isn’t there.   Of course, it’s possible the story is more complex than this, but on the surface it appears Devi didn’t teach Monroe–though deeper digging can be done.

    It’s been my good fortune to collect dozens of photos of unlikely historical figures doing yoga, and people are more stirred by these pictures of Marilyn than any others.

    Stefanie Syman, in her fine account of American yoga history, reports that Marilyn told the press in 1956 that yoga was a permanent part of her workout regimen (Syman, 2010, The Subtle Body:  The Story of Yoga in America, pp. 186-7, 195).  Monroe’s instinct for beauty lent the asanas a visual glamor that was rare in her time. (In that era, movie stars did them expressly for health, not display.)

    Four years after she died, B. K. S. Iyengar published Light on Yoga in America (1966), and wiped clean the historical view of yogis as odd, streetside contortionists.  He made yoga an artistic form.  We can’t think of it otherwise now.  But Marilyn beat B. K. S. out of the gate.

    Bold Sirsasana Variation on the Indian Street

    An odd, streetside contortionist in India

    I believe the pictures I publish below are all the known pictures of Marilyn doing yoga.  (Many are high-resolution, too.)

    We might argue for “Marilyn Variations”  of the poses, for her configurations rarely match current standards.

    She was photographed in forms of Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana) 3 times, Plow (Halasana) 3 times, Headstand (Sirsasana) 4 times, Boat Pose (Navasana) 2 times, Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana) 2 times, and Antanasana, Bow Pose (Udhva Dhanruasana), Child’s Pose (Balasana), Easy Pose (Sukhasana), Handstand (Adho Mukho Vrksasana), Pyramid Pose (Parsvattonasana), Supine Twist (Jataraparivartanasana) and Sitting Twist (Ardha Mastyendrasana) all once.

    Of course, Marilyn was always posing, and I’m sure some similarities to yoga posture below are coincidental (though, I was choosy in what I included); nonetheless, because she studied yoga (by some accounts, very intensely) she showed the awareness and poise it creates–even when she was not expressly displaying yoga asana.

    We may attribute her enduring sexiness, acting achievements, and skill in creating a historically-resonant career partly to that work.

    –Eric Shaw,  04.01.2013, edited 03.11.2014

    Your comments on this post are welcome!

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  • 4 Responses to "Marilyn Monroe — The Complete Yoga Poses, 4/2013"

    1. [...] Scholar Eric Shaw has tried to remedy that, compiling all 21 of the known Monroe yoga images in one blog post, along with a text orienting her practice in American yoga history. Shaw positions the photos [...]

    2. [...] Qui una lunga serie di foto in cui Mariliyn Monroe pratica alcune posizioni yoga. Alcune foto sono chiaramente asana, altre sono semplici posizioni vagamente ispirate allo yoga. [...]

    3. Marilyn Monroe: Yogi. | Graceful Yogi April 4, 2013 08:43 am

      [...] love with this post from Eric Shaw Yoga: Marilyn Monroe as Yogi. I appreciate the author’s suggestion that even when not ostensibly practicing asana, [...]

    4. [...] Yoga scholar Eric Shaw recently compiled 21 images, which he believes is a complete collection of all known photographs of Monroe doing yoga. He also provided some fascinating historical context in a recent blog post. [...]

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