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

    Posted in Blog by Eric Shaw


    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 yoga.


    When did Yoga Begin for Her?

    The first evidence of her practice appears near the time of her first acting contract (’46).

    Of the 23 pictures below, the stark black-and-white ones in the same white outfit are from a set of promotional photos sent out in 1948.


    Did she have Relationship to the Famous Teacher, Indra Devi?

    Orienting Monroe’s first pose pics 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.

    The great maven 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, and until recently, this seemed not to be the case.  There’s no statement by her, Devi, or someone else who witnessed it.

    Devi’s Forever Young, Forever Healthy was published in ’53 with a list of her star clients.  Monroe–at the height of fame–isn’t there.

    However, just recently, a photo surfaced of Indra teaching Monroe in late 1960 (the first photo in the series, below). It is my guess that Devi began working with Monroe near this time, and therefore didn’t mention her in her books; the last one she published came out a year earlier–Yoga for Americans in 1959.


    Who Else might have Taught Her?

    There were other major yoga teachers in LA and New York at the time, including Yogi Vithaldas. Clara Spring and Rishi Singh Gherwal (all pictured here–Vithaldas is hanging out his tongue with the violinist, Yehudi Menuhin), along with Deva Ram Sukul (who taught Mae West).

    Marilyn could have learned from any of them, minor teachers, books, or someone outside SoCal.  Yoga was “new-ish” and she was innovative with her workouts.  Below, we see her doing what seems to be an unusual practice of yoga with weights.


    How did She Practice?

    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).


    The Glamor of her Poses

    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 image 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.


    All the Pictures?

    Bold Sirsasana Variation on the Indian Street

    An odd, streetside contortionist in India

    I believe the images 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.



    Which Poses did She Do?

    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) 3 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 her use of yoga.


    Mention this article and get 10% off a speaking engagement with Eric.  Connect at: Yoga Education Through Imagery: ericshawbookings aat gee male daut caum .

    marilyn headstand new bigger


    Marilyn Monroe Purvatannasana Marilyn Urdhva Dana MarilynMonroe MarilynMonroeYogaBig1 MarilynMonroeYogaBig3 Marilyn Monroe Headstand Shirsasana VI  Marilyn Monroe Paschimottanasana Marilyn Monroe Yoga Pose Marilyn Monroe Balasana Childs Pose Marilyn Monroe Boat pose Navasana Marilyn Monroe Dhanurasana Marilyn Monroe Halasana Plow Pose II Marilyn Monroe Headstand Shirsasana II Marilyn Monroe Headstand Shirsasana III Marilyn Monroe Halasana Plow Pose Marilyn Monroe Headstand Shirsasana IV Marilyn Monroe Headstand Shirsasana V  Marilyn Monroe Headstand Shirsasana VII  Marilyn Monroe Paschimottanasana II Marilyn Monroe Jataraparivartanasana Supine Twist Marilyn Monroe Sukhasana Easy Pose




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