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HOW YOGA WENT

Hollywood

Y

OUR NATIONAL INFATUATION WITH YOGA HAS ROOTS IN THE TINSELTOWN OF YORE. BY STACIE STUKIN OGA IN LOS ANGELES HAS

long been as ubiquitous as the palm trees that line the streets. Demi, Jennifer and Gwyneth practice yoga, as do NBA superstars. But yoga in America wasn’t always associated with a virtuous path of clean living. Its evolution into the national pastime it is today began during the Golden Age of Hollywood. It’s true that plenty of early-20th century serious thinkers and intellectuals explored yoga as a spiritual pursuit, but for a long time, the general public perceived it as an occult endeavor whereby Indian fakirs partook in sideshow antics like lying across beds of nails and stopping their hearts. But by the early 1940s, attitudes began to change. According to Robert Love, author of The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America, the rise of Hollywood and its gossip columnists coincided with increased interest in yoga, precisely because boldface names like Mae West, Greta

Garbo, Cole Porter and Maureen O’Sullivan were reported to be practicing yoga to help them stay fit, calm and glamorous. And what better place to sit in a lotus pose than L.A., a destination that had long had a fringe subculture that attracted seekers of spiritual enlightenment and health. Yoga’s social acceptability was further validated by a group of expatriates who fled prewar Europe for personal freedom and pacifist goals. Among those were novelist Aldous Huxley and his wife Maria, whose circle of friends included novelist and screenwriter Christopher Isherwood, Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard and Garbo. Anita Loos, a prolific screenwriter and Hollywood raconteur whose credits included Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, was close with the group (though not as seduced by the new yoga craze). In her memoir, Kiss Hollywood Goodbye, she recalls a weekend picnic during which J. Krishnamurti, an Indian spiritual leader, showed up with ladies in saris. Garbo, Loos wrote, “wore a sloppy pair of men’s trousers”; Chaplin and Isherwood “looked like pixies on a spree”; and Goddard,

MARILYN MONROE PRACTICING YOGA IN 1948

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