This is Real Yoga

This is Real Yoga from Life Magazine 22nd February, 1941.

In 1941, Life Magazine featured a demonstration of Yoga in Mysore by Krishnamacharya’s students. Photos by Wallace Kirkland.

The Text


“These pictures present a catalogue of 20 of the countless contorted postures by which the soul of an Indian yogi seeks to escape from the mortal imprisonment of it’s human body. They show yoga not in the side-show of a bearded street fakir, but as practiced in it’s pure form  by lithe young devotees of an ancient and honourable religion. This is the second set of pictures to be published from the hundreds taken by LIFE Photographer Wallace Kirkland on a sixth-month expedition into the strange museum of human achievement and eccentricity that is India ( The first set was Photographer Kirkland’s call on the Viceroy of India Life January 27.)

 Yoga via Aryan family connections, is the present word for the English word “Yoga” and means just that. Yoga seeks to yoke the soul of the individual to the all-pervading soul of the universe. This beatitude is achieved only after death by one who during life has thoroughly extinguished the esential will to live. It may be tasted before death in the ecstatic trance which a practiced yogi can achieve by a lifetime of physical and mental discipline. Unlike other Hindu cults, yoga postulates no mere ascetic subjugation of the body to the yearning of the soul. It’s catalogue of contortions is best understood as exercises which seek to make the body healthy, serene and free from disease and disorder that distract the soul with carnal concerns.

 The yogi shown here were photographed at the school in Mysore which received liberal support of the Sri Krishnaraja Narasimharaja Wodeyar Bahuder Maharaja of Mysore and india’s greatest prince. Demonstrated are advanced postures, such as few yogi today take the time to master. They are assumed in calm, deliberate fashion, held for long intervals. Each pose is thought to bestow it’s own special benefit, but the general result is a physique as well toned as any US athlete’s. They give also the most extraordinary control over both the voluntary and involuntary musculature. A typical example is the control of the diaphragm, by which a yogi can reduce respiration from about 1,100 an hour to 70 and, with the help of mental discipline, attain blissful trance union with the soul of the universe.” Life Magazine (22nd February 1941).

Relaxation is attained in this position by practiced yogi. The handa and feet are in attitude of devotion, the face shows no strain. Yogi work out balanced series of postures for daily routine, perform them faithfully morning and evening.
Back Arch is one of the most important series of spinal exercises for limbering vertebrae and muscles.
Peacock posture, so called because it suggests a peacock with tail spread behind, is not so easy as it looks. Yogi maintain it for long intervals, on theory that it has beneficial effect on digestive system.
Leg extension from back arch brings abdominal and gluteal muscles into play.
The shoulder muscles are excercised in this posture, which is also stage in handstand.
Pelvic region tendons and muscles bear brunt of this exercise, with sole of foot against head.
Half twist limbers spine. More difficult version of this pose is second from right in bottom row (Extreme twist position).
Topsy-turvy is the colloquial name for this basic posture of yoga. A fall here might break legs.
Virtuosity in leg contortion is demonstrated by a young yogi in these photographs (of T.R.S. Sharma).
Leg around back, he rests comfortably. Yoga is best performed by people under the age of 30.
His own variation on rooster posture (below left), this is a position not found in standard books.
Standing like heron, yogi shows unconcern, with smooth brow and hands in attitude of devotion.
Rooster pose, with legs locked in Buddha fashion,suggests the appearance of fowl.
Transitory stage, in swinging from the rooster posture to Sirshasana, is held as a posture itself.
Hands holding ears, arms through locked legs, body balanced on buttocks, yogi can sit for hours.
Sirshasana is Sanskrit name for this traditional pose, advanced version of topsy-turvy, above.
In bow position, yogi grips toes, stretches abdominal muscles, rocks back and forth.
Ballet-dancer split, with hands in attitude of devotion, is a simple posture for practiced yogi.
Extreme twist position with leg doubled, body away from thigh, gives maximum spinal torsion.
Advanced bow position strains abdomen to the utmost by forcing heels to touch top of head.
Purificatory exercise, supposedly beneficial, is designed to churn up the stomach and intestinal tract. By long practce the yogi learns to isolate rectus muscles of abdomen and to flex them separatley. Here left rectus is taunted while right is relaxed.
Both muscles together are flexed as second step, and in third step (below) the right rectus is isolated and flexed alone. An adept yogifinally performs these three steps in rapid succession and achieves the rolling effect that churns the digestive tract.

Other photos of interest…

Krishnamacharya’s Yogashala in Mysore, 1934. This photo is from Yoga Makaranda. Under the king’s generous patronage, Krishnamacharya also authored what would be his magnum opus, the Yoga Makaranda, a two-volume encyclopedia on yoga in 1934.
From Calcutta Yoga by Jerome Armstrong, some of Yogananda’s entourage in Mysore, 1935. Top mid row is BKS Iyengar, who was a student of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya in Mysore. Mid row (L to R) Buddha Bose, Richard Wright, Yogananda, Bishnu Gosh, Bijoy Mullick.
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