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Not just Modi: Trudeau to Marilyn Monroe, big names who did yoga

On International Yoga Day, a quick look at some leaders and celebs who did asanas or expressed admiration for the Indian system of fitness

Our Web Desk Published 21.06.24, 06:09 PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the global celebrations of the 10th International Yoga Day on Friday. The Prime Minister’s fervid enthusiasm for yoga is well-known, and as a result of his efforts, the United Nations designated June 21 as the International Day of Yoga in 2014. 

However, Modi is not alone. Here are famous personalities who have shown their love for the ancient discipline, in India and beyond. 

Justin Trudeau: Mayurasana expert

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An old photo of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau balanced on his wrists on a conference table, in the advanced peacock yoga pose (Mayurasana), garnered both admiration and amusement when it was widely shared in 2016. In 2015, he and his wife Sophie did tree pose, Vrikshasana, winning universal endearment as they exhibited excellent form, keeping their feet away from their knees. Trudeau, known for his commitment to fitness and health, was also seen dancing to bhangra in 2015. 

Ban Ki-Moon’s asanas

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South Korean politician and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s fondness for yoga is well known. "And yoga does not discriminate; to varying degrees, all people can practise, regardless of their relative strength, age or ability. I discovered this for myself on trying to do my first asana, a tree pose suited to beginners. It took a moment for me to gain my balance, but once I did, I appreciated the simple sense of satisfaction that yoga can bring,” he said in 2015. Veteran Indian diplomat and advisor on Myanmar Vijay Nambiar had given the UN chief his first yoga lesson as preparation for the first International Day of Yoga on June 21, 2015.

Jawaharlal Nehru: Yes, he did it too 

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Jawaharlal Nehru began practising yoga in 1929 after meeting Swami Kuvalayananda and seriously took it up by 1931. He credited yoga with helping him endure his imprisonment and increasing his tolerance for life's challenges. Nehru publicly demonstrated yoga poses like the sirsasana (headstand) and advocated for yoga’s inclusion in health education and national fitness plans. In 1952, he moved a resolution to incorporate yoga into India's health education, and by 1953, yoga exercises were part of the National Plan of Physical Education and Recreation. Nehru promoted the scientific study of yoga, visiting Kaivalyadhama Health and Research Center in 1958 to support research into yoga’s scientific foundations. He viewed yoga as a secular, rational practice, beneficial for all. 

Putin? Alright, that’s a stretch

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In a 2015 meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his intention to try yoga, adding it to his repertoire of fitness activities, which already includes judo, swimming, and hockey. This decision came after Modi praised the enthusiasm for International Yoga Day in Russia. Despite his reputation for athletic prowess, Putin humorously admitted doubts about mastering yoga poses, citing the impressive skill of experienced practitioners.

Indira Gandhi’s yoga days

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Former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s fondness for yoga is famous, along with her famous yoga mentor Dhirendra Brahmachari, who taught Kundalini Yoga. In a 1957 letter to friend Dorothy Norman, Indira Gandhi wrote, “I get up early these days to do a special set of exercises. It is a system (part of Yoga) that was taught to us by an excellent, good looking yogi. In fact, it was his looks, especially his magnificent body, which attracted everyone to his system which is easy and practical. He is, however, exasperating to talk to - so full of superstition.”

Bend it like Marilyn Monroe 

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Even Marilyn Monroe apparently had a love for the discipline of yoga. She mentioned yoga first in 1956, and was photographed in several famous yoga poses by Fox and Columbia studios, in positions such as Navasana, Salamba Sarvangasana, Paschimottanasana and Dhanurasana. 

Alice Coltrane: Yoga to ragas, a spiritual journey

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Alice Coltrane, renowned jazz musician and spiritual leader herself and wife of jazz legend John Coltrane, integrated yoga into her life and work, which profoundly influenced her music and teachings. After her husband's death in 1967, she delved deeply into Eastern spirituality, eventually becoming a Swamini (spiritual teacher) and took on the name Turiyasangitananda. Coltrane founded the Vedantic Center and Shanti Anantam Ashram in California, where she taught and practised yoga, meditation, and spiritual philosophy. 

George Harrison: Yoga while his guitar gently wept

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The Quiet Beatle’s journey into yoga and Eastern spirituality began in the mid-1960s, influenced by his growing interest in Indian culture and his association with sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar. The Beatles travelled to India in 1968, where they studied transcendental meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Harrison's exploration of yoga and meditation was part of a broader fascination with Indian philosophy, which he incorporated into his music and lifestyle. This interest significantly impacted The Beatles' work, leading to the inclusion of Indian instruments and themes in their songs. 

Madonna: spirituality from the Material Girl 

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Madonna, the iconic pop star, is a well-known advocate of yoga, particularly Ashtanga yoga. She famously trains under yoga master Paramaguru Sharath Jois, part of the founding family of yoga’s Ashtanga method and teacher to other celebrities like Gwenyth Paltrow. Madonna began practising in the 1990s and has incorporated yoga into her daily routine ever since. Madonna has often spoken about yoga's transformative effects, emphasising its role in her life for physical health and spiritual balance. 

Sting: If I ever lose my faith in yoga

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Sting, the British rockstar who was born Gordon Sumner, is a fervent practitioner of Ashtanga and Jivamukti yoga, integrating asanas and meditation into their daily routine. Sting credits yoga for his physical and mental well-being, especially during tours. Introduced to Ashtanga in the late 1980s by Danny Paradise, Sting and his wife Trudie Styler became hooked, finding yoga challenging yet enriching. He practises 60 to 90 minutes daily, even on tour, believing it enhances his creativity, lung capacity, and overall productivity, making yoga integral to his life.

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