Sun Salute King

A Famed Body-builder Bows to the Sun

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This old pic speaks of someone who made a major mark on yoga history.

Beloved in his day, Kola Venkatesh Iyer (1898 – 1980) helped usher posturework into the 20th century.

He was an early adopter of Surya Namaskar–the movements that form the bedrock of our new millennium’s moving yoga.

He opened a gym in Bangalore way back in 1922–combining yoga, sun salutations, and weight-work.

By 1933, he’d healed Mysore’s King Wadiyar IV from the aftereffects of a stroke.

That super-rich king then gifted him a gym down the hall from the classroom of the Father of Modern Yoga: Tirumalai Krishnamacharya–another fitness guru sweating on the king’s payroll in those days.

Krishnamacharya had few friends, but he and Iyer became pals, meeting regularly for coffee and casual meals.

Iyer’s innovations in vinyasa-style practices probably influenced the Ashtanga Yoga that K taught to K. P. Jois.

And Ashtanga has done more to teach the world Surya Namaskar than all other yoga systems combined.

A darling of the international body-building set, Iyer’s teaching of Sun Salute and articles on other topics appeared in that era’s “muscle cult” magazines–and his own chiseled form was acclaimed the most lovely in India.

He immodestly called it “a body the gods covet.”

All the same, he was a well-educated and humble.

He had a deep understanding of art, writing numerous short stories and three well-received novels.

He translated three of Ibsen’s plays into his native Kannada language.

His theater troupe staged over 150 performances.

Students said even his workout movements showed grace, and his books warn weightlifters to maintain pleasant expressions while pumping iron–to keep emotions cool!

A pious man, Iyer started classes by leading students in the worship of the warrior-god, Rama, and the patron-deity of athletes, the monkey-god, Hanuman.

He possessed advanced aptitudes in anatomy and body mechanics. At his gym, he was a healer, too, practicing yoga therapy. Unlike Krishnamacharya in his earliest years, Iyer was also much-loved by his pupils.

In his day, Iyer’s worldly fame seemed likely to endure, and the more orthodox Krishnamacharya seemed headed to history’s ash-heap, but K’s deep study, practice, and teaching has proved lastingly influential, and we now know of Iyer only from a few books and blogposts like this one.

Besides his articles, novels and translations, Iyer wrote four fitness books–one titled Surya Namaskar (1937)–from which this image comes.

For more information on Iyer and how he updated yoga for modernity, Elliot Goldberg’s The Path of Modern Yoga (pub. 2016) is highly recommended.


#YogaPicOfTheDay #17

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