When Jennifer Aniston gifted Oprah Winfrey a yoga mat in front of millions of TV viewers, it signalled the growing fascination for the esoteric Indian discipline that harmonises mind, body, and breath. Not only have yoga classes become the hottest fitness trend since Pilates, but Madonna, Sting, Matthew McConaughey, Gisele Bündchen and other celebrities have helped turn what used to be a cultish pursuit into a mainstream mind-body regimen that is followed by millions of people around the world.
Adam Levine, the Maroon 5 frontman evinces an almost religious fervour when it comes to yoga. At every concert he plays, a backstage room is reserved for him with the sign “Yoga” posted on the door where he spends a half hour indulging in his “private obsession” before taking the stage. Levine explains that Yoga “anchors” him and “frees” his mind and body.
How yoga can help with focus
“I have a hard time sitting still,” Levine says. “Yoga has given me the ability to be more focused and make better decisions that come from a clear place.”
“It calms and focuses me… There’s nothing to win in yoga. You just do what you can do, one day to the next…It’s made me more successful. I love it and don’t know what I’d do without it.”
Though the public perception of yoga is that of people twisting their bodies like pretzels and striking odd poses, those who engage in the discipline will argue that its benefits go far beyond the merely physical elements. Yoga, derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj,” which means to unite or integrate, is a 5,000-year-old Indian spiritual andphysical practice that seeks to harmonise mind, body, and breath. Its most ardent disciples speak of the meditative and spiritual “high” that often accompanies the ritual body positions and extensions.
Levine is hardly a lone apostle. Celebrity yoga practitioners are true believers in the calming and healing effects that daily sessions afford them. The often crushing burden of fame and constant media scrutiny has long wreaked havoc in the private lives of movie stars and pop artists who often seek relief in drug and alcohol abuse. It’s against this backdrop that yoga is seen as welcome relief to that chaos by providing a form of inner peace that is otherwise so elusive.
Yoga can heal your spirit and help mental health
Robert Downey Jr. credits yoga as well as the martial arts for helping him slay the demons of heroin addiction and having “healed my spirit.” Similarly, Colin Farrell turned to yoga after a decade-long alcohol and cocaine bender and found “this strange sense of calm after spending so much time running in different directions and not knowing why.”
Aside from the spiritual benefits, yoga addresses basic physical issues of flexibility, muscular tone, and body sculpting. In addition, actress Michelle Williams as well as supermodel Giselle have both been outspoken about the benefits of yoga for expectant mothers and how it helps the body recover its former shape. Celebrities also appreciate the fact that they can do yoga in hotel rooms or in their trailers while working on films or in the midst of lengthy concert tours. Madonna has even taken to doing yoga in the aisle of airplanes – not that the average person would be so easily indulged by flight crews.
Accordingly, we have selected seven devotees of the ancient art and sought to uncover how and why yoga has become an essential part of their lives.
1. GISELE BÜNDCHEN (Anusara and prenatal yoga)
Perhaps it’s unfair to cite a 5’11” Brazilian supermodel as an ideal yoga practitioner, but Gisele Bündchen would tell you that she didn’t retain her perfect figure by lying on the beach. Before and after the births of each of her two children, Benjamin and Vivian, Bündchen relied on yoga to maintain her flexibility and help restore her slender frame back to Vogue-like perfection. Yoga is part of her way of maintaining an extraordinary body that helps her earn a reported $47 million per year from a variety of endorsement campaigns including that for Chanel No 5 fragrance.
She does a minimum of three yoga sessions per week and has often been photographed in parks or seen in Instagrammed selfies where she strikes a variety of yoga positions.
“I enjoy yoga…but I don’t do Asanas (yoga poses) all the time,” Bündchen said. “Sometimes I just do mantras because yoga for me is a philosophy, it’s another tool to help you go inward, because my whole mission in life is to keep going inward. The world always takes you out here and my focus, whatever it is I’m doing, it to have tools to bring me back inward.”
“I try to do at least 15 minutes of yoga three or four times a week. I also like to do Kung Fu, Pilates, surfing, and go horseback riding, but yoga has a meditative and calming aspect that is very unique. You enter your own little world when you’re really into it, and afterwards you feel very refreshed.”
2. MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY (Bikram yoga)
In an interview with GQ magazine, the 44-year-old said: “I am vain. I think vanity is a good thing. It’s done more good things for me than it has not.”
McConaughey grew up in Texas where 35 Celsius days are often the norm in the summer and temperatures can soar even higher. That’s one of the reasons that drew him to Bikram yoga which is generally practiced indoors in rooms where the temperature is 35 C or higher and where sessions last 90 minutes. Developed in the early ’70s by Bikram Choudhury, Bikram yoga is defined by the specific 26 poses or postures which are intended to tone muscles, stretch the skeleton, and create the special kind of “high” that its practitioners cite as one of the added benefits of this discipline.
McConaughey, however, prefers to practice yoga – Bikram and other forms – outdoors whenever possible.
Explained the Oscar-winning actor: “Yoga gives me a feeling of flexibility as well as strength – it adds to the feeling of well-being I get from running and doing crunches and push-ups. It’s also gives you great muscle tone that you don’t get from other kinds of exercise and where you feel like you’re floating in your own private space.”
“(Yoga and other forms of physical training) have always been a lifestyle. Then it became something that was like, ‘Hey, it’s also good for my job.’ I’m not a professional athlete, but I have a job where I like to look good and be as healthy as possible.”
3. JENNIFER ANISTON (Hatha yoga)
Long known for her fabulous figure, Jennifer Aniston was introduced to yoga twenty years ago by renowned yoga instructor Mandy Ingber who is also one of her closest friends. Aniston does a minimum of 5 yoga sessions per week and follows a programme outlined by Ingber in her 2013 book, “Yogalosophy: 28 Days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover.”
“Mandy introduced me to yoga…It completely changed my life,” said Aniston. “Yoga kind of helps you prepare for everything. It’s like meditation. It sort of just allows anything that’s coming at you at the end of the day to be kind of doable.”
“Yoga strengthens my muscles and gives me a great sense of peace and calm. It also improves my breathing and centres me. I usually follow yoga with about 40 minutes of cardio – hiking, running or at the gym.”
When she played a stripper in the film “We’re the Millers,” Aniston relied on Ingber’s yoga and fitness programme to help her look the part – “I’ve never had a better body than when I prepared for that film,” Aniston admitted.
She credits yoga for the kind of mental discipline that enabled her to give up smoking as well as having taught her how to stay calm during difficult personal crises such as her divorce from Brad Pitt.
She also cites yoga as giving her “a better feeling of balance – when you’re worried that your world is falling apart, yoga helps clear away that kind of anxiety.”
Aniston also credits her yoga for having enabled her to develop and maintain her finely toned physique to the point where at age 49 she has the kind of body most women in their early 30s – or any age, for that matter – would envy. She even says that her exquisite legs are the result of years of dedicated yoga practice:
“I always hated my legs – that was always my ‘ugh’, my legs. That’s why I credit (Mandy) for (having sculpted them) with yoga.”
4. STING (Vinyasa flow yoga)
Sting has long been one of yoga’s greatest advocates. In his particular case, yoga has helped bring him closer to with his wife, Trudie Styler, with whom he has spent over three decades together. In addition to his renown advocacy of tantric sex, Sting enjoys practicing yoga together with Styler, and these sessions have created an added level of closeness and shared spiritual awareness.
Said Sting: “Marriages often fail because once people sign the contract, they say, ‘That’s it.’ A relationship is a living, breathing organism. It needs to be nourished. It also needs to evolve, to be adjusted; you need compromise and flexibility.”
“Yoga helps add to your level of physical intimacy that….grows as you get to know someone better. And it takes years to get to know someone, really. But you’re rewarded for your diligence.”
During his 2010 Symphonicities tour which was an orchestral reworking of his solo as well as Police songs, Sting would spend 40 minutes leading the string section of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra which accompanied him on the tour in yoga sessions which included chants and meditations.
“Yoga has enriched my life by allowing me to improve physically; which is very inspiring, especially as you get older. I tour an awful lot, and being on the road is not always easy…Yoga is a great way to offset the downsides of touring by bringing much-needed peace and sanity into what can be a hectic life. Like music, yoga is a journey– one that is long enough so you keep developing, and keep learning. I don’t see an end to it.”
Sting believes that yoga allows him to “do the job of a 25-year-old. I perform on stage in much the same way I did when I was in my 20s or teens, and I’m doing it just as efficiently. And I put that down to yoga. Two decades of yoga has given me two extra decades of this career. I wouldn’t be able to do it if I was out of shape.”
5. MICHELLE WILLIAMS (Ashtanga yoga)
Michelle Williams, star of such films as “Brokeback Mountain,” “Blue Valentine,” and “My Week with Marilyn,” is a strong believer in the healing power of yoga. She feels that yoga was vital to helping her deal with the death of her ex-boyfriend, actor Heath Ledger, and father to their daughter Matilda, who died of an accidental overdose
in January, 2008.
Williams was so grateful for the benefits of yoga that she was inspired to co-found The Yoga for Single Moms Project which launched in 2011 Boston, Massachusetts.
Declared Williams: “Yoga gave me relief like nothing else; it made be a better person and a better mother. I could come back to my daughter anew. And then I started to think about how expensive it is to get a babysitter to take a yoga class, which makes it out of reach for so many women.”
“The idea behind the program is that if you can clear the time, we do the rest. It provides childcare while the mum is in the yoga class, and it’s all free.”
Williams is also adamant about how her yoga practice energises her so that she can enjoy a better relationship with her 12 year-old daughter, Matilda.
“I love yoga for how it relaxes me and gives me more energy so that I can be happier and more available to my daughter. Even after being on the set all day I like coming home and spending time with her, cooking dinner, and being very involved in her life.”
6. MADONNA (Ashtanga yoga)
Madonna has long been one of the leading celebrity workout fanatics. For three decades, she has maintained a supremely toned and trained body that is the result of intense, two-hour workout sessions that she often follows five days a week.
She has famously declared: “Yoga is a metaphor for life. You have to take it really slowly. You can’t rush. You can’t skip the next position. You find yourself in very humiliating situations, but you can’t judge yourself. You just have to breathe, and let go. It is a workout for your mind, your body and your soul.”
Two years ago, the pop icon started doing yoga again and is touts the calming and meditative benefits of 30-minute sessions.
Said Madonna: “I started doing yoga again, which I haven’t done in years and years and years. I’m so used to exercising with music playing very loud, and when you do yoga, you’re just listening to your breath.”
Her new-found embrace of Ashtanga yoga is even reflected in her recent music. Madonna recited the opening Ashtanga chant on her Ray-of-Light album and even played an Ashtanga teacher in the movie The Next Best Thing.
The mother of four now combines yoga with her almost daily cardio-driven workout sessions and at age 59 she has the toned body of a twenty-something athlete.
Added Madonna: “There is no easy way. If you want to know how I look like I do, it’s diet and exercise and constantly being careful.”
7. ROBERT DOWNEY JR. (Ashtanga and other forms of yoga)
Together with his devotion to Wing Chun Kung Fu, a Chinese martial art form whose most famous advocate was Bruce Lee, Robert Downey Jr. has found yoga to be most effective as a mind mastering technique.
“All the battles are in your head,” Downey Jr. explained. “When you are able to master those contradictory impulses, then you’re no longer going to fear those demons that want to drag you back to hell.”
“Yoga is a kind of meditation for me, you get this strange sense of calmness even when you’re putting your body through some very difficult and testing trials.”
A few years ago Downey Jr. even appeared on the cover of Men’s Health magazine going through a pose with his personal yoga instructor, Vinnie Marino. Marino is part of what has come to be called Team Downey, a large coterie that includes yogis, massage therapists, martial-arts instructors, and his beloved wife Susan, a major Hollywood film producer who has brought him happiness as well as two young children.
Said Downey: “She has been responsible for giving me a foundation to lead a good life and to be able to enjoy everything that comes with being a husband and father…. I know when I’m not doing enough and I also know when I’m stressing myself out trying to do more than I’m really capable of doing. When Susan sees I’m in that kind of state, she just kind of looks at me and says, “You know, why don’t you go to the gym or something?”
Yoga is often what RDJr turns to when he feels stressed: “It’s different from doing martial arts – you’re seeking peace of mind and trying to find harmony between mind and body. You don’t necessarily get that with other types of training.”
Downey Jr.’s favourite positions are the warrior, bow, and lotus poses, and he is fond of speaking about “the incredible tension you feel when you push your body to the limit and then it gradually becomes natural and relaxing.”
Having overcome his terrible addictions to heroin and other drugs, RDJr has been clean and living healthily for well over a decade and he has no desire ever to return to those dark days.
Said Downey Jr: “Job one is get out of that cave. A lot of people do get out but don’t change. So the thing is to get out and recognize the significance of that aggressive denial of your fate…”
“Who would have ever expected me to be settled down, make big Hollywood blockbusters, married with two young children, and living this happily?”