When we think of celebrities, we generally think of people who earn and spend alot of money, who are required to look good and are therefore quite connected to their ‘egos’. In yoga, the core focus is taking control of our ego and channeling our energy for the higher good rather than focusing on ourselves.
While it’s easy to find lots of photos of celebs with yoga mats, it wasn’t so easy to find celebrities who really practice yoga, i.e., not just the physical practice of Asana, but also the practice of the first two limbs in the 8 step Yogic path, the Yamas and Niyamas, which includes helping those less fortunate as well as caring for yourself.
So I scanned the internet and here are my top 5 celebrity yogis in order of their commitment to making themselves and the world a more human and compassionate place.
1. Michelle Williams
Actress & Founder of Yoga for Single Moms
Michelle said yoga practice helped her cope with the death of her ex-boyfriend Heath Ledger in 2008, and become a better mother to their daughter Matilda: "Yoga gave me relief like nothing else; it made me a better person and a better mother. I could come back to my daughter anew."
Following this, Michelle started to think about the single mothers who were unable to practice yoga because of the cost of hiring a babysitter. This led to the establishment of The Yoga For Single Moms Project in 2010 with the aim being to "support the sometimes challenging path of single motherhood by providing a yoga sanctuary for health and well-being.” The idea behind the program is that if mums can find the time, the rest will be provided for them. Childcare services are also provided so that mum can enjoy her free yoga sessions.
2. Gwyneth Paltrow
Actress & Advocate of Bent on Learning
A single mom who takes hands on care of her children, Gwyneth, who recently launched an organic line of make-up called Goop this year, is a regular yoga practitioner. A vegetarian for over 20 years, yoga forms a key part of her overall commitment to fitness.
She supports Bent on Learning, an initiative that takes yoga and meditation to inner city schools in New York. Formed in 2001 it began as a small, volunteer effort with a smattering of classes in a few public schools.
Post September 11, New Visions for Public Schools asked Bent On Learning to coordinate a yoga program to help 18,000 children in 13 schools across the city to be able to heal and to better manage post-traumatic stress.
3. Adam Levine
Musician and the face of Testicular Cancer and ADHD
Adam Levine joins our top 5 for his commitment to 11 charities and 18 causes. As teenager, he suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and in 2011 helped to launch the ‘Own it’ campaign organized by the ADDA to raise awareness. He still suffers from ADHD as an adult and is committed to raising awareness about the condition. He even posed nude for Cosmopolitan magazine to raise awareness about testicular cancer. The 32-year-old singer owes his body to a mix-and-match yoga regimen he practices at home, at the recording studio, and on the road. "At any Maroon 5 concert, you ll see a room backstage marked yoga," he says.
Living the plugged-in celebrity life in Los Angeles, Levine was aware of the yoga scene but initially kept his distance, turned off by what he calls "the cheesy clichés." But he began to worry that his gym routine was a dead end, hurting more than it helped. As he grew increasingly frustrated by lower-back pain, tight hips and hamstrings, he decided to give yoga a try. That was five years ago, and Levine hasn t lifted a weight or entered a gym since. "Yoga takes what you have and molds and sculpts it, which is a much more natural way to look and feel," he says
His main practice is Ashtanga yoga, which is a set 90-minute sequence designed to keep the body strong and fit. Designed for young men in India in the 1930’s by Krishnamacharya, it was one of the first styles to hit the west coast of the US in the 1970s. Levine says it’s not just the physical benefits but rather how his practice helps him focus and stay calm even in less than ideal situations. "For me, that s a form of meditation," Levine says. "All of it”, he says, “adds up to an investment in happiness for the rest of my life."
4. Russell Brand
Actor & Founder of Trew Era Cafe
Probably best known for his short lived marriage to Katy Perry, the British comedian had a problem with drug and sex addiction until he found and fell in love with yoga and meditation. He attends public Kundalini yoga classes at the Golden bridge studio in San Francisco and practices transcendental meditation regularly. Russell is a political activist; he recently opened a social enterprise Trew Era Café in the East of London to support the local economy and provide a place for residents to meet.
Kundalini yoga is a form of Kriya yoga created by Yogi Bhajan, a Sikh who moved to LA to help drug addicts find a natural way to experience heightened sensations using the breath and various poses. Teachers wear white only which is considered a good color for one’s aura and energy flow. Teachers also wear a white turban which hides their hair. Men do not cut their hair- considering it to be an extension of their Sakthi energy, which starts at the base of the spine and travels through the body chakras and out from the crown of the head, connecting us to the divine and universal energy.
5. Lady Gaga
Musician and Founder of Born this Way Foundation
Lady Gaga loves her Bikram practice almost as much as she loves her friend and instructor Tricia Donegan, saying that both Donegan and yoga heal her, and that both have helped her through hip surgery recovery and eating disorders.
She is seen here practicing Garudasana or Eagle pose which is great for mobilizing all the main joints in the body. Bikram yoga was made famous by Bikram Choudry who famously and rather against the yogic principles, tried to patent his sequence of 22 poses and 2 breathing exercises taught in a heated room of 38-41C. He failed and we now have many styles of ‘hot’ yoga including Absolute taught at Club Stretch in Dubai marina.
Off the mat Lady Gaga has openly stated how she has suffered from depression and anxiety her entire life. In 2011 she established The Born This Way Foundation (BTWF) with her mother Cynthia. Named after Gaga s second studio album, the foundation aims to create a "braver, kinder world" for youths; create safe-spaces, promote the learning of life skills, and provide opportunities to improve their local communities. “This is my life purpose, this foundation. This is why I was brought to life, I think", Gaga said.
In September 2012 Gaga was awarded the LennonOno Grant For Peace from Yoko Ono for her work with the foundation "actively campaigning on pro-tolerance and peace issues." The award "intends to keep that pop activism alive" in the spirit of Ono and her late husband John Lennon whose song "Imagine" includes the famous line "imagine all the people living life in peace.” My favorite line in the song is;
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.
Just as each of these celebrities has a cause that is their passion, so do each of us. Mine is sharing the knowledge and practice of yoga with as many people as possible. Next time you find yourself in savasana at the end of a yoga class, ask yourself, “What do I care passionately about? How do I choose to make a difference with the time I have?”
If you want to share the answer with me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.