Yoga breathes fresh air into H'w'd fitness regimens

There’s a lot of heavy breathing going on in Hollywood — thanks to the enduring popularity of yoga.

A fever for the ancient practice has taken hold in recent years, replacing Tae Bo and spinning as de rigueur workout for the fashionably fit. It’s inspired countless workouts — some far from traditional — and has lately been complemented by affection for Pilates, a similar regimen with therapeutic origins.

The workouts are so pervasive it’s hard to avoid running into someone doing the Downward Dog or Pilates on a regular basis. You might even run into them mid-pose as they squeeze in yoga on the lot.

The only question for neophytes encountering the contorted will be whether the workouts being done are Iyengar, Bikram, Ashtanga or any of the other zillion yoga styles to which devotees claim allegiance. (A balmy temperature is a good tip-off it’s Bikram, which is practiced in rooms heated to 105 degrees.)

Turn on the TV late at night and you can’t miss Danny Glover and Daisy Fuentes plugging Pilates in an infomercial for instructor Mari Windsor’s line of videos. It’s a moment of commerce that simultaneously illustrates Pilates’ ascending popularity and how much career rehab Glover needs.

Kendell Hogan can’t keep up with demand for yoga and Pilates classes at the Crunch’s hyper-kinetic Sunset Strip location.

“I can’t find a bad time to put those in,” says Hogan, regional group fitness director.

The gym, a place for young industryites to be seen while they preen, offers several yoga and Pilates-based classes for those willing to forgo artfully flashing their William Morris scripts on the treadmill for some deep breathing on a sticky mat.

Pilates exercises, originally developed for convalescing World War I soldiers, used to require access to a scary-looking contraption called the Reformer, but that changed when a modified mat version hit health clubs a few years ago. The mat version blurred the lines between yoga and Pilates to the point where hybrid “yogalates” classes are becoming a gym staple.

If Pilates classes have been changing shape the past few years, the definition of yoga has stretched even further to encompass any workout with a whiff of spirituality or stretching. Classes now promise such non-yogalike goals as a tight butt or power (read: cardio) workout, with even more oxymoronic sounding hybrids (YogaGolf!) on the way.

YogaFit founder Beth Shaw admits her YogaButt class — which quickly became the most popular program at her Hermosa Beach studio when she started offering it a year ago — “isn’t really yoga” in the traditional sense but says it might introduce exercisers to yoga concepts and, better yet, make converts out of them.

A true believer with a keen marketing sense, Shaw draws such area industryites as Ali Landry and scribe Roger Avary to her studio a couple blocks from the beach, but her real focus is training yoga instructors around the world. Her mantra: yoga for the masses.

Family entertainment producer Jillian Fleer embraces yoga in its more traditional form. The producer of the “Timmy the Tooth” kidvid series is so enamored of the Iyengar style she and a partner decided to back a studio for their favorite instructor this spring.

This way, Fleer explains, their instructor can concentrate on purely on yoga without having to worry about nasty business affairs. She and Amalia Galian chose a spot next door to the Belle Visage Day Spa Galian runs with her daughter Tina in Studio City for its nifty cross promotion potential, opening viyoga in April.

According to Fleer, it’s the only studio specializing in the more precision oriented style in the Valley.

Viyoga draws an industry crowd from nearby studios and the neighborhood, leading to inevitable small talk about biz concerns, as when a “Watching Ellie” staffer moaned that NBC didn’t pick up her show for the fall season in the same breath she lamented a breakup with her boyfriend.

Yoga’s appeal to industryites is no mystery to Fleer, a former runner who glows about the mental acuity she gains through yoga.

“As an entertainment attorney or producer, you’re used to being very much in charge,” Fleer says. “With yoga, you’re not a producer in charge any more.”

Like many a convert, Fleer says yoga has transformed her life and that she’ll always practice yoga. Shaw goes even further, talking about a day when there will be no traditional aerobics left on health club schedules, just yoga and yoga hybrid classes.

“Let’s face it, step is out the door,” Shaw says.

When longtime personal trainer Kathy Kaehler was teaching aerobics at a Denver health club in the late 1980s, however, it was yoga that was fighting obsolescence. Kaehler kept the one yoga class on the schedule over her boss’s objections even though no one attended.

“It’s funny,” she says. “Yoga is so old and now it has such a rebirth in popularity.”

The trainer, who puts Julia Roberts and Alfre Woodard through the paces, takes a bemused view of fitness trends that sweep through Hollywood on a regular basis, usually after some celebrity takes a shine to a particular workout.

“People go into exercises for a lot of the wrong reasons, which is unfortunate,” she says. “They want to look like someone they see on TV or the movies.”

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