Circle goddess leaders, breathwork coaches and shamans are beloved by Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, Matthew Perry and more stars.
With deadlines, ratings and budgets being a never-ending reality in Hollywood, stress and anxiety levels are high — especially before the holidays. But a powerful crop of influential life coaches, spiritual guides and breathwork instructors are teaching Hollywood how to keep stress in check and develop ongoing techniques they can call on when the pressure gets overwhelming.
Here, five wellness gurus explain how they’re helping Hollywood de-stress.
When Jennifer Aniston revealed in September that she’s been participating in "goddess circles" for the past three decades, she singlehandedly catapulted the art of circling into the mainstream consciousness.
Circling is an organized event where a group of women — in the case of goddess circles — or both men and women together gather with a chosen facilitator on or around a full moon to share whatever challenges they’re facing while sitting in a circle and passing around a "talking stick."
Aniston’s close friend of 30 years, actress Andrea Bendewald (Suddenly Susan), the founder of The Art of Circling, leads her goddess circles, including one at her recent 50th birthday Mexican getaway with Courteney Cox and producer Kristin Hahn.
“Dre brings us all together, in one room, and makes us all feel as one,” explains Aniston, summing up the power of circling. “Honored and accepted. Seen and heard. Loved and adored. It’s a space I always know I can go when I am in need of guidance. Of any kind. It’s a safe space where I can cry, explore, question, doubt, express anything, and most of all, laugh.”
Most circles involve using astrology and common themes emerge among participants in line with what astrologers are saying is coming up under the full moon, says Bendewald: “The energy of the full moon affects our bodies and psyches. As the moon fills, so do we, and we feel that swell of edginess. We need to lean in, talk about it and share it, and then we can harness that energy. If you’re experiencing the same challenge as me, then I feel less crazy or alone or less inclined to self-medicate.”
Bendewald first experienced circling 25 years ago after moving from New York to Los Angeles. “I sat in this circle of self-empowered women and was struck by the familiarity and comfort of listening to them sharing their stories that were as layered and emotional as mine. Successful writers and producers sitting across from me had the same fears, hopes, dreams and challenges, and I instantly felt at home. To be seen and heard, to be witnessed, is a radical thing, and we don’t do that often.”
Today considered L.A.’s leading circle facilitator, Bendewald recently led a circle for WME’s literary department at its retreat and holds private sessions at her studio, as well as classes at L.A.’s Den Meditation.
Shaman Durek may be best known as Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal spirit guide (she calls him "bro" and he calls her his "soul sis"), but Selma Blair and Nina Dobrev are also clients, and Gerard Butler joined Durek’s girlfriend Princess Martha of Norway at the recent L.A. launch of his new book Spirit Hacking.
Hacks in the book (which Paltrow calls "thought-provoking, iconoclastic and powerful") include how to turn negative thoughts and language into positive ones, and speaking a Daily Soul Talk out loud. A sixth-generation shaman, Durek often delves into the spirit world in one-on-one sessions, and calls on ancestral guides to help release whatever blockages are holding you back. He also focuses on how our strive for perfection can be detrimental, and emphasizes the importance of reflecting backwards in order to move forward.
“In today’s world of perfection, we achieve things based upon on what’s been achieved before us. Perfection is about feeling happy and joyful in what you’re doing, and the moment you feel stuck because you don’t have inspiration coming through, it means you’re taking it too personally and too seriously. You’re putting too much attention on wanting to be perfect so that you’re not enjoying it," he says.
Durek says remembering the “playfulness of being a child and allowing to realize why you got into this in the first place” is key: “Go back to a moment in your life before you decided to be a writer, actor or director, and reflect on what the inspiration was that made you feel so good about doing it. Remember the visions and ideas that stimulated you.”
These need to be brought back as your cornerstones or pillars of truth, says Durek, to allow you to recognize why you’re doing what you’re doing: “Pressure, stress, writers block, frustration and anger can all be avoided when we reflect backwards to the moment that made us first want to do what we’re doing, and then do it with joy.”
Durek charges up to $1,000 per session.
Former actor Harry Paul became a shaman following an epiphany while filming in Yugoslavia 30 years ago and today goes by the moniker Harry the Healer. After studying with shamans worldwide, Paul returned to Hollywood, where he built up a client list that includes Sir Anthony Hopkins, Gabriel Byrne, Rob Dyrdek and Luke Mitchell (The Code).
“Life is very simple, we’re either connected or we’re distracted,” he explains. “Most of humanity lives from the chin up, lost in thought, and we’re often reaching or searching for something outside of ourselves. We can be unhappy about the state of events out in the world, but the place we’re the most effective is inside, so we need to retract our energy and connect inside.”
When we can live in the now, says Paul, “we can broadcast and radiate, and then we can get traction.” Paul implements quantum physics and the Divine Laws of Attraction (as in The Secret) in his life coaching practice, as well as spiritual guidance and "soul retrieval," all from his Hollywood studio, which he calls “a space for people to evolve, to unfold.”
He teaches clients to "look inside themselves rather than look outward" in the studio’s healing room, where his variety of techniques and tools include light and sound vibration, crystal singing bowls, Tibetan bowls, tuning forks and drums.
“We all have a divine mind and an insane mind,” says Paul. “No matter how good life gets, the insane mind says, ‘If it was just a little bit different, if it was just tweaked here, if I just had this or achieve that — then life would be good.' It’s always searching. It’s cunning, it’s insidious and it’s tireless, and it’s always going to tell you stories to keep you suffering. With our divine mind, we’re connected.”
He surmises, “We all want to feel relevant, significant and recognized. But your opinion is the only one that matters. When you recognize yourself, your life will shift. Life’s an inside job, and we forget that.”
Harry Paul charges $350 per session.
Jon Paul Crimi advises you ask yourself one question if you’re wondering if his sold-out breathwork classes can help you: Am I owning the story or is the story owning me?
Crimi is owning the Hollywood breathwork scene. Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and producer Simon Kinberg are clients, while regular Owen Wilson says, "Somehow despite a built-in aversion to new agey-type things, I found myself at Jon Paul's class and I'm lucky I did because it was a great experience. Memorable, useful and important."
Matthew Perry jokes, “I hate breathwork and Jon Paul (kidding), but if you must do breathwork make sure you do it with Jon Paul."
A former sobriety coach and personal trainer, Crimi says he was “one of the top five angry guys in L.A.” when he found breathwork eight years ago and subsequently found it cleared all the anger out. “Anger is the mask that sadness wears," he explains. "It’s easy to not feel it but if you can clear away the anger and allow the sadness to come up through breathwork, to cry and let it out, then you can get to the other side of that — to gratitude and love.”
Adds Crimi, “Everything we do is colored by what is stuck inside of us — relationships, how we trust people, and how we operate. Most of us breathe shallow and not into our belly because our emotions are down there. And because we don’t want to feel sad, we push it down. Freud said, ‘Unexpressed emotions will … come forth in uglier ways.' And they’re going to come out somewhere — even in the line at Starbucks!”
Crimi developed his own method from various teachings and his interest in science. “I’m the hippie woo-woo translator for the regular person,” he laughs. Crimi has found that “women need permission to yell and men need permission to cry” in class and that breathwork has the power to release years of trauma we carry around.
He warns participants in advance of potential physical reactions of deep exhaling — including clamping hands, heavy sweating, a numb and tight feeling in the face and strange body sensations — so that people feel safe.
Crimi gets emotional during classes, and says he regularly has “120 people in the room bawling their eyes out." At the end, everyone screams into a giant gong for a full minute, and, he says “that’s as woo-woo as it gets!”
Crimi teaches in Santa Monica and has an online course called the Five Day Emotional Detox.
Ashley Neese is the go-to breathwork coach for studios and corporations. She regularly works at Goop’s HQ and with top-level news and TV execs at Fox; Buzzfeed and Lululemon are also clients. Her bespoke one-on-one sessions blend classical hatha yoga, neuroscience and somatic psychology. Neese regularly works with high-profile clients “having a hard time downshifting” or with high levels of stress or insomnia.
“Stress is a normal part of life, but chronic stress isn’t. We all need to recalibrate, focus and be present,” she explains. “And breathwork is so portable. You just need to create a new habit so it becomes second nature when you need to call upon it.”
Stressed at the office or in a high-stakes meeting? Neese teaches practices people can do discreetly. She suggests sitting with your feet flat on the floor, hip distance apart, and bringing awareness to your feet, which will ground your energy. Inhale and exhale through the nose and take five breaths really slowly through the nose or an in-the-moment reset.
A former yoga instructor, Neese says it’s essential to have a dedicated daily breathwork practice time, depending on your schedule and lifestyle: “Without this, it’s hard to call on the breath throughout the day in those moments when we need it. There’s no silver bullet in wellness. We have to develop a practice, routine and consistency, and show up just like we brush our teeth and hit the gym. It’s a daily self-care practice.
“Because people in Hollywood can have insecurity and self-doubt even though they have a massive platform, it’s common to be scared of failure and find self-control,” explains Neese. “Ninety percent of my clients, even ones I’ve seen for years, are crying within the first 10 minutes of a session because this is their safe place to do that and let go.”
She adds, “By doing breathwork, your willingness to surrender and be vulnerable helps you enjoy the process and you become resilient so that you can feel the big feelings but not get overrun by them.”
Neese, the author of How to Breathe, offers private sessions for $325-$400.