Hollywood Moguls' Arm Candy Du Jour: Goodbye Asians, Hello Yoga Instructors
Long after Wendy Wasserstein popularized the term "shiksa goddess" — blond, unattainable, non-Jewish — new versions have come along as Hollywood alpha males have gravitated toward shopgirls, women of Asian extraction and, now, yoga teachers.
This story first appeared in the June 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Just as tastes in fashion, food and music evolve, so do tastes in arm candy, girlfriends and trophy wives. In Hollywood, one's got to keep up with the ceaseless tide of status symbols.
When it comes to the changing face of desirable mogul mates, for many top-tier male-society aspirants and/or men of the Jewish persuasion, the shiksa (aka WASP-y blond) preceded all of the others. Symbolic of the postwar American dream, shiksas have been buzzing around the power elite since the 1950s. She could be a Bimbo (Richard Zanuck wed original Planet of the Apes' sexy cavegirl Linda Harrison), an Ice Queen (Harry Cohn was married to two) or a California Girl (Kate Capshaw).
Eighties L.A. introduced the era of the shopgirl — former or aspiring models and actress wannabes working at designer boutiques on Rodeo Drive (or the like). They got to don sexy duds, spend the rest of their time at the gym and meet major men who came in "to shop." And shop they did. Hollywood apocrypha reveals that this is how Ron Meyer met second wife Kelly Chapman: at Charles Gallay, a now-defunct store that was located on Sunset. Steve Tisch met his ex-wife Jamie when she worked at Ralph Lauren on Rodeo. Maxfield in West Hollywood was another hot bet for power men to find sexy shopgirls. Legend has it that superproducer Steve Reuther romanced a salesgirl there — in the dressing room.
The late '90s ushered in the age of the Asian girl, the new brunette shiksa. In 1998, Rupert Murdoch left his wife, Anna, and took up with Wendi Deng; in 2004, then CBS chairman Leslie Moonves wed anchor Julie Chen; that same year, Nicolas Cage married 20-years-younger former waitress Alice Kim; George Soros dated violinist Jennifer Chun; and Brian Grazer became engaged to pianist Chau-Giang Thi Nguyen in 2011 (Grazer now is engaged to Veronica Smiley). Late investment mogul Bruce Wasserstein tied the knot with fourth wife Angela Chao in 2009, and venture capitalist Aviv "Vivi" Nevo dated actress Zhang Ziyi in 2007 (they broke up in 2011 but were said to be engaged for a time).
Coincidences? Hardly. When it comes to trendy trophy women, these alpha men compete in every venue of their lives. You can't keep good testosterone down. So what possible genre of human could usurp the shiksas, shopgirls and Asian beauties? Who or what could be more desirable to powerful men of Hollywood and beyond?
Yoga teachers. That's right: Satnam to the new sex symbols. Whether practitioners of Ashtanga, Kundalini, Hatha, Vinyasa, Iyengar or Bikram, they've got major industry players in a twist.
Of course, the celebrity contingent has been mesmerized by yoga for years. Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow have been extolling it for at least a decade, as have Russell Brand, Adam Levine, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Downey Jr., Russell Simmons and the very limber Woody Harrelson. Long before yoginis became hot in the dating sense, famous folk were touting and turning up the heat of the careers of their favorite yoga teachers.
The hands-on physical intimacy that comes with a private session or yoga class is a petri dish for hormones, and celebrities and industry people going for yoga teachers is just hitting its zeitgeist zenith now. On June 13, Crown Prince of Sweden Carl Philip married former erotic model/reality TV star/yoga instructor Sofia Hellqvist. Owen Wilson had a baby with yoga teacher Caroline Lindqvist in 2014. The wife of Paul Tudor Jones, a hedge fund billionaire, is former model Sonia Klein, now a yoga teacher who partnered with the family of late Ashtanga master Krishna Pattabhi Jois in 2012 to found Jois studios and clothes. The wife of New York-based hedge fund billionaire Dan Loeb is yoga teacher Margaret Davidson Munzer, whom he married in 2004. Scrubs star John C. McGinley wed his yogini Nichole Kessler in 2007; screenwriter Greg Pruss married his, Anna Getty, in 2003. Pop maestro Dr. Luke has two children with his yoga teacher. So if you think Alec Baldwin was ahead of the curve — marrying yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas in 2012 — he wasn't. He was just catching the wave. Kundalini master Guru Jagat of Venice's Ra Ma Yoga Institute says of the hot-for-yoga-teacher trend, "I've definitely observed the phenomenon — lots of it."
Like all good mating rituals, this one speaks to its time. "Most sexual norms are reflective of cultural norms," says L.A. sex and relationship therapist Dr. Chris Donaghue. "With yoga on the rise, it's expected that a yoga identity and body would become a highly eroticized commodity." Yogini Mandy Ingber, who since 2003 has been instructing the likes of Aniston, Jennifer Lawrence and Emilia Clarke, says: "When you're looking for a connection to the self, you're more open to connecting with someone else. The relationship between a yoga instructor and client is very intimate."
Opportunities to connect abound in Los Angeles: There are 1,500 studios, gyms and athletic facilities that offer yoga classes in the Los Angeles area. Many outlets will put on events to celebrate the summer solstice June 21, the most important day of the yoga calendar (also when thousands of Kundalini yoginis flock to Hawaii and Mexico). This summer, Wanderlust, the touring yoga/music/culture festival founded in 2009, will open a permanent center in Hollywood. It will offer yoga classes, film screenings, wine tastings and a self-selected community that could take mating offline. "Yoga is the new singles bar," laughs Wanderlust co-founder Jeff Krasno, who already is planning on franchises. "This will be an amazing place for a single guy to court a single — and enlightened — lady. At our festivals, we put yoga teachers on the same stages as Common, Moby and Spearhead. No wonder they've become rock stars."
On the appeal of yoginis to Hollywood, relationship therapist Dr. Shannon Chavez notes: "In my practice, the busiest men and women are looking for deeper meaning. They're bored in marriages, sexually dissatisfied, seeking communication beyond the grind. People are looking for partners now that make them feel whole and less judged and insecure." Adds Donaghue: "The Hollywood business elite have achieved all the material success possible. What's left to achieve is the spiritual lifestyle. These yoga partners act as a sexual and social counterbalance. They're the way out of the midlife tension that a life of only Hollywood ladder-climbing creates. Dating a yoga teacher acts as needed Prozac to cope with the high-stress Hollywood lifestyle."
Relationship expert Dr. Jeremy Nicholson sees the phenomenon in a more basic, evolutionary way: "Men are always interested in attractive, pleasant, feminine women for mates. What shifts are the groups of women allowed and encouraged to be attractive, pleasant and feminine. At certain points in the Hollywood culture, the women who embodied those characteristics to men were primarily Asian. In the current culture, yoga instructors now are a source of healthy, attractive, feminine women."
Alpha men teaming up with yoga teachers chimes with Eastern philosophy, offers Dr. Pat Allen, an L.A. relationship expert: "In old Chinese quantum physics, men had yang bodies: They build, they create. Women receive. Alpha men have a very tough time committing to alpha women. They'll have an alpha mistress but not an alpha wife. Alpha men do better with beta women: sensitive, empathetic and kind. Who epitomizes beta better than a yoga teacher?"
Serial yoga-teacher dating even has become a thing. Venice-based TV writer-producer Steven Pearl admits he started dating yoga teachers about two years ago. "The proliferation of yoga classes in L.A. means more teachers, and many are actresses, dancers — all working their minds and, of course, their bodies. Their look is very appealing: fitted clothes, fresh faces, utterly unpretentious, no makeup. They're more wholesome and approachable. Suddenly, my guy friends are all talking about dating yoga teachers. And most of the best studios are in neighborhoods with tons of entertainment people: West Hollywood, Venice, Brentwood." Tech exec Rob Kramer started dating yoginis in 2004 and was married to an instructor; he's now working on a book called Shut Up I'm Meditating. "You have this pseudo spiritual idea that their enlightenment could lead to a good relationship," he says. "Now there are more yoga teachers in L.A. than Uber drivers."
One major producer who prefers to go unnamed recently got dumped by his yoga-teacher girlfriend, whom he caught cheating with a screenwriter. Now she's engaged to a director. "I didn't think yoga teachers would be as crazy in relationships as actresses," he sighs. "Boy, was I wrong."