Madonna in the lotus position
A slave to fame. That role, above all others, has defined Madonna, the singer-actress-video-queen who has relentlessly chased the spotlight since her first No. 1 hit, “Like a Virgin,” in 1984. And yet, after an infinite variety of poses and controversies, there’s a new Madonna in our midst – a Madonna into yoga, meditation, motherhood, and peace of mind. It’s a rite of passage shared by many of her 39-year-old peers, one many Madonna watchers thought they would never see.
“I now realize that fame is not as important as I thought it was,” Madonna says from her home in New York.
Fame, as she sings on her new album, “Ray of Light,” is a “substitute for love.” Fame is that “feeling of where you keep waiting to be fulfilled, but you never will if you’re looking for it in that area,” she adds during an hourlong conversation.
Madonna’s new album just entered the Billboard charts at No. 2 and includes the 31st Top 10 hit of her career in “Frozen” (only Elvis Presley with 38 and the Beatles with 34 have more). But this album is a true watershed record for Madonna, who also sings that “when I was very young, nothing really mattered to me but making myself happy. … Now everything’s changed, I’ll never be the same.”
“I totally feel like I’m starting over,” Madonna says. “I feel like I’ve grown so much in the past couple of years. It’s been an incredible journey. It’s like a light just got turned on, which is one of the reasons I call the album `Ray of Light.’
“I look at everything I’ve done in the past and just say, `Wow, I accomplished a lot, and there was goodness there and I could see the struggle in my search.’ But I just feel like I’m looking at life differently now.
“Yoga has definitely changed my outlook on life,” says Madonna, who started doing yoga postures two years ago when she was seven months pregnant with her now-17-month-old daughter, Lourdes. She’s since been unable to return to her previous gym workouts. “Suddenly I couldn’t walk inside a gym,” she says. “I was horrified by it. I had reached a burnout level or something. It felt wrong emotionally and mentally, and it felt wrong physically.”
After giving birth, Madonna enlisted Los Angeles-based yoga teacher Denise Kaufman for private lessons in Ashtanga yoga, a very physical brand of yoga known for its flowing postures.
“It was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, but it was really focused and there was a great simplicity to it as well,” says Madonna. “I’m a total perfectionist who beats up on myself when I don’t get things right. And so I had to learn to a) not judge myself; and b) to let go of the idea that I had to accomplish this and master it in one day. Because you can’t do that in yoga. So it taught me patience and judgment. It also taught me that you have to earn things, that just because you want to conquer something doesn’t mean you’re going to.
“Now I feel that yoga is a total metaphor for life,” she says. “I had this notion that it was going to be easy, but it wasn’t. And I also got really infuriated with my teacher because she would only teach me a little bit every time. And that was a huge lesson for me. I’d only get to learn the sun salutes, then the next day I could only learn one position. If you’re in a hurry, you can’t embrace or enjoy yoga. So that was another lesson for me – to enjoy the stillness of it.”
Madonna now takes Ashtanga yoga classes in New York – and “I love how anonymous I feel when I go to the class. And I love how everybody’s in one room … and no one’s judging anyone. It’s a wonderful feeling – and very inspiring.”
Madonna has not been to India, where Ashtanga yoga started, but “I’m going to go when my daughter is a little bit older,” she says.
She insists that her yoga pursuit is genuine and is distressed by a few reviews of the “Ray of Light” album that question her purpose (most of the reviews have been raves).
“I read one review that said, `Oh, that’s all we need is one more celebrity complaining about how awful it is to be famous.’ But [the reviewer] didn’t listen to the record. That’s not what I was saying at all. There’s no bitterness in the record, period. For me it’s all about acceptance and letting go.”