A Woman of Meditation and a Million Words


You’ve heard of Sally Kirkland: actress, acting coach, red-carpet fixture. Now meet Sally Kirkland in her latest incarnation: yoga teacher and spiritual mentor.

At 9 on Saturday morning, there she was--on the sand south of the Santa Monica Pier instructing about a dozen students, mostly aspiring actors. The beach was just about big enough for Kirkland’s expansive personality.

Kirkland, who wore a colorful shirt, black leggings and just a touch of pale lipstick, her blond hair piled high, told her students to lay their towels near the bike path, facing her. “Get high on life, get high on yoga,” she quoted her swami, as joggers, surfers and couples on in-line skates stopped to stare. Turning to a group of onlookers, Kirkland was enthusiastic: “Y’all can join in, if you want.”

She teaches a weekly yoga class to a group of mostly young actors at a local acting school. Sometimes she comes to this beach, other times she brings her class to Malibu. Over the years, she said, she has taught Robert De Niro, Elia Kazan, Robert Redford and Bob Dylan.


On this morning, a couple of injuries--a stage fall and a surprise encounter with a pothole as she walked in West Hollywood--kept her from performing the exercises. Instead, she was forced to talk her students through the class. Soon, Kirkland--a woman of a few million words--got going on one of her many pet subjects: the abysmal state of yoga in L.A.

“I’m horrified,” Kirkland told her students. “The power yoga. Suddenly, yoga is about, ‘I can get more into a pretzel than you can.’ ” Yoga, she said, is not about gymnastics but about meditation and contemplation.

“If anyone has a spiritual tone, that’s fine,” she told the class. “Breathe in, and exhale that tone.” Students chanted in response. In the background, an ambulance revved up its tone. A woman pushed an elderly man in a wheelchair to the edge of the sand from which he observed the class. The class did a shoulder stand. A tourist stepped up to take a picture of Kirkland.

Her concentration wavered slightly. “We have a monkey mind,” she told the class. “The mind is going all around the place, like a monkey.”


Two women walked by, both on their cell phones. A public work crew nearby shouted jokes to one another as they swept sand from the boardwalk. A transient passed, his boombox blasting Tom Petty.

“Every moment of one’s life can be a meditation,” Kirkland suggested over the noise.

As the class drew to a close, a man lingered on the edge. Kirkland gave a little shriek, ran toward him and threw herself in his arms.

“This is Dan Cohn. He just had a series green-lighted with Penny Marshall. He was the power behind Sally for four or five years.” (Kirkland has the Bob Dole-ish tendency to talk about herself in the third person.)

Cohn, who was once Kirkland’s personal assistant, gave a shy, dismissive wave of the hand and Kirkland began introducing the students. Mostly, they were introduced in the same breath as their acting credits.

A few of her own were displayed later, as she gave a tour of her modest West Hollywood apartment, crammed with memorabilia and paintings she has made.

Movie posters and photographs became short cuts to stories about the important people in her life: Jesus, Gandhi, Shirley MacLaine, and her guru, Swami Satchidananda, who died last week.

“There’s Bob Dylan, I dated him, and all that stuff,” she said, pointing to a photo, one of the hundreds of images competing for space in her apartment.


She pointed to one of her own paintings. “This is a little Matisse-y. It’s Sally running after the Lord.”

She pointed to another one of her creations: an oil landscape, with bits of crocheted yarn glued on, hanging above her bed. “Shirley MacLaine loved that. I meant to give it to her, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

More stories, more celebs: Madonna, Modigliani, Joan of Arc and Robert De Niro. And, especially, Sally.

“This is the night I introduced Bob Dylan to Bob De Niro.... This is when I was campaigning with Gray Davis.... My mother and Grace Kelly, with either Mr. Neiman or Mr. Marcus.

“Here’s when I taught Oprah yoga on her show.... This is when we all went to Israel and Egypt during the Gulf War, working for peace. I ended up meeting Kadafi.... This is when I was helping out Sharon Stone with a charity. Here’s an old boyfriend, Kris Kristofferson.”

Another collage, this one with a photograph of Kirkland in a gold lame dress, the hem of which was hiked in the front like a swagged curtain. “They made fun of me at the Oscars,” she said. “It made copy all the way to Nigeria.” She didn’t mind too much, though.

“I think of myself as a clown,” she said, before drawing a rare breath.

A momentary pause in the stream of consciousness, and a segue into other worlds: her ministry with the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, her work counseling women who say they have been physically impaired by their silicone breast implants.


She believes she has “silicone on my brain” as a result of her implants, which she eventually had removed.

Pointing to a collage of spirits, models and angels, Kirkland paused and reflected on the twin themes of her life. “The dichotomy of spirituality and glamour, you know.”