• Golden Globe Awards

Carol Burnett on Yoga, 1974 – Out of the Archives

In 2019, Carol Burnett, already a winner of five Golden Globes out of 17 nominations, was the recipient of the first Carol Burnett Award for Achievement on television, that was named after her. A TV special, Carol Burnett: 90 Years of Laughter + Love, will air on April 26, her 90th birthday. We searched our extensive archives of HFPA interviews to read what Burnett had said to journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association about the benefits of her yoga practice in interviews given in 1974 and 1978.
On December 14, 1974, Burnett, while promoting The Front Page, directed by Billy Wilder from the 1928 play, in which she co-starred with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, revealed that, when she had started practicing yoga, she had also modified her diet: “I went into yoga a year ago, so I don’t have to do the calisthenics anymore, and I’m doing myself a much greater service. So, as a result, I’ve changed my diet. I wasn’t forced into it, but it’s something that comes out of doing the postures and the exercises. I never thought that I could ever stand on my head, I’d never done that as a child or anything, but I do it now. It’s the quietness of it that makes you realize that a lot of the things that you do eat are superfluous, not good for you, and they will only harm you. I’ve never really been that fond of red meat, so I didn’t miss it when I stopped eating it, and I don’t miss a lot of things I used to love, like junk food or coffee, anything that causes acidity, and I find I have a lot more energy. I will drink a glass of white wine with dinner, and I’ll have one bite of dessert, but not the whole thing. I’ve found myself gradually shedding a lot of foods that really are unnecessary, and consequently, knock on wood, I feel a whole lot better.”
The actress further shared how often she took yoga classes and disclosed the name of her teacher: “Usually I have classes from 10 to 12 on Saturday mornings and from 9 to 12 on Thursday mornings. Then I do about 45 minutes every morning other than that. I take lessons from a lovely French woman, her name is Suzanne Stern, who studies with a lady named Clara Spring out here in Los Angeles, who’s on San Vicente just below Sunset.  She comes to the house and there are about six or seven of us in the class.”
On November 21, 1978, while answering questions about A Wedding, directed by Robert Altman, in which she played the mother of the bride, the actress returned on the subject of yoga, and revealed that she had not liked it the first time she took classes: “When I was introduced to yoga, maybe 10 to 12 years ago, and I took a class, I was very fidgety, because it was so slow that I felt I should be doing something else. Instead of concentrating on calming myself down, I felt that I should be out reading or taking a walk, some dumb outside thing, as opposed to concentrating on breathing and so forth. I wasn’t ready, I couldn’t wait for the class to be over, whereas when I started really doing it about five to six years ago – it was not the same person but it was the same type of class – I felt very much rejuvenated after that class. For a lot of people, just living tends to make you very hyper and very nervous, and, especially in show business, it festers. So exercise like yoga is a calming influence and also it keeps one very humble. All of a sudden, it started to dawn on me that we must all take time for ourselves and it’s not selfish.”
Burnett quoted a book she had read that had also inspired her to take time out for herself: “In Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s book ‘Gift from the Sea,’ there’s a wonderful part in that where she talks about taking time out for you, whether it’s just five minutes a day, and it’s not selfish. It’s funny that, if the telephone rings, and you say, ‘Gee, I’m sorry, I have to pick the kids up at school now,’ that’s okay.  If you say, ‘I’m sorry my favorite program’s on, can I call you back?’ that’s okay, but if you say, ‘I’m sorry, this is my time for me,’ no-one will understand.  But it’s good to do that.”
The comedian went on to elaborate on the spiritual benefits of a yoga practice: “I don’t mean to wax philosophical, but when I first started it was just for the physical aspects of yoga, to calm down, to learn to breathe correctly, but what happens is a very odd thing. When we breathe slowly, there is a calming effect, and almost a meditative state, where you can get in touch with oneself. Then you wonder, ‘What is this feeling? Am I the only one who’s ever had this?’  So I started reading, going and finding philosophical books, religious books and so forth. Once in a great while, you go inside so far that it’s almost an infinite thing: then you feel as if you were one with everyone, which I guess is the best thing you can ever feel.  And if you can feel that just for an instant, you realize that all of this other reaching out is so temporary, and the only permanent thing is in being part of each other, therefore, no one is better or on a higher plain than another, we are all together.  You start realizing how fortunate you are to be doing what you want and that it can leave as fast as it comes.  So if you can hang onto that, it does keep you humble – or at least it keeps your head on straight, and it’s kind of funny, because we are in the most ego-building business that there is.”