LOS ANGELES — It’s early on a cool, gray September morning at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and people are gathering amid the graves to do yoga. Kundalini yoga, to be precise. With a little more hypnosis.
The organizers call it “hypno-yoga”, and as unusual as that may sound, they are not the only ones to combine the age-old Indian practice with the therapeutic technique developed by Franz Mesmer in the 18th century. Hypno-yoga practitioners are scattered across the country and on the internet.
But Ellen Heuer and Monique Reymond are the only ones doing hypno-yoga in Hollywood Forever, and offering it for free (for now, at least). Donations are accepted, of course, with the net proceeds going to charity.
That morning, people in sweatshirts and sweatpants enter the site minutes before the 8 a.m. start time, carrying rolled up yoga mats and tarps to protect them from the dew. Reymond welcomes them with a song that might be just a little too on the nose for a graveyard: “Ashes to Ashes” by David Bowie. This being in Los Angeles, the students – all adults, mostly women, young and old – continue to walk around long after the 75-minute class begins, eventually bringing the total to almost 30.
Sessions take place every Wednesday on the Fairbanks Lawn, which you might mistake for an upscale park if it weren’t for the imposing grave of famous actors Douglas Fairbanks and his son, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., at the south end.
The western side is dotted with mausoleums and abstract stone sculptures, while the eastern side is bordered by a two-story stone wall. Upon closer inspection, you will see that the wall is actually made up of tombs, many of which are still waiting to be occupied.
Although Hollywood Forever was her first graveyard, Heuer was a trained hypnotherapist for 30 years — she trademarked the term “hypno-yoga” in 2000 (it expired in 2009).
“The reason I mixed Kundalini yoga with hypnosis is that when you do this expanded breath work, you shift your brainwave patterns into an alpha state, which replicates a mild hypnotic state,” a- she explained in an interview. Even in this sweet state, “you are more receptive to the feedback I give”.
This day is all about helping people cope with the stress and anxiety of their busy lives. And with COVID-19 once again filling hospitals, there’s a lot of stress and anxiety for everyone.
Most attendees lay their mats along the rectangular reflecting pool leading from Fairbanks’ tomb to the stone patio where Reymond presides. Others stand along the stone wall, under engraved messages to beloved fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. A typical inscription is the inscription adorning the grave of James Bernard Hollander, an editor and film buff who died in 2019 at the age of 73, describing him as having “uncontrollable humor and wit”. Nearby, the grave of “Goddess Robin Victoria Gallagher”, who left Earth on April 16, 2020, at the age of 65, adds this warning: “Cope with it”.
Even if you’re doing yoga with your eyes closed, there’s no doubting the main purpose of the field. Just getting to the Fairbanks Lawn forces you through acres of waste. It is a showy graveyard, a place where people display the wealth or fame they gained before moving in. But you see dead people. Or rather tributes to the dead. Many of them.
Which is not to say that the procedure is macabre. Reymond started giving yoga classes on the Fairbanks lawn last year largely because, with the pandemic taking off, outdoor sessions posed less risk of infection. And she happened to be a friend of Tyler Cassity, the president and co-owner of yoga-practicing Hollywood Forever, who turned the cemetery into an event space. These days, people go to cemeteries for concerts, movies, festivals, and Monday night Buddhist meditations.
Yet Reymond and Heuer — and many students — also argue that there’s something appropriate about teaching hypno-yoga amidst the dead.
“It’s not a haunted space,” says class regular Beau Hoffman. “It’s a restful space.”
Another student, Jennifer Drake from Los Angeles, conceded that some people called the setting scary. She does not agree. “It’s a really, really peaceful place,” Drake says, adding, “I feel like it’s a connection to everything.”
Monique Reymond hosts a hypno-yoga class Sept. 8 on the grounds of the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.