EW Staff
March 13, 1998 AT 05:00 AM EST

Goodbye, ”Like a Prayer.” Hello, ”Like a Chant.” On the just-released Ray of Light, Madonna hums the Hindu hymn ”I worship the gurus’ lotus feet” and puts herself squarely at the forefront of the new yoga chic.

Thirty years after the last big yoga boom — think George Harrison, circa 1967 — Paula Cole, Alanis Morissette, and a holy host of other celebs have decided there is no place like om. In New York City, Marisa Tomei and Dana Delany have been spotted at Yoga Zone, while Jennifer Aniston, Gina Gershon, and Angela Bassett have dropped in at Los Angeles’ stylish Center for Yoga. You can even curl up into a lotus position in front of the tube: Dharma & Greg is a New Age yuk-fest, and a recent Simpsons found Marge and Homer practicing their deep breathing.

But to actors seeking enlightenment, there’s nothing funny — intentionally funny — about yoga. Forget ”the image of human pretzels,” urges Willem Dafoe, ”it has so much to do with the mind. When I go into the yoga center, my focus is on my little mat.”

Especially if your mat happens to be situated in one of the hippest corners of New York. Dafoe is one of the many devotees of Jivamukti; located in the East Village, it is one of the biggest yoga centers in the U.S. and the epicenter of this revival. At a klieg-lit soiree on Jan. 23, Dafoe and Sting performed, while rocker Krist Novoselic and Beastie Boy Mike Diamond mingled with about 600 barefoot guests (Manolo Blahniks and suede Adidas were not permitted beyond the lobby, though yogin Donna Karan supplied DKNY socks to keep those pampered feet warm).

Why are the rich and famous suddenly seeking spiritual oneness? ”Most people in entertainment are quite open to using their bodies for enlightenment,” says David Life, 47, cofounder of Jivamukti. Adds Alan Finger, 51, the founder of Yoga Zone, Jivamukti’s biggest competitor, ”Artists are a little more open to forms of exercise that other people might consider different or weird.” Finger — whose name rivals Life’s in the overall New Age-y goofiness category — has opened three new studios and plans to add another in midtown Manhattan. ”People are seeking out a kinder, gentler life experience and they want soothing fitness.” And the search for serenity now isn’t confined to celebs alone. ”Attendance in yoga has matched — and in some cases surpassed — our traditional step and hi-low aerobics classes,” says Lisa Mortman, a spokeswoman for Crunch Fitness, in New York.

But stars are stars and not even a 5,000-year-old spiritual discipline is going to change that. When Madonna took a class at Center for Yoga, she arrived late, wore ”sexy yoga clothes, and brought her bodyguard, who practiced right next to her,” says director Nancy Campbell. But the Material Mom wasn’t sent home for tardiness. After all, says Campbell, ”Madonna is such a huge person…. It was like the Pope coming to do yoga.” Bet the Vatican isn’t at one with that.

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