Legendary fashion designer Donna Karan has built a $400 million fashion empire around her love of yoga.
Karan, who has been a yoga devotee since age 18, does yoga every morning for 60-90 minutes, saying the meditative practice keeps her physically toned, but more importantly, spiritually centered.
“I’ve always been a yogi, always on a path,” Karan said at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York on Oct. 27, 2012. “I chose a spiritual path because without that, life makes no sense.”
Karan, a longtime vegetarian (who occasionally eats meat) says everyone can learn from the practice of yoga.
“People think yoga is about being able to put your leg behind your head, but the highest form of yoga is sitting still and just breathing,” says Karan, who insists yoga helps her find inner calm amidst the chaos that is life.
Amazingly, Karan’s entire fashion empire initially stemmed from her devotion to yoga. Her trademark stretchy, sporty clothes were created out of her desire to wear outfits that she could “sleep in, do yoga in, and go out in.”
Yoga also helped Donna weather personal tragedy, notably the untimely death of her husband, artist Stephan Weiss. Weiss died of lung cancer in 2001 at age 62. Since then, Karan has become a vocal proponent of alternative therapies and healthcare.
In 2007, Donna founded the Urban Zen Foundation in Manhattan, where she promotes alternative therapies, yoga and nutrition, and is an advocate for changing the healthcare system to integrate holistic Eastern medicine with conventional Western practices.
Karan’s passion for yoga, meditation, and health was also shaped by the tragic deaths of close friends, such as her mentor Anne Klein (breast cancer, 1974); confidant Perry Ellis (AIDs, 1986); and friend Liz Tilberis (ovarian cancer, 1999).
“Each and every one of us is, or will be, a patient or a caregiver,” says the mother of three. “Nobody gets away from illness. We will each be in a hospital someday.”
Karan says personal loss has made her that much more determined to be a force for positivity, optimism, and contribution.
“Stephan used to say that you could either look at the plus or the minus in life – that is your choice,” she recounts. “When I was crying every day because he was sick with cancer, he would say, ‘I’m right here beside you now, so why you crying?’ “
The tragedies taught her the credo she lives her life by every day: Delete the negative; accentuate the positive.