Become One With Any Body
Physical and spiritual toning are the twin pillars of a quietly trendy gym in Venice, California, built around the embodiment of the Buddha. Members dig the low-key approach to getting buff.
By George Wolfe
VENICE, Ca. —When you enter Buddha's Gym
on Rose Avenue, hanging purple drapes, flickering candles and distant
chanting bring your attention to an inscription on the far wall:
"Embrace suffering — and move on."
THE EYES HAVE IT: The
colorful facade of the latestVenice gym fits in well with the neighborhood's
eclectic, anachronistic architecture.
Ananda Jones, the gym's founder and manager, is
a 37-year-old woman with raven-black hair, a wiry frame and "Get
Over Your Self" inscribed across the seat of her velour sweatpants.
She practically floats through a tour of prospective members, who
attempt to keep pace. "The first illusion you've probably already
encountered is that because of the image of the Buddha, you must
be chubby to get in here. That's simply not true; the goal is not
to sit and gain weight — though we respect that if that's
"We also offer a popular 'BuddhaSizeIt'
class... and then there's always 'Dharma and Spinning,' featuring
the dreaded cycle of Samsara... and our 'Karmaerobics' classes are
really catching on, too."
founder/manager, Buddha's Gym
One tour member asks if there's a dress code.
"You may perceive a certain… aesthetic here," says
Jones, "but there's no dress code. If someone wants to come in
wearing a g-stringy thing, everyone just goes with the flow —
men may see it for the temptation that it is, and even women may ponder
that woman's beautiful physical presence… but you won't find
people judging her. In fact, many of our female clients admit they
come here because they're tired of the leers they get at the mainstream
meat-market gyms. The vibe here is totally chill, totally hip, 100%
On the way to the workout room, we pass a food and juice bar with esoteric names emblazoned on the menu overhead: Lotus Power Shake, Himalayan Smoothies, Tibetan Drink of the Dead, Nirvana Nutritional Bars, Chakra & Okra, Tofu or Not Tofu, Dharamsalad, Tantric Toast & Cosmic Egg, and Kundalini Alfredo.
Jones brings us to the first workout machine, where a muscular blond young man wears a shirt which depicts the Buddha sitting beneath the Bodhi tree, eyes shut, curling dumbbells with his wrists. "We call this step machine the Eightfold Path. Each of the eight levels gets increasingly difficult, but when you get to the top, you'll see that it's well worth the work." In fact, as we sneak a peek at the exerciser's monitor, it shifts from level six, "Right effort," to level seven, "Right mindfulness."
We pass another step machine which simulates
climbing 108 steps to the top of a Buddhist stupa while chanting
plays in the person's headphones. In this case, as the exerciser
walks along he gazes into the screen image of the so-called "third
eye," commonly depicted on the tops of stupas.
At another station, a man grunts as he tries
to turn a giant brass "prayer wheel" cylinder around a
steel pole. Each rotation changes the digital number on a nearby
"In L.A.," admits Jones,
"not everyone will make time to meditate, but they'll make
time to go to the gym. So we sort of kill two birds with one stone...
well, we don't really hurt anything — you know what I mean.
Products like this one, sold at the gym store, promise an
uplifting boost of energy.
"We don't like to get too hung up on machinery, too,"
says Jones. "That's why in these other rooms you'll see we
also offer a popular 'BuddhaSizeIt' class… and then there's
always 'Dharma and Spinning,' featuring the dreaded cycle of Samsara…
and our 'Karmaerobics' classes are really catching on, too."
The end of our tour fittingly brings us to a sign over the exit which states simply, "If the roots are strong, the tree will flourish."
Jones clasps the palms of her hands together and bids us all a shanti day.