Christine Grimaldi, a brunette in the Catherine Zeta-Jones mold, is taking a break in her Upper East Side one-bedroom before teaching her afternoon classes. Far from the de rigueur minimalist Eastern shrine, the place is packed with animal prints, and Grimaldi, 35, has forgone abstinence-chic ashram attire in favor of tight black exercise pants and carefully lined lipstick. "I'm not your typical yogi," she asserts in a strong Long Island accent. "I want to shop, too, and go dating." Equally atypical is her client list, half of which reads like the seating chart at The Four Seasons. In her early days as a fitness journalist, Lorne Michaels called her in to do yoga and martial arts with SNL cast members. "Through him, I met the Spielbergs. Then Jimmy and Jane Buffett." She's flown to movie sets with Woody Harrelson and Christie Brinkley. She's balanced Barbara Walters and Gail Sheehy in half-wheels as part of her "contact yoga," a regimen of partner-assisted poses she developed. Through these private clients, Grimaldi began working with cancer patients, who make up the other half of her Rolodex. "I'd work with these families, get really close to them, and there was always someone who had cancer. Celebrities and cancer patients," she says, laughing. "It's a great balance for me, and in yoga, that's the goal."
Two years ago, Grimaldi closed the two Hamptons studios she'd opened at the behest of Donna Karan. After selling the Sagaponack outpost to Courtney Sale Ross as a gym for her school, Grimaldi started teaching classes at Memorial Sloan-Kettering for patients and hospital staff ("I'm like Patch Adams") as part of the hospital's integrative-medicine program. Now she's starting a foundation, Share the Joy, to underwrite everything from movement classes to beauty days at Yoga Plus, her new uptown studio, for those in oncology treatment.
Grimaldi stretches on her leopard rug, chatting with friends Mark Relovsky, 30, and Ariana Dangostino, 27, both of whom she met through her work at Sloan-Kettering and both of whom have Hodgkin's disease. Her business partner, Karen Heder, balances on the edge of a Pilates Reformer. Dangostino has brought pictures of herself and Grimaldi in the hospital. "Those are like $300 on Fifth Avenue!" squeals Grimaldi, pointing to the see-through hospital gown she's wearing in the snapshot. Late for her 5:30 class, she gets up to change. In her bedroom, where an autographed black-and-white of Walters reads to christine, who pushes me too hard, fortunately, Grimaldi sighs. Relovsky is having a tough time, she explains, so she's organized a surprise 30th-birthday party for him after her last class of the night.
When she arrives at the Rockefeller Pavilion boardroom, chiefs of research, nurses, and assistants, who will all go back to their shifts at the end of the hour, are waiting patiently on their green yoga mats. "You guys are all so serious today," she teases. "Start acting normal!" She takes them through a series of poses, telling them, after a final relaxation asana, "Now you're ready to rock!" Afterward, they mob her like a movie star.
"I'm always late," she confesses, hailing a cab to make the 7:30 class at her studio, just a few blocks across town. On the way, she contemplates her calendar: Terry Kramer and Sean Connery in the Hamptons tomorrow. A trip to Berkeley with Sheehy in a few weeks. A client has asked her to do a yoga wedding party: "We're all going to do contact yoga before they get their makeup done."
At Yoga Plus, Madison Avenue regulars drop their $4,000 Fendi bags in the corner with the backpacks and messenger bags of outpatients like Relovsky and Dangostino, who chat about radiation treatment. When Grimaldi, taking her place on a mat in front of the class, announces that "this is Mark's 30th-birthday party," Relovsky laughs, looking around the room full of shorts-and-sweatpants-clad figures about to assume the downward-dog pose. He is suitably stunned after class, when the studio fills with his relatives and friends. As guests nibble prosciutto and grilled vegetables in the studio garden, Relovsky makes a speech thanking Grimaldi, "who is crazy." She cheerfully agrees. "I was going to jump out of the cake," she says. "But I'm too sweaty."