There are some people who remind you that there’s magic in this world. Beings who shine so bright they can sometimes blind. Normandie Keith, with her long blond braids and thousand-watt smile is one of these people. She has the ability to be as opened-hearted and present with the homeless gentleman leaning against the bus stop, as the A-listers with whom she shares 30-year friendships.
Normandie is a formidable Kundalini Yoga teacher who leaves behind a little trail of glitter (and evil eye necklaces) everywhere she goes. Students, friends, colleagues, social critics, former fans, and other football moms may think that she effortlessly has it all figured out. What they don’t realize is that it’s often pressure that makes diamonds.
Normandie Keith and Bright Beginnings
As a young model spending time in the Bahamas, Normandie Keith could not stop staring at a local shopkeeper. Sixty-five years old and well over two hundred and fifty pounds, the woman contained an energy that was unfamiliar to the aristocratic East Coaster. Normandie recalls, “She was just the most beautiful woman to me, her eyes, her face, and I just kept saying to her, ‘You’re so beautiful, where did this come from?’ She said, ‘It comes from the spirit. The spirit is inside you, and you have it too!’ She made me feel and know that beauty was on the inside. So, I was always looking for that spirit.”
A few years and several print campaigns later, London’s Tatler Magazine, put model Normandie Keith and gal pal Tara Palmer-Tomkinson on the cover. Big, bold lettering labeled them “It Girls” inciting an international phenomenon. The duo were part of a pack of twenty-something socialites, who traveled by private planes to private shores, where paparazzi used long lenses to get shots of them with Prince Andrew, Simon Le Bon, and Posh Spice. Processed negatives were printed next to pics of Princess Di on every tabloid cover in London-town. Normandie Keith married The Honorable Lucas White, becoming part of the English aristocracy herself.
Normandie Keith White with her high cheekbones, perfect nose, and porcelain skin, became a muse to icons of fashion. In Valentino, Vera Wang, and Diane Von Furstenberg, she graced the pages and some covers of magazines including French Vogue, Harpers & Queen (now Harper’s Bazaar), Hello!, OK, and more. Polo matches, Dom Perignon, party favors. “It was Balenciaga’s at dawn,” she laughs. “It was a time of amazing opulence, but it was also a very high pressure time. A time when I felt like I had to compete and wear the season’s couture and carry the most current handbag, I had the outfit together on the surface, yet I wasn’t complete in myself. So [I wondered] how can I arm myself, and put on enough of a shield, a costume, so that nobody knows that I’m really afraid?”
The Golden Thread
Normandie read books on Buddhism, studied Kabbalah in a tiny room in Regent’s Park, and attended the Landmark Forum. She even enrolled in a Kundalini Yoga course, but at the time that didn’t click. She reflects, “I obviously wasn’t ready for it then.” While at home one day working on her beauty column in You Magazine, Normandie saw Cindy Crawford on TV. The American model had written the forward to a yoga book. Normandie remembers, “I saw a quick flash of this woman in Los Angeles with a turban, and I thought, well that’s interesting.”
The Whites welcomed son Finn to the family, and the new mother made a resolve. “Because my parents were older, I was pretty much raised by a nanny. I wanted to ensure that I didn’t do that.” Thus, the trio traded life in London’s fast lane for the spaciousness and privacy of LA. Upon arrival, Normandie realized that the fast lane had followed her. “There were a lot of industry parties, and a lot of parties at my house. I saw that this was going to be the same as in London.” She became reclusive, Uneasy, feeling that, “Something was wrong. Deep in my intuition, in my soul, something wasn’t jiving right.”
Breaking the Mask
After a Tatler Magazine shoot at The Beverly Hills Hotel, Normandie returned home in full hair, make-up, and wardrobe. As she reached her gate, “I tripped!” she squeaks. “Because my hands were full, I couldn’t put them down. So, I fell into a big metal drainpipe. I broke my nose and eye sockets. At that moment, my mask was broken. The mask of illusion. My face, which is what I had traded on, which had been my sense of self with this external life – the beacon of that was my face. And my face was gone. I remember feeling the blood coming out of my eyes, and what was my nose. That earth-shattering sound when I heard my face break, it was like everything inside of me broke. It was done.”
The confidante she most counted on couldn’t handle the gushing blood, and her husband was unreachable. So, Normandie made her way to Cedars-Sinai… alone…. for the first time in years. New to the country and without insurance, the ER intake nurse was reticent to tend to her. Normandie screamed, “Please help me! I’m somebody’s daughter! I’m somebody’s mother!” But the bureaucratic medical staff bellowed, “Nope. Back of the line!” She asserts, “Everything that could go wrong, did. I didn’t have a bridge in my nose, they didn’t get me a plastic surgeon. They ended up gluing the gravel from the fall into my nose, which then got infected.”
The pretty porcelain façade of Normandie Keith White crumbled, and with it her marriage, modeling career, and financial footing. Some members of the jetset that she called “friends” faded out. Her toddler son was so scared of her stitches and bruises that he asked her to wear a costume Ironman mask.
Normandie’s soul-sister Sadie Turner came to live in her guesthouse atop La Brea in the Hollywood Hills. At 3:30 am Sadie would scurry down the driveway. Normandie recalls, “I thought that maybe she was going partying so I waddled over in my Ironman mask to ask if she was ok.” Sadie responded, “Am I ok? Are YOU ok?!” Then she explained, “I’m going to Morning Sadhana. It’s Kundalini Yoga. Do you want to come?” Normandie exclaimed, “I tried that in London. You mean I can be there in the dark and nobody is going to see me?! Yyyeeeeaaa I want to come.”
The next morning, just before 4 am, the two entered Golden Bridge Yoga in Hollywood. Normandie recounts, “I remember walking in the door for the first time and it was so dark. And it was so still. The feeling that was in the building, seeing vividly the energy that was in the air, and the colors that surrounded it.
As the dawn rose, we were chanting. I knew every mantra of the Aquarian Sadhana. Everything was in me. I felt that I had always been there. Aside from having my son, it was the most beautiful experience in my life. This feeling of complete wholeness, that this is what I needed to do, and this is what I needed to be. I remember looking up on the stage, and seeing the man who was leading the sadhana. And I said to myself, ‘I will lead this. I know this; I know this in every part of my being.’”
Sadhana ended at 7 am. Normandie stayed for the next class, and the class after that, until the doors closed that evening, and back at dawn the next day. She signed up for Tej Kaur Khalsa’s teacher training that began the following week. She laughs, “Finn was being dragged to Golden Bridge every three seconds.”
When the Student is Ready
Grateful for the refuge, the well-mannered, former model wanted to send a “thank you” note to the studio owner. She discovered that it was Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, the woman in the turban who had flashed on her TV screen with Cindy Crawford four years before. The wise crone was away in Rishikesh, India, for many months. Then one day while in Golden Bridge, Normandie chokes back tears, “I was walking up the stairs, and Gurmukh was walking down and she said, ‘You’re Normandie!’
I knew her. I mean I knew her deeply. It was like coming home to your mother. There’s something so magical about her. She’s a fairy, or a pixie, or an elf, and then she’s the biggest queen and goddess and saint. And then she’s a human, in this tiny body. Like the genie in the bottle. There was so much that radiated from her. Her aura, her energetic being, spoke to the deepest parts of me that hadn’t been nurtured properly, that hadn’t been called home. I know I am far from the first person who has been transformed by her without saying a word, but when you’re in the presence of grace, this happens.”
Over the course of nearly a decade, the two developed the type of relationship that can only be described as dharmic. “I have been so incredibly blessed by her!” Normandie weeps, “I’ve taught with her, and I have had the most fun with her, the hardest times, and the most transformative teachings. She’s been not only my teacher, but my incredible friend.”
For many years, Gurmukh and her husband, Gurushabd Singh lived in Normandie’s guest house, atop La Brea. It was the same one Sadie stayed when she first brought Normandie to sadhana that dark morning. Normandie revels in sincere reverence for her surrogate family saying, “Gurushabd has been protective and kind, and always a solid voice for me. And their daughter Wah is like my sister. She is someone that I value so deeply for her counsel and her friendship.”
Thousands of practitioners from all over the world considered Golden Bridge to be a sacred site of pilgrimage, transformation, learning, service, and community. When it closed its’ doors in 2015, it devastated the hundreds who oriented their daily lives around it. “We were like rudderless ships,” Normandie reflects, “It’s been tough, but it’s given me the lesson that you carry your temple with you. Your sanctuary is within yourself, and you bring yourself back home, by your thoughts, by your breath, by your actions. You can’t depend on a physical roof.”
The Student becomes a Teacher
Alhough Normandie had been teaching and leading sadhana for many years, the studio closing kicked her out of the metaphysical nest. She expanded her teaching beyond those walls with an active private clientele, retreats and workshops, classes at Wanderlust Hollywood, Soho House Malibu, Unplug Meditation and Yoga West, and her dedication to service work at Blessed Sacrament Jesuit Parish in Hollywood with people who are homeless. She also has two online programs on Yogaglo: Kundalini 101 and Morning Ritual: Wake Up to Create Your Day.
These programs and initiatives create a safe space for students to remove their own “masks of illusion” (without the severity of falling in a drain pipe). Through her teachings, Normandie inspires others to reveal their own true selves.
One of Ms. Keith’s favorite parables of Yogi Bhajan’s is that of a lighthouse. She teaches, “What the lighthouse is, is a beacon. A lighthouse doesn’t leave its post and go out and rescue one ship. In doing that, all of the other ships would get lost. A lighthouse, it stays rock steady, it stays firmly rooted, and it beckons everyone home. It leads by example.”
During her birthday week last year, Normandie was as spastic as any single mother driving around town in legendary LA traffic. Privates, studio classes, her son’s football games and studies, service with people who are homeless, and her own sadhana. She didn’t feel very lighthouse-like. “Ugh! Ack! I have GOT to get myself to a yoga class!”
After the daily hustle, Normandie dragged herself into her house, where the Star Wars theme song blasted. She saw lit candles everywhere and two yoga mats perfectly aligned. “Uh, what is going on…?!” Her now 12-year-old son Finn jumped into frame announcing, “I know that you don’t have time to go to yoga, so I want to teach YOU a yoga class. This is my birthday present to you. I found a good mantra.” She laughs, “And ‘good mantra’ was Star Wars, but I was like,‘Ok, Yoda’s in the house! We got this!’” Like any proud mom, she cried through the entire practice. Her little candle burned bright.
Later in the year, a radiant, wise, and generous teacher led Kundalini Yoga classes at Coachella. New students asked about the Aquarian Sadhana and her spiritual name. Normandie Keith, calm, quiet, compassionate and still, responded humbly, “Dharam Prakash – it means one who travels the path of righteousness fearlessly and is lit from within.”
What the shopkeeper in the Bahamas had tried to tell her all those lifetimes ago.
Cheryl Fox is a professional photographer and yoga practitioner based in LA: cherylfoxportfolio.com
Hair and Makeup by Kumiko Ando (IG @kumikohairmakeup)
Styling by Designer Venius Adams: venius.net
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