When Raquel Welch wakes up each morning she rolls out of bed onto a mat on the floor and hugs her knees to her chest. Then she raises her legs in the air and stays bottoms up until her head clears. Next she stands up and drops her forehead to her shins until she feels ready to tackle the toothbrush and get on with her day.
"Waking up doesn't have to consist of pouring coffee down your gullet to shock yourself alive," she says, fluffing chestnut curls back in place after demonstrating the head-to-knee portion of her eye-opener. In town recently to promote her new fitness book and videocassette, the 44-year-old actress -- who once compared her body to a national monument (it's "just there, like Mount Rushmore") -- asserts that "your philosophy of fitness reflects your philosophy of life.
"Many people pile up an array of small violences against themselves from the moment they wake up -- caffeine, cigarettes, abrasive exercises or no exercise at all. Lots of faddish fitness programs today have this violent approach -- do 50 leg raises or pound your body jogging on the pavement or jump around to a rhythm not of your own making.
"My approach to fitness and well-being and to life in general is a nonviolent one -- working smoothly with concentration and determination at your own pace without competing with anyone else. Don't be ruthless with yourself and you won't be ruthless with other people."
Welch stops just short of saying that the road to world peace is Hatha Yoga, but that's the thrust of the fitness program she outlines in "Raquel: The Raquel Welch Total Beauty and Fitness Program" (book: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 264 pp., $19.95; video: Thorn EMI Home Video, 90 minutes, $39.95).
"Fitness is indeed a political movement," writes Welch, who contends that personal health is one of the few areas where an individual can make a difference. "Violence breeds violence! Let's put a stop to it in every way we can. It could all start with us."
Her routine centers on 28 postures drawn from the 5,000-year-old technique whose name comes from the Sanskrit for "sun," "moon" and "join together." The exercises range from deep breathing to pretzel-like stretches, each demonstrated with stunning photos of scantily clad Welch, taken by her husband, producer Andre Weinfeld.
Although she looked fit and surprisingly un-Amazon-like (5-foot-6, 115 pounds) in a broad-shouldered suit during her interview, she refused to be photographed, wishing to retain control over pictures published of her.
"I've always had a nice figure," she says with a shrug, "but frankly, about eight years ago, I felt I was losing it. I'd flunked out of every other fitness program -- jogging, weight-lifting, aerobics -- when a friend suggested yoga. I was very resistant because I thought it was a cultish, religious thing with incense and saffron robes. But I discovered it was strenuous, but not painful, and it gave every inch of my body a terrific workout."
Yoga proved particularly helpful in strengthening a body plagued by injury.
"I played a professional roller skater in the film 'Kansas City Bomber' and broke my wrist, split my lip and wrecked my trapezius upper back muscle," she says. "In 'Woman of the Year,' I dislocated my back, pulled my hamstring and chipped a bone.
"I don't want to destroy any illusions about me, but for the most part I see myself as a well-proportioned wimp."
Yoga helped her maintain flexibility, build strength and muscle definition and even, she claims, "get my heart pounding." She spends 60 to 90 minutes on her yoga routine, before breakfast, five to six days a week.
Welch decided to adapt her program for the public two years ago after throngs of women gathered at the stage door each night during the Broadway run of "Woman of the Year" to ask advice about diet and fitness.
"They'd ask things like, 'What should I do to tighten my bottom?' and I'd tell them that it's silly to just work one body part in repetition. You need to treat the whole."
Among her other advice:
* "Avoid the big seduction to only go with your strong points -- like weight-lifting if you've got great muscles. It's the thing that's hardest for you that you need to work on the most." (Hardest for Welch is deep breathing because "I'm in such a fast-paced, high-tension field.")
* "Don't space out during workouts. Use that time to have a private conversation with yourself: 'How do I feel physically, mentally?' 'How is my balance and coordination today?' 'Is there something I should pay special attention to?' "
* "Practice yoga in the early morning or early evening at least one hour after a light meal or three to four hours after a main meal. If you are hungry before practice, try tea, milk or fruit juice."
* "Eat less food at more frequent intervals and slow down when you eat. Munch snacks of fruit or rice cakes throughout the day, and never go to a restaurant ravenous." "Avoid sugar, salt, caffeine, oil and preservatives."
These principles, Welch contends, have freed her of "nightmares about overweight health buffs chewing gum and reading paperback novels atop exercycles" and have also helped her 68-year-old mother, 24-year-old son and 22-year-old daughter.
"Sure, everybody wants to look good in a bikini," she says, "but that's not the point. Fitness should be a state of mind as well as an appearance of body. The goal shouldn't be to look like Raquel Welch or Jane Fonda or Linda Evans or anybody other than the best possible you.
"Because perfection is not the important thing. It's the journey there that counts."