When most people think of yoga, finding your zen to Good Kid, M.A.A.D City isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but Def Jam founder Russell Simmons is on a one-man mission to change that.
At Simmons’s L.A. yoga studio, Tantris, guests can catch a meditation lead by Simmons himself before stretching it out in a class that’s just as likely to bump some Frank Ocean as they are yoga mantras.
We caught up with the hip-hop mogul to discuss all things yoga; how it’s impacted his life, the vision of his studio and the future of male yoga pants.
Simmons discovered yoga by accident 23 years ago. In a move that would later change his life, Simmons went to Steve Ross’s studio, a monk turned yoga teacher who “played hip-hop and never talked too much about scripture.”
“I went there because of girls, and loud rap music,” Simmons explained. One of only two men in a group of 60 women, Simmons figured his chances to meet someone were pretty high, however, the entrepreneur got a lot more from the class than just a date. Until he was 30, Simmons was a heavy drug user and he described feeling “high as hell” coming out of the studio. “I found a new high, presence and awareness. And it was amazing,” Simmons remembered.
After the first class, Simmons was hooked, “I chased it. Went every single day after. It was a phenomenal awakening for me.” He began to learn more about yoga and eventually began to meditate and adopt a vegan diet. Through yoga, Simmons learned “that morning meditation beats late night drinking."
But yoga is not only a high that Simmons needed to replicate, it's also a form of self-care. Speaking to the New York Times, he revealed that yoga helped him overcome his anxiety, something he previously thought was “a driving force” in his career. With the help of yoga, Simmons began to focus on his mental health, discovering that the calmness and the focus on the here-and-now that yoga brought actually helped his work. “You can not be creative, except in the present moment. You can't be happy, except in the present moment,” he explained.
Simmons decided to open his own studio late last year “because there were no devotional spaces of the kind, with the system that I had in mind. I wanted to live of the ancient practices. I wanted to do them in the right way and without making them too difficult to digest.”
Tantris is one of the few hot yoga studios (often called Bikram yoga) that is based on “yogic science.” During our interview, Simmons stressed that yoga is more than yoga pants, relaxed breathing and trying to fold your body into a lotus pose.
For Simmons, yoga is a spiritual experience: “Yoga is not throwing your body around and some other shit, but the practice returning to God over and over again.” He follows the “eight limbs” of yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadh and states that the ultimate goal of yoga is a sort of Nirvana or “a state of needing nothing.”
Simmons explained that at Tantris, “we teach how to get there, we teach a road map. All spiritual sciences teach the same things, but we teach it in a concise way that is easy to digest. We play Krishna Das and Kendrick Lamar. We make it fun.”
But it's not just the music that sets Tantris apart from other yoga studios. It also hosts vegan dinners and a monthly first Friday party attended by “a bunch of Hare Krishnas, models, actresses, actors and devout yogis.” Being in LA offers the studio the opportunity to incorporate weed into their celebrations, with four different weed vendors supplying the parties with joints and cannabis tea.
Tantris isn’t just a studio or devotional space to Simmons, it’s a brand. The West Hollywood venue incorporates a salon element, a juice bar, and a retail store, the latter being something Simmons wants to focus on in the future. Tantris currently produce a few womenswear yoga pieces but Simmons plans to expand the line for men. On the phone he laughed, saying he couldn’t believe, “how many people are wearing those horrible ball-cruncher pants,” and announced that Tantris can “make much better clothes for men and for women than I see in the yoga business.”
When you consider Simmons's career so far, it’s not surprising that he’s running his yoga studio like an empire to-be. Everything that Simmons has done, from Def Jam to Phat Farm, started with a strong vision that he wants to share with the world, and yoga is no different.
After confessing that I don’t practice yoga, Simmons invited me to train at the studio, and he’s managed to convince everyone from Oprah to Snoop Dogg to meditate with him. It’s incredibly clear that Simmons believes in yoga and wants to share his interpretation of it with the world — it just doesn't hurt that he stands to make some money in the process.
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