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At Home with Russell Simmons

by Rona Berg

A passion for yoga and meditation inspire a new project

Photography by Thomas Concordia

Ellen does it. Oprah does it. Forest Whitaker, Dr. Oz and, of course, Russell Simmons do it. According to Simmons, they all credit meditation as one of the secrets to their success—and he inspired most of them to start.

Sitting with Simmons in his spacious open kitchen in Beverly Hills, with a view of the pool out back, a Buddha garden in front and inspirational quotes on the walls, it’s striking how the man, even after years of daily meditation and yoga, is a perpetual-motion machine. His energy is all over the place. Talking to me, he remembers something to say to a staff member, gets up, walks outside, comes back, sits down, stands up, sits down—like someone who feels like he never has time to do everything.

When Simmons was growing up in Hollis, Queens, his friends and family called him “Rush,” because “back then it seemed like nothing could hold my attention for more than a few minutes at a time,” he says in his New York Times best-selling book, Success Through Stillness. “If I was growing up in Hollis today, there’s no doubt I’d be diagnosed with a severe case of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and put on a double dose of Ritalin or Adderall.” But back then, he was merely viewed as “rambunctious.”

The name stuck. “Uncle Rush” clearly still has an edge of that childhood energy. Yet at the same time, a laser-like focus. His slim-Buddha face, and the smile that cracks it wide open, is serene and peaceful, and he really listens. An avid yogi who meditates every morning and practices yoga daily, he’s the first to say that he’s learned to find moments of stillness through yoga and meditation. His advice: “Show up to the mat every day.” No matter where he is in the world, he finds a studio. “If I’m in Zurich, I find a heated yoga studio. One practice, one discipline, allows you freedom to do lots of things.”

The way Simmons’ mind fires away, you begin to see how he’s been able to launch so many successful careers over the last 30 years: hip hop mogul and founder of Def Jam Recordings, Phat Farm, Argyleculture and Rush Communications; creator of the HBO series Def Comedy Jam, where he brought Jamie Foxx, Chris Tucker, Steve Harvey and Martin Lawrence to national prominence; Tony-winner for Def Poetry Jam on Broadway. Now, he’s following his passion for yoga and meditation with the launch of Tantris Center, a new 8,000-square-foot yoga studio in the Soho House building in West Hollywood.

“Yoga is a science for happiness. Meditation had been unproven. Now it’s SO proven it’s shocking.”

Tantris is a passion project, and an ambitious one, at that. Simmons would like it to become “a world destination for yoga studies.” The space is clean, serene and absolutely beautiful, with chakra colors, sutras, thermal and infrared elements, and an amazing sound system, by Starke Sound. A big part of the plan is to sponsor teacher trainings at Tantris, which also has a retail component for yoga clothes for men and women, beauty and personal-care products, a dry bar, malas and wellness offerings like organic vegan shakes and nutritional powders. Simmons, an outspoken supporter of PETA, has been a vegan for 20 years. He’s also on the board of the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace.

A long-time philanthropist, Simmons has already hosted benefits at Tantris for the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and the White Helmets in Aleppo and, no doubt, plans many more. “Everything I got, I got by giving,” he says. “Good givers are great getters. I don’t believe you can be a spiritual being and be devoid of politics,” he continues. “I know neediness is the cause of suffering, and I wish I could eliminate it all.” He is creating a program to support young people to do yoga, and speaks about Transcendental Meditation in schools and prisons.

According to Simmons, meditation decreases stress, improves your health, leads to better eating and sharpens your focus. “Meditation keeps the left and right sides of the brain fusing. Sitting in silence for 20 minutes can be a tool to wash away the pain, frustration and insecurities that have been coloring your existence and allow you to get back to the state of happiness that is your birthright.”

Simmons sponsored scholarships for teacher trainings for 10 years at his Jivamukti yoga practice in New York, and he admires the authenticity and intention of yogis who study the yoga sutras, Bhagavad Gita, anatomy, Sanskrit and silent meditation. “I admire that kind of discipline,” he continues. “They’re looking to attain yoga—-not just a yoga butt.”

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