Russell Simmons, the Yoga King of Los Angeles

Russell Simmons, the Yoga King of Los Angeles

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“The girls will get claustrophobic,” said Mr. Simmons, who wore a Yankees cap and prayer beads with an Om pendant. “They’ll blow their brains out.”

If Mr. Simmons’s high-end standards and off-color remarks seem odd for a “center for yogic science,” as Tantris aims to be, they also help distinguish his studio in a city with no shortage of places to master sphinx poses and sun salutations.

Tantris — an 8,000-square-foot studio that offers amenities like pH-balanced showers, valet parking, a juice bar, a lounge with city views and a boutique that carries Mr. Simmons’s new activewear collection — is the culmination of the 59-year-old mogul’s obsession with yoga.

“We want people who teach yoga, who want to realize yoga, not people who are yoga teachers like gym teachers,” he said. “We want devotional teachers for our studio who are deeply studied.”

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Tantris is an 8,000-square-foot studio that offers amenities like pH-balanced showers, valet parking, a juice bar and a lounge with city views.

Credit
Emily Berl for The New York Times

Mr. Simmons, best known as a founder of Def Jam Recordings, discovered yoga in 1994, when his intern at Def Pictures dragged him to Maha Yoga in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. (That intern, Emma Watts, is now the president for production at 20th Century Fox.) “I went because there were a lot of hot girls and no guys, except for gay guys who didn’t want the girls,” Mr. Simmons said.

After one session, he was hooked. “I was high after that class,” he said. “I was present for a moment, and for that moment, I didn’t feel anxiety. I used to think anxiety was a driving force in my career. The idea that I would stay up all night worrying, I used to think that was part of what made me successful. And obviously, nothing is further from the truth.”

Since then, he said, he has practiced yoga every day, making it a part of his routine as he ran companies including his record label, the clothing company Phat Farm and the online comedy network All Def Digital.

Yoga reshaped his life in other ways. He took up meditation, became a vegan and shared his love of his new lifestyle with famous friends.

“Teaching Oprah to meditate was a very special experience,” he said. “I sent Bob Roth to her,” he said, referring to a teacher of Transcendental Meditation. “Meditation Bob, they call him. Ellen DeGeneres, I was on her show, promoting the book ‘Super Rich.’ I sent Bob Roth to live with her, too.”

He also became a celebrity among the yoga set, whose adoration was evident in September when Mr. Simmons headlined a conference at Wanderlust, a Hollywood yoga center that offers free classes but also sells $136 healing crystals. Mr. Simmons arrived in a black Range Rover, dressed in his usual uniform of checkered shirt, baseball cap and prayer beads.

He bounded up a stage to raucous applause and yelps of approval. He sat cross-legged on a cushion and, for 30 minutes, offered a frenetic stream of consciousness on yoga and entrepreneurship.

“As business yogis, we’re like, ‘Let’s do stuff that makes people happy,’” he said at one point. “If we’re druggies, we want the best drugs.”

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Mr. Simmons during a yoga class in New York City in 2010.

Credit
Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times

In fact, Mr. Simmons is a former drug addict. After his talk, over lunch at the members-only Soho House West Hollywood, which is in the same building as Tantris, he kicked off his sneakers, twisted himself into a lotus position and recalled doing “every bit of drug” available in Harlem, where he briefly attended college in the 1970s.

“I smoked a lot of angel dust,” he said. “It’s PCP and horse tranquilizer. I would get high, eat animals.”

After he moved to New York from Los Angeles in the late 1990s, he sought the guidance of Sharon Gannon, a founder of the Jivamukti yoga school, which was in the East Village at the time.

“He had taken a class, and then someone from his office called me,” Ms. Gannon said the other day. “Russell wanted to arrange for me to give him a private yoga class. I said, ‘I don’t have time to come to your apartment to give you a private yoga class.’ And he goes: ‘How much do you want? How much do I have to pay you?’

“I said: ‘Russell, from what I know about you, you’re all about community and the people. If you really mean that, you’ll come here to classes and be in the community. That’s where you’re going to get the most out of this.’ He listened. The next day, he was there in the yoga school.”

Mr. Simmons refers to Ms. Gannon and Jivamukti’s other founder, David Life, as his gurus. Their Scripture-informed style of teaching (he calls it “devotional yoga”) inspired him to open his yoga center in the Los Angeles area, where he said the centuries-old practice is treated more like a workout than a way of life.

While Mr. Simmons is not licensed to teach yoga himself, he spent months interviewing instructors for Tantris, quizzing them on ancient Indian texts like the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (“the Bible,” Mr. Simmons said) and the Bhagavad Gita. “I interviewed 20 teachers yesterday,” he said. “I liked six.”

Once hired, Tantris instructors undergo seminars and further training. “By the time they finish, the teacher will be vegan or not, and if they’re not, they won’t teach with us,” he said. “Some of them won’t be able to pass our teacher training.”

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Mr. Simmons’s new activewear collection is for sale in the lobby.

Credit
Emily Berl for The New York Times

Mr. Simmons also likes his yoga hot; Tantris’s hottest classes are held at 98 degrees. This can pose a problem for women concerned about their hair, so he installed a blow-dry salon at Tantris, something he’s been touting around town in the hopes of drawing style-conscious women.

(During lunch at Soho House, Mr. Simmons spotted Gary Friedman, the chief executive of Restoration Hardware, and his young companion, Bella Hunter. “Bella, does it mess your hair up if you go to hot yoga?” Mr. Simmons asked.

“So much,” Ms. Hunter said. “Do you know how painful it is to run to a lunch or a damn meeting after yoga?”

“If I had a dry bar, you might go more often?” he asked. “Absolutely,” she said.)

Other luxe conveniences include pebbled-brass sinks, hotel-quality bathrobes and eucalyptus-scented towels. For those who forget their yoga apparel, the boutique sells $108 leggings adorned with the studio’s logo, which looks like an infinity symbol with a notch and an extra loop. The perks come at a price: $28 for a single class and $275 a month for a gold membership.

Tantris also reveals itself to be a place of serious yoga worship. Statues of Hindu deities line the halls. A wall outside the second-floor studio is covered with photos of South Indian temples and figures from yoga and Hinduism including Swami Satchidananda and Krishna, the flute-playing deity. The four colors of the studio match those of the seven chakras, including light blue for vishuddhi (the throat) and yellow for manipura (the solar plexus).

Modernity has wormed its way into the space as well. This month’s playlist includes songs by Kanye West, who is signed to Mr. Simmons’s Def Jam label, and Krishna Das, an American vocalist who performs Hindu devotional chants.

The only things Mr. Simmons wanted but was unable to finagle into Tantris were cryotherapy chambers, which expose the body to temperatures at least 200 degrees below zero Fahrenheit for a few minutes. Cryotherapy is his latest obsession: He often drives to Cryohealthcare in West Hollywood after yoga. Given his never-ending pursuit of a pick-me-up, it’s tempting to wonder whether his mind-body fixation was influenced by his drug-fueled past.

“I would say that people take drugs or meditate for the same result,” he said. “I make class every day no matter what. I meditate twice a day no matter what. And lately I’ve been freezing every day, no matter what.”

“I love it,” he added. “It gets me high.”

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