INTERVIEW: Russell Simmons Talks Yoga, Being A Vegan & The Launch Of Tantris, His New Yogic Science Center
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During a trip to Los Angeles earlier this year, I had the chance to visit Tantris, Russell Simmons’s new center for yogic science on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. I was amazed at the space and the concept, which is grounded by three principles: devotional study, karmic study and daily practice. An ultra-luxe space, Tantris features studios with wooden infrared-heated floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, a healthy Energy bar, a Style bar for a post yoga blow-dry, an athleisure fashion line and its own teaching curriculum.
Simmons is not your average human by any measure. An entrepreneur, producer and author, you probably know him as the co-founder of hip-hop music label Def Jam Recordings (his brother is Rev Run of Run-D.M.C.) and founder of hip hop fashion label Phat Farm. What you might not know is that Simmons is a devoted yogi, a passionate vegan and a committed meditator. His multi-decade-long yoga practice inspired him to launch Tantris, as a way to make the science of devotional yoga accessible and commercial. Below we talk about all things yoga and more.
How did Tantris come about?
I have been practicing yoga for over 20 years and I was introduced to Jivamukti Yoga a little less than 20 years ago. I started to read the scriptures and get into the scriptures and then I met a bunch of devotees from around the world…..but [jivamukti] can’t grow as quickly as the more commercial yoga movements.
Tantris is my attempt to do something commercial with the most simple ideas in a way that everyone can digest them. How do we teach yoga in a way that’s not painful? How do we teach the science of happiness? How do we do it in an authentic way without selling out? We want it to have an effect. We want people to leave and feel the effects.
If I can make Tantris a commercial venture, not just an esoteric or hippy space, then I can move everyone towards yoga. I do it in a place that is commercial: the Soho House building, the Spotify building…the building is the place where we can take all the stigma out. We have people like Lady Gaga, Jessica Alba, Usher, Nick Cannon and Nicole Scherzinger. These people are famous and these people will change American yoga and world yoga to a more focused yoga, as opposed to just the asanas.
I think that my entrance into this market, especially with the fashion, will make a difference with the yoga movement. Every bit of media and promotion that I’m a part of is helpful and will get people interested and involved, just like with any other trend that I’ve been part of.
What does yogic science mean?
At heart it [yoga] is a human experience. People will take any route to get out of suffering. Yoga is a philosophy, a science to move towards enlightenment, and the delivery system is through asana practice. To be still and to know is not a foreign idea to people, to Christians or Muslims, or any other religion. These ideas were taught in all religions, through prophets or deities. Many people walk away from religion but everyone wants more happiness.
Breath is a huge focus in the Tantris practice. Can you elaborate?
Pranyama [Sanskrit for the control of breath] and the breath work is very important. To learn to breathe is a key component when you are moving to a happier state, which could equal a fully enlightened place like a state of bliss, Christ consciousness, nirvana…a state of yoga. The state of yoga is everyone’s pursuit. No one is walking this earth and doesn’t want to achieve yoga. All of us want bliss, an awakened state, a present state. As much as we can expand on the seconds of presence that we have [in our lifetime], that’s a good thing.
Being a vegan is a big part of your life. What does being a vegan mean to you?
200 billion animals are made to be born into suffering, the worst kind of suffering imaginable. I question people who understand the suffering that they cause and fully embrace the suffering they cause through the abuse of animals. To participate in that is… I question whether they are hurting their chances, or their speed, of evolution. It is impossible to realize a full union with God while taking lives. The number one cause of global warming is factory farming. I suggest to you that it’s the worst common disaster in the history of the world. It’s wrong. It’s the reason we meditate. Through meditation, you know better. So I’m pretty adamant about it.
What is your take on ‘angry vegans’?
There are a lot of voices that contribute to a movement. The angry vegans are helpful. It’s compassionate to tell you the truth about yourself. My book is called The Happy Vegan. I am not an angry vegan but I am certainly somewhat truthful and I have to be able to speak my belief system. This idea that it’s ok- it’s not ok. It’s ok because we mask it, we make up excuses. In America, animal products are full of growth hormones and steroids. It’s lobbies, it’s business that runs the [food] industry. The government takes away regulation that lets these companies poison the masses. To underwrite the manufacturing of animal products and not to underwrite the manufacturing of green vegetables…it doesn’t make sense.
How do we grow the vegan movement, get more people involved?
How do you grow? The Beyond Meat Burger! You make a burger that’s better than a meat burger. You find alternatives and fun ways to be vegan. You make it accessible. You know, 99% of people who go to by Chloe’s vegan restaurant in NYC are not vegan. Most of the people who go to Crossroads Kitchen, the most trendy vegan restaurant in LA, are not vegan. So give them the food! The government should not be providing animal products. They should be providing alternatives to animal products. [They should] do things to make it easy to make a transition. This [vegan food] is a new industry that’s going to grow.
Tantris is not just a yoga center. It’s also a yoga teaching curriculum. Can you tell us more?
We are very proud of where we are but we are looking forward. There are plans to grow Tantris but we have to first get stable and build our perfect teacher training. Our curriculum is pretty special and I go twice a day just to work on the curriculum. No matter what the teacher, it’s a similar experience: the Tantris Method. It will be a very commercial, accessible, a way to deliver ancient scriptures in ways that to do not offend or make it difficult to digest for people who are interested in practicing.
Photo credits: Patrick Struys (Russell Simmons) and Tantris.