Doing “yoga” with Russell Simmons

by Bob Roth on April 28, 2010

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As I have frequently reported on this blog site, I taught entrepreneur and philanthropist Russell Simmons the Transcendental Meditation technique and he is really enjoying it… He never misses, and he inspired his former wife Kimora to learn, as well as his two delightful young daughters, Ming and Aoki.

For ten years now, Russell has also been a big-time yoga enthusiast. Since I met him, he has been inviting me to join him at the yoga studio he attends every day after work near Union Square. So yesterday, Sunday, I did just that.

Wow, have I been out of the popular yoga scene.

For me, for 40 years, yoga practice has meant a simple set of gentle postures… Do a posture as best you can, hold it comfortably for a bit, and then return to a rest pose—back to Silence, back to the Self. Do that for 15 to 20 minutes and then do some light breathing exercises, and do it all as a lead-in to meditation, to effortless transcending, to experience firsthand the literal meaning of yoga, which is “union.” Union with the Self, the absolute, pure consciousness, the unified field.

My experience at Russell’s yoga studio, which, by the way was PACKED TO THE WALLS with people squeezed in almost on top of each other, was pretty much the opposite. Great people, good feeling, but not much in the way of gentle or effortless.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed myself. A lot. It was like a vigorous, nay, REALLY intense cardiovascular workout. But it was not the yoga I grew up with. I was sweating profusely after 20 minutes, as we moved from pose to pose to pose to pose to pose with nary a moment to rest, or absorb. After an hour I thought I was gonna die (not really, but you know the feeling). I kept wanting to hear some silence but the air was filled with pulsating music or else the kindly, but firm advice of the yoga teachers. Speaking over a headset microphone, they directed us through what felt like an endless string of sequences as they moved through the rows, modifying postures (“relax your shoulder muscles” or “line up your palms under your shoulders” or “hold that pose even if there is some discomfort”), offering gentle encouragement and relentless advice. I just really wanted to a few moments of the “corpse pose”—lying flat on my back, eyes closed, in quietude to integrate everything. No chance.


I was new to everything so I kept looking to the person next to me to watch the flow and confirm what I was doing was what I was supposed to be doing. As I gazed around the room, I was amazed at the widespread proficiency. Even heavy-set men (most everyone seemed to be in their late 20s or early 30s) were propelling themselves into headstands and balancing their bodies horizontally, seemingly on one palm and one toe…

I was in the room for almost two hours. I am told sessions like this go on all day, everyday at the studio, and they are pretty much packed. I was still hot when I thanked Russell for his kindness, moved through a clump of people tying shoes and stuffing yoga clothes in backpacks and made my way out of the the studio and down one flight of stairs to the street below. I turned the corner to find a Whole Foods Market where I bought some vitamin C (the tasty chewable cherry-flavor kind for a bit of a scratchy throat) and some fresh cut papaya and watermelon to nibble on as a snack… I walked through the drizzley cold amidst larger clumps of people coagulating on Union Square and headed for the number “5″ subway to Battery Park, my stop. Still feeling a bit woozey from the unexpectedly high-octane yoga workout, I took the elevator up to my apartment, sipped a cup of hot water, settled in comfortably on a sofa, and had what I would call, after more than 40 years of practice, a really nice meditation.

Transcendental: effortless, deep, expansive, restful, invigorating, satisfying.


NEXT: Maharishi on Yoga


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  • Asher

    I find that some of my best spiritual experiences come when doing Yoga Asanas.

    It is when I do the postures slowly and in a relaxed way that I find I get the most benefit. Yoga is definitely not meant to be exercise. yet at the same time the activity tones and strengthens the body.

    Thanks for the insights Bobby.

  • Rich van Schaik

    I highly recommend viewing the movie, Enlighten Up, about the North American Yoga movement. (Available at NetFlix)

    You can see a trailer on YouTube here…

    What is fascinating about the movie is that at the end of the day, after the protagonist has tried every imaginable strategy on the entire planet (almost literally–he moves from the lower 48 in the US to Hawaii, then India in his quest)…after all that, his bottom line is not fitness, or flexibility, or anything physical at all…it is his progress to Enlightenment.

    Here’s another thought…the last time the yoga trend was very strong was in the ’60′s; I clearly remember my mom standing on her head, bless her soul. What followed in the Zeitgeist from the physical practice of Hatha Yoga was the mental practice, where TM gained huge acceptance in the public appetite. And lookee…we are today in another cycle, beginning with Hatha Yoga, all over again. Stay tuned!

  • christiane francois

    This reminds of the yoga T-shirt that says “I’m just here for savasana”.

  • Lester Bates

    The yoga session you described is really “hatha” yoga—the physical asana postures, and probably performed with too much force. The common, modern-day, Western interpretation has turned asana into a form of aerobic exercise. It’s too bad that the popular twist on the term “yoga” is primarily asana, because yoga is so much more than that. Sounds like you experienced the true state of yoga when you got home and meditated.

  • Bertha Mansah Dumatonu

    I’m highly impressed to know that Russell Simmons does yoga. its’ an inspiration to some of us on the path to enlightenment. Thank you for this information. Russell,thank you for the good work for helping to bring Invincibility to Africa and the whole world.
    B. M. D.

  • Katherine Roberts

    Thanks for sharing this post with us . I believe like most of us do believe that Yoga really uplifts you spiritually and is beautiful. It is a divine blessing to mankind :) Anyway,40 years is huge time man !

  • Jussi

    This is a wonderful story, peppered with wisdom, the personal, and the fascinating. Bobby, you have a gift. Please write more! :)

  • Gemechu

    am new for meditation and yoga but i for sure empressed when understanding from your discusion, ready to learn more and start practicing from today, from africa, ethiopia. Tnx a lot

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