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Doing “yoga” with Russell Simmons

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.

Russell-simmons-yoga-posture

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.

Whew.

NEXT: Maharishi on Yoga