Russell Simmons gets physical
Russell Simmons gets physical
Deirdra Funcheon

Down, Doggie

He's sitting on a mod red couch in the hotel's lobby, wearing a Phat Farm T-shirt and texting himself reminders on his Treo. Def Jam Records founder and rap megaimpresario Russell Simmons blends in seamlessly with the 305-chic atmosphere of The Standard, South Beach, where the minibars come stocked with Mr. Bubble and condoms. Simmons is here tonight for a yoga class.

"What do you tell a class of yogis that they don't already know?" Simmons says to Loren, his friend and longtime yoga guru, while an extremely pliable crowd trickles into the studio.

"Why don't you talk about the benefits?" she suggests.


Russell Simmons

"Benefits! What? That you get a yoga butt?"

At the back of the room, a dreadlocked DJ in oversize headphones begins selecting MP3s from his laptop.

"Oh! I love this song!" Simmons shouts. "I play it at home all the time! Did you know [co-Def Jam founder] Rick Rubin produced this? Thanks, DJ!" He nods along with the music — not a dance jam by Timbaland but a peaceful tune by Krishna Das — as though he were down the street at a Collins Avenue nightclub.

As Loren guides the class through sung prayers, accompanied by a harmonium and a small rhythm section, Simmons sits lotus in the center of the packed studio. Now it's his turn.

"Just think," begins Simmons. "If we could keep our minds on God and think, God in, God out, with every breath, we could get in synch/operate in order. But then there's this girl in front of you with a great butt! She's in Downward Dog; I'm in Downward Dog. And you're supposed to be keeping your mind on God!"

The DJ chimes in with the Eric B & Rakim hit "Paid in Full," and the class enters a cheerful, high-energy session of asana positions, balance, and handstands.

When it's all over, Simmons, wearing a monklike Standard-issue robe, regales his bendy new entourage with stories, explaining his metamorphosis from a thug who built his fortune "promoting the anger, style, aggression, and attitude of urban America" to Zenned-out vegan.

He recalls his first yoga class in L.A. "There was lots of jewelry and fake boobs. It was all models and actresses — and me." He laughs. "From then on, I started going every day."

The room erupts with steamy laughter. A topless girl seated across from Simmons suggests they all do some chanting. Nodding at her breasts, Simmons agrees. "All right! I'll lead it! Come on, everybody." He begins a chant that's slightly more familiar than the Hindi lyrics. "You can find me in da club/Bottle full a bub...."


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