I’m sweating in the bhujangasana cobra pose as Biggie Smalls blares over the speakers at the Tantris studio in West Hollywood, the new yoga and spiritual center launched by Def Jam founder and multihyphenate mogul Russell Simmons. Suddenly, the lyric “Tell me who’s hot, who’s not” has new meaning.
Yoga has always been more hip opener than hip-hop. When you see rappers exercising, it’s invariably weightlifting, competitive sports or 50 Cent shirtless on a treadmill. The ancient Indian practice has long battled outmoded Western stereotypes about it being strictly for girls or “touch my heart with your foot” consciousness bros.
But it’s quietly become a workout staple of professional athletes and regular humans searching for a meditative retreat from the distraction blitzkrieg of social media. Rae Sremmurd might have bragged last year that all their girls do yoga, but just last month, Future rapped about doing 92-degree hot yoga and feeling incredible.
Enter Tantris, which blends the rigors of the asana physical practice with yogic philosophy and a little bit of Mase. As you might imagine, Simmons is heavily involved in the playlist curation. He keeps the music rhythmic and at a fairly low tempo, so as not to impair the nervous system. No techno because he believes it’s too hard to smile, breathe and keep a quiet mind when the BPM is too high.
“I didn’t build a yoga studio to be Mr. Me Too,” Simmons says. “I built one to be the studio that I’d want to go to. This is fun. You’ll hear Nas, Migos and then Krishna Das and beautifully sung devotional chants. It balances a commercial and spiritual sensibility. The teachers are very studied, and we’re trying to help people move toward enlightenment.”
As someone who has done yoga for more than a dozen years but typically avoided telling others due to the stigma associated, I found Simmons’ concept and execution very impressive. You usually have the choice of the ultra-authentic or the crassly American. Hot yoga can be more inhospitable sauna than soothing respite.
Don’t even get me started on the soundtracks. There’s definitely a limit to my love of James Blake. If I ever have to hear Bon Iver in a yoga class again, I’ll lock myself in a cabin in the woods. Devotional chants and tabla and sitar jams are great but also can be so numbly calming that you fall asleep or become George Harrison in 1972.
During this particular Tantris class, I hear Dr. Dre and Prince, Rihanna and T-Pain, Bob Marley and Raphael Saadiq. There’s a Poolside cover of “Harvest Moon,” Stevie Wonder, and just enough traditional music for it not to feel gimmicky.
There are no songs from Lady Gaga, but she’s in attendance. So is Simmons, who has been practicing for 27 years. He attributes daily yoga and twice-a-day meditation to his professional and personal success and state of clarity.
The evangelizing is rooted in truth. At Tantris, there’s a balance of traditional devotion and modernity. Buddhist votive candles, lanterns and deity statues line the spacious two-story complex, but it still feels like the kind of place where Future would do hot yoga. It’s obviously a trendy West Hollywood yoga studio, but one that avoids the corniness that usually connotes.
In the downstairs area after the class, the sound system restoratively bumps Air’s “Cherry Blossom Girl,” Wax Tailor and Blockhead. Two framed photos tout this month’s inspirations: Krishna Das and Beyoncé.
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“I think we’re ready. It’s already exploded, but now the idea of yoga itself — real yoga, besides the sweating — is ready to take root,” Simmons says. “People come out of these classes and feel like they’ve gone to church. You leave high and happy.”