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As a dancer all of my life, hot yoga is something I’ve always wanted to try, but just never had the time or a reason to do. Finally, the opportunity presented itself…in the most unexpected of ways. In the heart of West Hollywood is a hot yoga studio known as Tantris, created by none other than Russell Simmons. Yes, that Russell Simmons: The hip-hop legend.

Simmons is known by most for his groundbreaking career in music production and artist management. Do names like Def Jam Recordings, the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, or Rush Communications ring a bell?

Who would have expected that this hip-hop mogul has been a devout yogi for over 20 years? He’s taken his unwavering passion for the practice of yoga to inspire others by opening Tantris. “Just learning yoga science or philosophy during the practice helps people to really achieve a happier state,” he says. Simply put, “People who practice yoga are happier.”

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So, I was stoked about the opportunity to speak with this legend and test out one of his Tantris hot yoga classes.

And what an experience it was. First off, I never pictured myself valeting for a yoga class, but when in Hollywood I guess that’s what you’ve got to do. Entering the center, I was immediately transported to a peaceful, temple-like environment, far removed from the fast-paced, busy lifestyle right outside the doors. There’s no better way to describe the space than overwhelmingly tranquil.

After being greeted and given a tour of the huge center, I was ready to enter the yoga studio itself. Walking barefoot down the hallway towards the studio, I realized I didn’t really know what I’d gotten myself into. Was I going to be blasted with blazing heat and start sweating immediately? Would the class be packed to the brim with super experienced yogis who had been doing this forever? Would they scoff at my attempt at a headstand or one of the many crazy pretzel-like poses? What if I sweat way more than everyone else?

Luckily, the last one wasn’t true. In fact, none of these worries had any merit. The heat, although set to about 99 degrees for most of the class was extremely calming and served as a great way to loosen up my muscles.

In fact, the sweating factor wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought it was. Because everyone is so wrapped up in their own individual practice (I think my eyes were closed for over half of the 75-minute class) you don’t really focus on how much you’re sweating or how that compares to the people around you. The only evidence left behind is the puddle left in your wake after you’ve collected your yoga mat and towel at the end of class.

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Although I’d expected the many poses, what I didn’t anticipate was the devotional aspect of the practice. Many people focus on the poses in order to achieve that often sought-after “yoga butt.”  But according to Russell, the physical practice is only part of yoga.

“I think it is about yoga science as much as anything,” he says. “The physical practice is useful in moving towards yoga, but it is not the total practice. A lot of Americans are missing out on what I think is the sweet spot.” Russell describes this sweet spot as the “state of yoga” which everyone searches for in the form of stillness or the calming of the mind.

Throughout the class, I almost felt as if I was listening to a motivational speech. The teacher was so encouraging and inspiring, walking us through not only the poses, but also yogic scripture and ideology.

The goal both the instructor and Russell touched upon was translating the yogic practice into our daily lives. For example, the instructor encouraged us to smile and breathe in difficult poses, just like you would do in difficult moments in everyday life.

Leaving the studio I’d almost felt like my work out had been as much mental as physical. Finding stillness and maintaining presence is no simple task.

However, in getting to sit down with Russell, he shared why both aspects of the practice are important. “The Asana and all of yoga science is about the calming of the mind so we can see what’s in front of us,” he says.

And although Russell has never surfed before, he enumerated the many benefits yoga can bring to athletes. “When a surfer is on that board he has to be totally awake,” he says. “You can’t surf when the mind is fluctuating. Yoga is the science of calming fluctuations of the mind…that is what yoga is.”

This is easier said than done. Luckily Russell shared that everyone is in the same boat, constantly evolving and growing in their practice. “They say in one of the scriptures that if you do your pose perfectly, if the breath goes in and out at the same rate, if you are aligned perfectly, and your mind is focused wholly on the infinite then you turn into an enlightened being – a ball of light,” he says. “But there are no balls of light here. We are all evolving.”

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I think it’s pretty clear that I will not be a “ball of light” anytime soon. But, whether you are an experienced yogi or just embarking into the world of yoga like me, it pays to embrace this devotional approach to yoga in addition to working on attaining that “yoga butt.”

If you live in the Los Angeles area, you can learn more about Tantris, and maybe even take a class with Russell here.

Video shot and edited by Alex Smolowe.

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