1. This is Russell Simmons standing in front of Hot 8 Yoga Studios with his two daughters, Ming and Aoki.
Hot 8 Yoga is located in Beverly Hills, and as the name suggests, it specializes in yoga performed in the midst of extreme heat and humidity. Russell loves it.
2. Oh, and this is me. My name is Erin, and I decided to do hot yoga with the Simmons family.
Full disclosure: I’ve never done power yoga, or hot yoga. There was a time in my life, when I lived in New York and had a lot of anger about sweaty people on the subway, when I’d taken a few yoga classes. It was nice. It was also air conditioned, though.
3. Simmons signed us all up for Power Yoga.
Which, per the class description on the website, is “an intensified practice that will flow you through strengthening your body during the entire class … This class focuses on flow, movement and balance. Room temperature is between 95 -100 degrees and designed for intermediate to advanced levels.”
4. Before starting class, he poured water on the front of his towel, and his meditation beads are next to him.
5. Things started off fairly easy, some deep breaths and a group chant of, “Om.”
6. Followed by a little namaste.
7. Russell’s basically a pro at this.
8. So are his daughters, who’ve mastered the reverse warrior, obvi.
Aoki, on the right, just turned 11. And her older sister Ming is 13.
9. Then it’s off into a low lunge …
10. And you basically hold it, and hold it, until your entire body starts to glisten with a sheen of sweat.
11. Oh, and did I mention that it’s 102 degrees in the room?
12. Yeah, it’s really hot. Like, so hot that you sweat from every inch of your body.
Like your ears, for example. My ears were sweating. It was weird.
13. But every time you think you can’t take any more heat, Marlize Joubert steps in.
14. Marlize was our Power Yoga teacher, and she was like the encouraging older sister you never had, but always wanted.
“How are you doing?” Marlize asked me every ten minutes, because that’s how often I wanted to stop.
15. But there is no rest in power yoga, not really.
16. Because even when you’re sitting perfectly still, you’re sweating.
My yoga angel, Marlize, gave us ice cold towels. They were the best gift I’ve ever felt.
17. And you rarely sit, because you’re too busy bending into an Utthita Parsvakonasana pose.
18. Ming and I started to feel the same way about that pose, after awhile.
As in, “OK, let’s not do this pose anymore.”
19. If you’re Aoki, you’ll take the free period to backbend into a wheel pose, like a BOSS.
20. And when you leave one pose, it’s on to the next: Ardha Chandrasana.
That’s sort of like a half midair split, if you can imagine.
21. Then there’s the Utkatasana, which feels like you’re about to jump off of a diving board, but never ever do.
Also sometimes called the Chair Pose, which works your arms, legs, and stimulates the heart.
22. If you’re one of Russell’s daughters, you’ll be held to an equally high standard.
Simmons has written about what yoga means to his life, and it’s clearly a family practice.
23. But it will also probably be a lot of fun when you get a little help from Dad.
24. While Simmons is totally nailing the Upward Salute, I’m basically just fixated on how much I’m sweating.
25. Luckily, after an hour, the class began to wind down.
26. “I always feel inspired after this,” Simmons said, when I asked if he felt exhausted after 102 degree yoga.
That’s a forearm stand Russell’s doing. He said it didn’t take him long to master. I believe him.
27. When the class ended, Russell and I sat by the juice bar to talk, and things went from zen to addressing his recent Harriet Tubman controversy.
Simmons said that his new YouTube endeavor, All Def Digital, is “a platform to allow young directors, writers, comedians, musicians, and poets, to express themselves.”
28. “I never in 30 years took down a piece of content or changed a piece of content,” he said while sipping his G1 juice.
Simmons was talking about the fact that he had to remove a parody video titled, “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape.”
The video was removed after the backlash that followed, including a request from the NAACP.
“It’s going to turn into a blessing,” he explained, “because I’ve been working with the family and we’ve been looking at which books we’re going to option, and what we’re going to do. How can we develop a TV project, or maybe film. My TV guy thinks it’s a film project. We have to find the right story from her life. I thought a small miniseries, you know, like maybe a 3-part miniseries. I’m doing a 7-part — well I’m developing a 7 part miniseries already for Frederick Douglass. My children are direct descendants of Frederick Douglass … To be doing Frederick Douglass, I might as well do Harriet Tubman.”
A G1 juice has apple, lemon, ginger, and parsley, by the way.
29. “If I was involved in writing it, or developing it, or directing it, or producing it — that piece — I would have had them speak in the King’s English, when he wasn’t in the room.”
“I would have had them doing other cool stuff,” Simmons said. “And then turning it to those images. That’s the only thing different I would have done … And then it still would’ve been upsetting, and maybe I wouldn’t have taken it down as quickly, and then I’d be in worse trouble.”
30. Simmons reached out to the descendants of Tubman, and he said, “They were very understanding.”
“You know, I didn’t see what people saw in the piece,” he continued. “I saw the oppressed taking advantage of the oppressor. I didn’t see rape. They can say it all day, but still you will never see rape. But they thought that there had been rape. It’s a sensitive subject.”
He paused, and looked at me. “You saw the piece?” he asked. I nodded. I had seen it. Then he continued, “There’s no rape in the piece. It’s a setup.”
31. “I see people get very sensitive,” Simmons said of the piece. “And I hurt a lot of peoples feelings and I don’t want to do that again.”
He also somewhat contradicted himself, like he was still wrapping his head around the backlash. “I’m very tolerant. And I’m very liberal. And I have thick skin. And I think my audience does. I think they want to push the boundaries. I think that America’s about pushing boundaries if you want to. And comedy is certainly about making fun of difficult situations — a great part of it is — and I’m going to do a lot of it. And I’m not deterred by this.”
Then he softened. “I’m brokenhearted that I hurt people’s feelings, in a piece that is questionable in my heart. When I look at it now, now I see what they say. Now I don’t like the piece. Now I’m hurt by the piece.”
32. Going forward, Simmons said, “I will hold myself to a standard that makes good sense.”
“I think I’ve got pretty good bearings on what my audience wants,” he added, “and I want to serve them. I want my artists to have a chance to express themselves.”
33. For those who don’t know, back in 2009, well before the video scandal, Simmons was appointed the Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Slavery Memorial, which aims to honor the victims of slavery.
Simmons has a long history with activism, and not just animal rights — he went vegan in 1998. He’s been a longtime supporter of marriage equality, in 2011 he participated in the Occupy Wall Street protests, and he worked with Mia Farrow to help boycott Lowe’s when the company withdrew funding from the TLC show, All-American Muslim.
34. Simmons said that the controversy isn’t going to stop him from pushing the barriers of comedy.
And it definitely won’t stop him from doing power yoga, either.
Photographs by Emily Berl for BuzzFeed