Russell Simmons is the most Zen business magnate you’ll ever meet. After he co-founded Def Jam, the hip-hop label that made LL Cool J and Public Enemy household names, and launched clothing brands Phat Farm and Baby Phat, Simmons got into yoga as a means to meet women. In the end, the practice won him over, introducing him to a life of meditation and veganism. Simmons spoke with the Cut about how yoga makes him a better entrepreneur and why it’s okay to eat a piece of fish every now and again.
How I start my mornings: I get up at 6:15 and I do asanas [yoga postures], and then stretch and meditate for 20 minutes. I then go over to my kids’ house and I meditate for 15 minutes with them, eat, and take them to school. That’s my morning routine. It’s changing now because it’s summer but that’s my routine ten months out of the year. Meditation or quiet time is essential; it reboots your brain and makes you happier.
How I like to sweat: My real, physical yoga usually happens at five or seven in the early evening or late afternoon. In L.A., I go to Modo Yoga or Hot 8 Yoga every single day. In New York, I’ve been going to Modo Yoga or Jivamukti Yoga. Those are my gurus. They’re my first teachers.
Why meditation is important to me: Meditation gives you a longer life, better memory, and better brain functionality. The left and the right side of the brain start disconnecting at age 8. When you meditate, they start to integrate back together. You can never have an “aha” moment, any kind of entrepreneurial or creative idea, unless you’re present, and meditation is the greatest tool known to bring people back to present.
To me, wellness means: Happiness.
How wellness has changed for me: Well, the pursuit of happiness has changed. In other words, the tools that make you happy are different as you start to understand what sustainable happiness is. A still mind, a totally quiet mind is bliss. A state of needing nothing is bliss. This quiet, still mind is what we are all looking for. How do we get it? We can numb the mind through drugs or we can quiet the mind through stillness and focus.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized cloudy is not my realm. Focus is my realm. Yoga practice, meditation — these are the tools, and they’ve been recommended over and over again for a thousand years, so I trust them.
My food motto is: I don’t eat any animal products. The abuse of animals is killing us. It’s the worst carnage disaster in the history of the world. It leads to destruction of the planet, all of its resources, and eventually all the humans on the planet. Animal products are full of carcinogens. There are no healthy animal products being served today. I guess there could be, but less than one-tenth of one percent of cows are grass-fed. A hundred billion animals are made to be born or raped and forced into existence to suffer a short life where they’re fed antibiotics and Prozac. And then you ingest them.
Also, let’s talk about water. How do we talk about taking a quick shower and then eating a hamburger? L.A. is having a water problem, but they’re serving hamburgers everywhere. How much water are we wasting? Cows are two times more responsible for global warming than all the trains, planes, and automobiles put together. How much water are lobbyists convincing our government to give them? I don’t want to get into a big, long political discussion about it, but it’s like the stuff that’s just so obvious. Anybody who’s presented with the facts would know that we can’t afford a hamburger. And anyone presented with the facts would know that we shouldn’t give our children meat because of how much sickness it causes, what it does to their immune system, what it does to every part of their body.
How I eat when I’m alone: Oh, I don’t hide anything. I eat the same way if I’m alone or with other people. Every so often, if somebody has fish on their plate, I’ll take a bite, but then I’ll feel bad about it after. I’m so dramatic. I immediately might be like, “Ah, what did I put in me?” but I just do it anyway to be like a bad kid. I don’t hide these things. I’ll eat a piece of cake, but not often. There’s so much vegan cake and stuff that I shouldn’t have.
How I make my wellness an easy priority: Say you go to yoga every day — I go to hot vinyasa. You sweat like a slave, take a shower, come out, and feel like you’re in heaven. It’s addictive. You don’t want to do it, but once you’re in it, you’re glad you did, and once you finish you’re ecstatic. You have this memory, this thing you’re stuck on, this great feeling you feel when you’re finished. Just like meditating. Sometimes you don’t want to sit down, but you do. I think it has a lot to do with having an attitude of resilience and faith that if you do the right thing, you’ll feel better.
People have to make use of some level of persistence and resilience, and you have to sacrifice a little. There’s a moment when you’re drinking, you feel very tired. Your brain is empty. Why do you meditate? You want an empty mind. It’s why you do yoga. It’s why you do many things, so the mind will be present and empty. But the fake version or the simulated version of that is the numb, dumb mind that takes cloudiness for clarity. You find out you like morning meditation better than late-night drinking. And once that’s stuck in you, you mostly stay away from the late-night drinking and your morning meditation becomes routine.
This interview has been edited and condensed.