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Hours after Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, 59, became the latest high-profile Hollywood figure to be accused of sexual assault on Thursday, devotees of his Tantris Center for Yogic Science showed up for their morning “Flow.”
A reflection of his late-in-life turn from music exec to wellness guru, Simmons’ luxe 8,000-square-foot space opened last year next to Soho House in West Hollywood with free-flowing alkaline water stations, a blow-dry bar, Pressed Juice cafe and branded athleisure offerings, all in the name of spiritual healing.
Before class (one-time visits are $30, monthly memberships $275), there were whispers in the studio about cleaning up “the mess” Simmons had created. But soon enough, negative chatter was replaced by affirmations from teacher Ma Nithya Kumindi, or “Eternal White Night Lotus” as she is known, urging students to remember that yoga is about serving others with random acts of kindness. Pigeon poses in the 99-degree studio gave way to sweaty faces, chests and backs, as a rapper on the soundtrack sang about “past transgressions.”
That’s something Simmons certainly knows about. On Thursday, he announced he would be stepping down from his companies amid allegations of sexual assault. Jenny Lumet, acclaimed screenwriter and daughter of filmmaker Sidney Lumet, penned an open letter to the music and TV producer for The Hollywood Reporter, saying she was unable to leave the women who have spoken out against him “twisting in the wind.” Lumet’s guest column details her chilling encounter with Simmons in the early 1990s, when he offered her a ride home but instead took her to his apartment and sexually violated her.
It’s quite a turn for Simmons, a former drug addict who discovered yoga in 1994 and has practiced it every day since, extolling the virtues of his healthy and balanced lifestyle to everyone from Oprah to Ellen DeGeneres, and writing two books about it. “It’s really unfortunate, but no, it doesn’t affect my decision to continue going here,” said an L.A. based songwriter who regularly attends classes at Tantris and has encountered Simmons at the studio on several occasions of the allegations. “In my personal experience, he’s been nice. He says hi to everyone and was always really respectful.”
Another regular who did not want to be named was less forgiving: “Do I find what happened to be sad and disturbing? Absolutely.” As a victim of sexual assault herself at age 17, she considered canceling her membership with Tantris, but ultimately decided against it, calling the Center “her church” and the practice her “saving grace.” “It’s not about condoning the behavior, it’s about looking at the bigger picture,” she added. The sentiment of a “spectacular” yoga practice trumping sexual assault allegations against its owner was echoed by others who see the studio as their sanctuary.
One Tantris guest, a fellow yoga teacher in attendance at the hot vinyasa class, was just hearing of Simmons’ sexual assault allegations for the first time. “How can people who are devout followers of yoga spreading the practice do these kinds of things and engage in this kind of behavior? It’s unbelievable,” she said, referencing another recent scandal in the yoga world-hot-yoga guru Bikram Choudhury is drowning in sexual assault allegations and in the middle of a vicious $6.4 million dollar lawsuit.
When questioned about how the allegations against Simmons are affecting business, a Tantris front desk representative declined to comment. But it seems that the fallen mogul may be planning to use the center to try to save face. In addition to stepping away from his other companies, he announced Thursday he plans to turn Tantris into a “not-for-profit center of learning and healing,” something that Hollywood can certainly use now.
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