"So yoga, man," he says, sprinting up some escalator stairs. "You read the propaganda? The Bhagavad Gita, all that shit? I love that shit. I read it to my kid."
He settles into a leather couch in his stupendous office. "I went to yoga initially because there were so many fine girls there, it's true," says Simmons. He started out with Steve Ross, former guitarist for Men at Work and now an L.A.-based yoga teacher with a show on Oxygen. "Back before I got seriously into yoga, I was into all sorts of stuff!" Simmons continues. "I used to say if I couldn't get a taxi in New York, I'd have a Bentley. And I did."
But now his interests lie elsewhere. "The power of now," he says, nodding slowly. "Ever taken a tab of ecstasy? Like that. People rob banks for that now! They bungee-jump! To live in the present is the most beautiful thing in the world. You don't need anything except for what you have right now."
He cocks his head. "Except, you know, I just moved to this big house in Saddle River," he continues. "That house! It's ridiculous! All I wanted was a meditation room, somewhere I could put my tapes and spiritual books and sit still for 30 minutes every morning. All I wanted was that room. But the last two mornings, I woke up and went downstairs to my gym, which is bigger than -- I mean, it's a big, big gym -- and I watched TV on the Stairmaster, and then I jumped into my pool, which is right next to my gym, and I went into my sauna, which has these big cushions -- I didn't even know that saunas had cushions -- and I sat down there and read a chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi. Then I jumped in my pool again, and took a shower in my bathroom, which is right next to my movie theater, which is the size of Radio City -- all this just downstairs!"
He laughs. "The point I'm making is, I don't need all that. But it doesn't suck."
"How can you possibly think that you can make a change in the world," asks Kelly, "if you can't even commit to your Downward-Facing Dog?"
In yoga's twenty-first-century incarnation, just because you're not supposed to aspire to the top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz doesn't mean you need to wear sackcloth and ashes. Take Mr. Hedge Fund. At the end of the summer, he invited about 50 guests over to lunch at his house in Southampton, a perfect clapboard six-bedroom set on a pond. Everyone lounged about his spacious deck as his maid poured white wine and a chef grilled tuna and vegetables.
Settling into a pristine white couch underneath a huge abstract painting, he explained his devotion to a type of yoga called Ashtanga, considered by many to be the purest form of yoga. The studio where Mr. Hedge Fund practices is owned by Madonna's teacher and kept so secret it doesn't even hang a shingle outside. Part of what makes Ashtanga so difficult is that instead of following the teacher's lead, each student practices on his own. There's a whole hierarchy of exercises, and students identify themselves as primary, intermediate, and advanced -- but only Ashtanga's guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois from Mysore, India, has ever completed the most difficult series.
Mr. Hedge Fund has a nickname for Jivamukti: Jive-Ass Monkey.
"Jivamukti is all BS," he said. "Non-attachment is something that some 25-year-old girl made up, some girl who spends half her day thinking, Oh, should I take class with Ginger or Shakti today? Ginger's teaching at three, but I love Shakti. Oh, what am I going to do?" said Mr. Hedge Fund, adopting a tinny female voice. "None of that comes into play in Ashtanga. It is not about preaching: It is a daily practice, and if you do the practice, all will come."
Mr. Hedge Fund went to Mysore a few times; he had his secretary fax him daily reports. "And the fund was up 8 percent the month I was there," he told me. "A whole month with the guru! My shit is so on right now!"
"You're just amazing," exclaims his friend, a real-estate developer named Mitchell Marks, taking a seat on the divan. "There is no one with as serious a practice as this guy," he said, jerking a thumb his way. "But I like to balance out Ashtanga with Kundalini."
Kundalini can be some far-out stuff: It includes a lot of very subtle hand and leg movements, with each student told to silently repeat the mantra "Sat nam" ("Truth is my name") as he goes. But Marks, who looks like a handsome version of Judge Reinhold, likes it so much that he's even decided to open a new yoga center in one of his Gramercy Park buildings: It's called Ravi Yoga and Spa (Ravi is Ravi Singh, the former partner of Golden Bridge's Gurmukh, L.A.'s most famous guru). He's planning to have it open 24 hours a day. "And we're going to have facials and massages and all sorts of private classes, where Ravi will make a special program just for you," Marks said excitedly. "We're going to show everyone that yoga isn't just a cult on East 4th Street and Lafayette -- it's about changing your whole life!"
Construction on the life-changing center was finished about a week later, and the place was beautiful, all green-tile mosaics on the walls, dark hardwood floors, with two large studios and ten massage rooms downstairs. A gorgeous black woman was shuffling papers behind the limestone counter. "A couple of years ago, I had this amazing career as a video commissioner for MTV," she said, introducing herself only as Simran. "We all went out one night to Bowery Bar, and I was there with Tricky and a couple other people, late, after closing, around 5 a.m. The door was locked, but these two kids in hoodies somehow got in." They pulled out guns and made everyone lie down on the floor while they stole the night's take. "That was it for me," she said. "That was when I gave myself to yoga."
It was about a year and a half into practicing at Jivamukti that I started to freak out. I started to wonder if I should have something else to wake up for in the morning, and worried that perhaps I shouldn't have alienated so many of my friends, who by this point thought I had joined a cult. After months of my feeling love for everyone around me, the pendulum swung back violently, and I started to loathe everyone at Jivamukti -- the career girls with tattoos and bindis, the celebrities with their faux-proletarian modesty, the hordes of wobbling newbies who messed up my concentration in Eagle pose. I went to one of Life's classes and heard him say what he always says -- he didn't want us to come to Jivamukti and give him our money, and he hoped that once we reached enlightenment we would leave -- and I thought: But isn't reaching enlightenment supposed to take a lifetime?
The lowest point came on Martin Luther King's birthday. I was in Kelly's class, and she was playing the tape of King's speech while exhorting all of us to find a way to live a life like his. "Commitment!" she shouted. "It's about commitment!"
"Sing it, sister," yelled out Simmons.
"Rus-sell," snapped Kelly. "Now: Are you committed to the pose you're in right now? How can you possibly think that you can make any change in the world if you can't even commit to your Downward-Facing Dog? Are you willing to die for it?"
I rolled up my mat and left. What was this? I had joined a tribe of self-absorbed people who flattered themselves by thinking that by plunking down $18 for a yoga class plus $1 for a rental mat and $2 for a towel, they were becoming better people, and because they were better, the world would somehow be a better place. I thought about how Life warned me before our official interview that there were three topics he and Gannon absolutely would not discuss: financials, personnel, and injuries. Is that the statement of someone who believes all humans are open and loving beings?
Soon I knew something about injuries as well. About a month after my crisis of faith, I got hurt. I don't want to say it was yoga. But it was the day after I got a very rough "adjustment" (an assist in the pose, like sitting on someone's back to loosen up muscles) that I woke up doubled over with excruciating, sharp stabs in my back, eventually diagnosed as a sprained lumbar muscle.
I knocked myself out with medication for a month and was bedridden for nearly two. I hobbled over to Jivamukti one day in search of Kelly but couldn't find her, so I asked another teacher what to do. "Your back is your ego," she said, somewhat disaffectedly. "As soon as you get rid of it, you'll be fine."
Why, exactly, did I want to get rid of my ego again?