Russell Brand Talks about Wellness, the Journey of Recovery, and the Importance of Practice

Russell Brand

Writer, actor, comedian and campaigner, Russell Brand. (Photo by Steve Schofield/Contour by Getty Images)

Wellness at Wellspring

Comedian, actor, and author Russell Brand is a fast talking, rapid-fire wit who puts his voice to use in service to authentic no-BS conversations about how we can live lives of freedom. Brand has been more than open about his own addictions, and the recovery that he insists has saved his life, through a series of best-selling books and a very public engagement that includes podcasts, YouTube videos, social media, and a live, in-person appearance at the upcoming Wellspring conference in Downtown Palm Springs in October.

Wellspring isn’t just another conference, but a fully integrated experiential gathering place for health and wellness experts, industry professionals, and eager enthusiasts to further conversations about what wellness really means. How do we find freedom while living in the complicated construct of the modern world? Where are the intersections of personal well-being and our collective and societal wellness? What are the ways in which we can further these conversations for everyone’s benefit?

If you listen to any of Russell’s messages you know these are conversations he cares about as he continues to use his platform to encourage us all. He also emphasizes, at least in the recovery community, the importance of communal work for personal and planetary wellness. It’s why he is one of the keynote speakers at an event that sees wellness not as a commodity but as an essential daily practice. In October, Brand joins a line-up of teachers and speakers whose own voices and platforms are centered on positive social change and social justice as well as mental, emotional, physical, energetic, and ecological well-being.

Noteworthy Teachers Joining Russell at Wellspring

Some of the noteworthy teachers and conversations include the following: Outspoken activist, columnist, and commentator Sally Kohn speaks on “Ending Hate Starts with You.” Noted author Paul Hawken shares collective practices and technological advances focused on reversing global warming, and regenerating life and human well-being. Yoga N Da Hood Founder (and “The Ghetto Guru”) Ebony Smith will lead life- and community-changing conversations on developing children and youth socially and emotionally through yoga and mindfulness, as well as making sure that wellness initiatives and language are accessible to all communities.

CTZENWELL Founder Kerri Kelly will further the conversation around accessibility and diversity through sessions on “Wellness Beyond Whiteness” and “Changing the Face of Wellness.” Prolific author, Super Soul Sessions Speaker, and Love Warrior Glennon Doyle will be Wellspring’s closing speaker. Doyle’s powerful topic will integrate the weekend’s themes of connecting personal and universal wellness with, “From One to Many: Wellness for All.”

In advance of the wellness-focused weekend, we asked Wellspring Keynote Speaker Russell Brand some questions about how he puts his practice into practice, his commitment to his ongoing recovery, and practical spirituality.

Talking Wellness with Russell Brand

What are you looking forward to speaking about at Wellspring?

Russell Brand: At Wellspring, I’m looking forward to prancing about with a sheet over my head, looking off into the middle distance, like I’m thinking something extremely important, when actually what I’ll be thinking is, “I am extremely important!”

No – I’m looking forward to being seen contextually as someone who is speaking about spirituality and to be liberated from the necessity of coming up with a joke every 20 seconds. Although I probably on some level, will want to come up with a joke about every 30 seconds.

You actively speak about your own addiction and pathway to recovery. What is the role your practice has played?

My practice plays an integral part in my recovery from addiction in that, on one very basic level, the person that I used to be when I was a drug addict would not practice yoga. Therefore by being a person that practices yoga I am no longer the person that was a drug addict.

More empirically, it gives me a connection to my body, to my breath, to my spirituality, that can be quite practical as opposed to abstract. Like my mate used to say, “You know you talk all the time about communism and equality, but actually in practice you’re a tyrannical madman, you know, just in personal relationships.”

Yoga gives you a real connection to spirituality. There’s no point in doing yoga, if while you’re doing yoga you’re thinking, “Shit I’ve got to do that,” or “No I should never have done that.” It is a genuine opportunity to synchronize your breath and movement, and through it induce a kind of hypnotic state. In the type of recovery that I worked, 12-Step recovery, the 11th step is about prayer and meditation, which means communing with your innermost self in a lucid fashion. Yoga is part of step 11.

What advice would you give to someone else on the path of recovery?

Keep it in the day. Don’t drink or use drugs. Nothing material or external is ever going to fulfill you. The thing that you’re looking for, the sense of redemption and connection is available to you if you’re willing to follow instruction.

Who are some of your teachers and influences on your yoga journey?

Well, I’ve had some very good teachers in my yoga journey over the years. Eddie Stern of New York, he’s fantastic. Eddie is a magnificent male, angular and tough. Roberta, there’s another one I was a little bit in love with when I first started, through Ashtanga; she led the Mysore practice. James a former fireman who quit the fire game after 9/11 to teach Ashtanga in Los Angeles, he’s a fantastic teacher. Natalie, she’s a brilliant Ashtanga teacher, I fell a little bit in love with her as well. You’re probably noticing a theme developing.

Obviously Tej. who taught me Kundalini Yoga, she’s an amazing, almost Druid-like presence on the yoga mat taking people to transcendent states! I’ve had some wonderful yoga teachers. But one of the things I like about yoga practice is you can meet with and be taught by new teachers wherever you go. It’s something that travels with you.

Do you have any mentors you look up to?

Mentorship is vital, it’s important to model yourself on somebody. I tend to focus on psychological health, family life, and business life when looking at mentors. Although sometimes I see people practicing and I think “Oh my God, that’s a hell of a handstand!” Have you ever met the Flynn twins? The authors of The Happy Pear cookbook? They are from Greystone Island relatively near Dublin. Those boys flip into a handstand at a moment’s notice, sometimes without any notice, sometimes they just start doing it when you’re trying to have a conversation They’d be yogic role models.

When you’re on the road, what are some of your go-to yoga practices to maintain your health, wellness, and balance?

When I’m on the road I carry my practice with me. At least three times a week, I do yoga. Once or twice a week, I do Brazilian Ju-Jitsu. If my dogs are with me, I go for little runs with my dogs.

I meditate at least once a day, hopefully twice a day. I pray every morning. And I try to stay connected to the community of drug addicts and alcoholics to which I belong.

All of this, the point of all of this is to keep a kind of fidelity to the inner voice, to the inner connection, not to become hypnotized by external things.

Do you have any favorite destinations to visit world-wide?

I really like St Lucia a lot, it’s a really beautiful place to visit.

I really like Kerala in India. And Amma’s ashram. I love Ireland now, having recently just returned from there.

For me the point of spiritual practice is – to a degree – to liberate you from the necessities of attachment to physical locations. But I wouldn’t like to be dragged screaming from my house by my collar in the dead of night and slung in a gulag – so I suppose I like my home in England by the River Thames a great deal also.

When you’re in Los Angeles, where are some of the places you rejuvenate and recharge?

I think YogaWorks is good and I’m always happy in a YogaWorks class. If I get the chance, I’ll do Kundalini with Tej. I’m always checking in with support groups for drug addicts and alcoholics. And anywhere that will serve me a bloody green juice or a vegan burger that tastes of chicken – tantalizingly like chicken – I’ll fall on like a hungry dog. I like walking in Beachwood Canyon, there’s a ranch out there that I sort of trespassed on and had a wonderful time. I also like going to many of the coastal destinations.

Do you have favorite yoga props or tools for your practice?

I got a yoga mat off of Tom Cruise once and I look at it and think, “That’s the Tom Cruise yoga mat. He’s imbedded himself deep in my spiritual life with that one gesture.” Not that weren’t other lovely gestures.

I also like plastic blocks, rubbery blocks, sometimes they’re cork – you know those yoga blocks? I find them very satisfying to clack together! Or to sit on, to sort of prop myself up on and force myself into different asanas.

Even though we all know the outward position is meaningless, it’s just the intention that’s important. Yeah, right. Get yourself nice and straight and perfect! That’s what life’s about!

Do you listen to music when you practice?

I don’t really listen to music no, because I like to be inside my own brain with a tortuous loop of constant thoughts, thinking, “Now hold on a minute I’m not supposed to be thinking about that stuff right now.” I do like listening to quite a lot of Kundalini-type music, things like Snatam Kaur. If I’m going to listen to music at all, I like to listen to chants.

What does wellness mean to you?

Wellness to me means being at peace with who you are and recognizing when you are not at peace with who you are. Recognizing when you feel antagonized, irritated, discontent, or unsatisfied. And then trying to move back to a state of ease and peace as expediently as you can.

Russell Brand, Wanderlust Keynote speaker

Wellspring, October 26-26, in Palm Springs

At Wellspring, join Russell Brand and a long list of expert speakers for an inspiring and rejuvenating weekend of more than 200 classes, workshops, panel discussions, and other wellness-based activities to help you find your own sense of ease and peace.

The event’s four pillars are Practice, Think, Sweat, and Restore. Speakers and teachers include: Dan Nevins, angel Kyoko williams, Seane Corn, Elena Brower, Glennon Doyle, Dr Mark Hyman, Dave Asprey, Chelsey Korus, Dr Chelsea Jackson Roberts, Millana Snow, Marc Holzman, Ambi Sithham, Paul Hawken, Ebony Smith, Sally Kohn, Schulyer Grant, Briohny Smyth, Kerri Kelly, Ryland Engelhart, Emily Fletcher, Jason Wrobel, Gina Caputo, Jeff Krasno, Scott Schwenk, and Marianne Williamson, among others.

For tickets and more information, visit: https://wanderlust.com/wellspring/

Felicia M. Tomasko
Felicia Tomasko has spent more of her life practicing Yoga and Ayurveda than not. She first became introduced to the teachings through the writings of the Transcendentalists, through meditation, and using asana to cross-train for her practice of cross-country running. Between beginning her commitment to Yoga and Ayurveda and today, she earned degrees in environmental biology and anthropology and nursing, and certifications in the practice and teaching of yoga, yoga therapy, and Ayurveda while working in fields including cognitive neuroscience and plant biochemistry. Her commitment to writing is at least as long as her commitment to yoga. Working on everything related to the written word from newspapers to magazines to websites to books, Felicia has been writing and editing professionally since college. In order to feel like a teenager again, Felicia has pulled out her running shoes for regular interval sessions throughout Southern California. Since the very first issue of LA YOGA, Felicia has been part of the team and the growth and development of the Bliss Network.