How Heavy Metal Yoga Helped Me Find My Flow
I have this weird relationship with working out. Either I'll do it to the point that I'm in pain and it just isn't fun anymore, or I'll get so in my head that I'll end up repeating those actions that I just won't do it, ultimately feeling guilty and paranoid later. A few of my friends are super-into yoga and I've attended a few classes with them, but frankly, it was a little too slow-moving for me, not to mention weirdly competitive for a place that is meant to be the definition of zen. Like, I'm sorry I'm not in Lululemons and I complain occasionally, but I've been in this downward dog position for what feels like 3 hours. I was convinced that it just wasn't for me until I found heavy metal yoga.
Yes, it's a thing, and I will never shut up about how much I love it. Instructed by Saskia Thode either at the Saint Vitus Bar or Cobra Club, both in Brooklyn, the idea came to life almost 3 years ago when she had to create a class playlist for one of her final projects. After conversing with her teacher, who also happened to be into metal, Thode created a playlist populated by Icelandic metal bands, and began teaching at Saint Vitus shortly after, taking over the back room when no scheduled shows were happening. Her regular class made the roster 3 times a week at The Cobra Club, and it has been steadily growing in size ever since. She takes traditional yoga poses and gives them a metal twist—for example, renaming the warrior 1 pose the destroyer—and incorporates elements of cardio, martial arts, as well as just fun, weird movements to get your heart racing along the way. "I try to make people feel very welcome so they can just be who they are. I have a really hard time being quiet at yoga, because you have to be so mindful of everyone around you, but I encourage people to be loud and expressive," Thode tells me. "There's no shyness or judgement here—you don't have to know anything about yoga to attend, you can show up any way you want, and there's a real community feeling. I've actually met a few of my closest friends through the class."
To help get people out of their shells, Thode takes a playful approach to the warm-up, sometimes nudgng people out of the destroyer pose, playing air guitar while stretching, or making swift stabbing motions toward whoever happens to be pissing you off. Better yet, you're encouraged to scream out loud. "Screaming can absolutely help to relieve stress. Living in New York especially, you're exposed to so much stress and you have to hold it in because you're expected to be part of this functioning society, and there's no space for anyone to lose their shit," she says. "It's a good way to let go of all that completely, especially if you're a little more self-consicous. I mean, how often do you really get to go into a pit or headbang?" It was a perfect release for me personally—friends who have attended a class with me can attest to the fact that I have screamed out loud about how much I hated cycling, or how much I hated the dude in the corner at boxing attempting to show off, all mid-workout.
Though some would think listening to metal during yoga would be counterintuitive, the impact of the music can actually help to calm you down and focus. "People have this idea that it makes you aggressive, but even if you're not into that kind of music, it can help you to quiet down and relax, so there's an additional stress relief that comes with it," she adds. "There are so many festivals where I've been around thousands of people, and they're all very peaceful. People are really nice to each other in the metal community." I'm far from being considered metal—I'm barely pop punk and if anything, I'd be more emo considering how often I'll start crying after watching an ASPCA commercial, but I get the appeal. Whenever I need to get something done and concentrate on work, I'll blast some Iron Maiden and power through it, much to the dismay of those sitting around me. Something about the intesnsity (combined with killer guitars) helped me zero in on the task at hand.
The class begins with some cardio work, builds in pace with a mix of yoga and martial arts, and after an appropriate amount of screaming and beating on the ground, Thode will begin to slow things down depending on how the class is feeling. She goes in with a rough idea of what she wants to accomplish for the day, but improvises along the way, and since she's educated in traditional yoga, she'll sneak a few more complicated moves in while maintaining a fun vibe throughout. "I teach regular classes as well, but I'm not the teacher who is super serious. I want people to have fun, because it gets so serious otherwise," she tells us. "It should be meditative in some way, but you can't be so grim and serious all the time because we're all like that by nature."
More than anything, I loved how the class contradicts everything about the light, peaceful feeling traditional yoga is supposed to embody. It's sort of like that Dumbledore line from Harry Potter people stay quoting—about how without darkness there cannot be light. Tapping into these elements people typically avoid can help you appreciate the lighter, more carefree moments, and frankly, people have a weird fascination with things considered dark. It's the reason networks like Discovery ID exist, and why I'm obsessed with watching documentaries about serial killers. "That's the idea behind it, to embrace everything that's dark. It makes more sense to experience something like that, express it, and take out your aggression. Everyone can bring their problems into the room, and we go through it," Thode says. "Two years ago, my boyfriend passed away, and teaching the class helped me deal with my emotions and let it all out. One of my students was in a relationship for 30 years. Her husband cheated on her and left her, and she had a lot of resentment and negativity toward him. She always comes to the classes and is so dedicated, and she said doing this has helped her a lot to get through all of it."
If you're in the New York City area, follow Metal Yoga Bones and Saskia Thode Yoga on Facebook to get updates on her classes—she has a mix of the heavy metal and traditional varieties happening all throughout the week—and the Black Yoga community is a good resource for finding classes both nationally and internationally. See y'all at The Cobra Club tonight. Unleash the beast.