Saskia Thode, a tattoo-covered goddess of a yoga instructor, is urging us to punch harder. My eyes are closed, but I can visualize fists meeting mats as our timid thumps amplify, accompanied by grunts and growls. We are seated cross-legged on our mats like any other yoga class, but this is not ordinary yoga, and Thode is no ordinary yogi. She encourages the small class of three students to keep punching as we let our emotions surface, to feel the tightness in our muscles and heat rising under the skin. By the time we are told to open our eyes, I am a bit anxious and hot, but I feel in control of my emotions and my body. Then, wailing, bone-rattling heavy metal blares from the speakers, and I am filled with pure excitement. This is Metal Yoga Bones.
When I read about Metal Yoga Bones, a Brooklyn-based yoga class created by Thode that uses heavy metal music as its soundtrack, in the Guardian, I knew I had to try it. I headed to The Cobra Club in Bushwick and was not disappointed. The classically trained Thode shows up to class with a hoarse voice and her arm in a sling due to a fractured humerus from a bicycle accident, but she comes prepared to make her students work. The sweet, shy woman who continuously apologized for arriving late transforms when class begins, her long blonde braid snaking over her shoulder as she circles us, demonstrating poses when she can. When I ask her via email if she has any tips for those healing from injury, Thode recommends that they discuss modifying their practice with their yoga instructors and suggests restorative and yin yoga as alternatives as well as tuning in to your body. “A lot of physical challenges are connected to emotional or mental challenges. Be a detective and ask your body why it is hurting,” Thode says. “The answer will come to you eventually.”
Thode, an excellent instructor, says of her teaching style, “I love teaching fierce classes, but I still try to keep that aspect of the connection to the body and treating the body with respect and kindness.” She puts her own spin on traditional yoga poses, infusing them with a rebellious metal attitude. Warrior Two is what Thode calls the “f*ck-off pose,” which she demonstrates while gamely flipping us off. This same sneering badass then comes over to gently correct the slight hunch in my shoulders. She also cheers us on when, after a shaky round of Warrior Ones, we all firmly stand our ground on the next go-round. Raising my hands in a devil horns salute imbues me with focus, bravery and strength to stay grounded and hold poses longer than I ever have, despite my exhausted limbs. She performs an impromptu tree pose pogo to make us laugh, and it works like a charm.
Despite Thode telling the class that she usually gets a little bit wilder but can’t because of her injuries, the session is still full of energy. I find myself bobbing my head to the music, feeling free in this class to let loose in a way I have never felt while practicing yoga before. During pigeon pose, I drum my fingers to the beat, totally focused and at peace. There are moments of stillness, such as when practicing low lunges, but even then my body is fully engaged.
When we get to Corpse pose, the song that plays is a sorrowful instrumental piece. “Feel death creeping in,” Thode instructs. “Let those negative feelings sink into the earth.” I feel heavy. I let go of all the negativity and fear, allowing emotions to present themselves and then drain away. The song ends, and Thode says, “Let death disappear.” I open my eyes and slowly move my limbs, which have lost their heaviness.
After class, Thode tells us that she sees yoga as “waste removal,” adding, “We’re all dealing with sh*t.” She expands on this idea later via email: “In most yoga class[es] everything is about light, love and kindness. Darkness, anger, hatred and frustration are as much a part of us as all the positive emotions are. To release the darkness within ourselves, we need to embrace it first…. A good anger release works wonders. If it's done right, you will immediately notice the emptiness and calmness it creates in the mind.” I leave class feeling exactly as Thode describes. I am calm, not hampered by anxiety and nervous energy. My mind is clear and my body is limber.
Thode uses a diverse, strong mix of metal music; the class I took included songs by the very dark Cannibal Corpse, the hyper, upbeat Helloween and the mournful Celtic Frost, among others. She offers these tips for creating your own heavy metal yoga soundtracks: “Check out some metal classics to uplift your heart like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, or King Diamond. Black metal, sludge, and doom metal are great to slow down and be devotional and to listen a little deeper within. Anything with groove and beat is great to get started. Death metal, grind core, some fast black metal, and pretty much anything that is heavy and fast, is great to stand up to, to move to, and to be fierce to.” I’ve created a metal mix based on some of Thode’s selections from class (which are starred) as well as my own picks. Put your horns up, give convention the finger and explore yoga’s dark side.
02 Ghosts I: Nine Inch Nails
Demons of the Fall: Opeth
*Return to Flesh: Cannibal Corpse
What I Always Wanted: Kittie
The Devil in I: Slipknot
*Rise and Fall: Helloween
*The Silence: Gamma Ray
Carry On: Manowar
*The Northern Hemisphere: Carpathian Forest
Parasitic Twins: The Dillinger Escape Plan
*Winter (requiem: Chapter Three: Finale): Celtic Frost