Meet Saskia Thode, founder of Metal Yoga Bones, a Vinyasa-style yoga class based out of the Cobra Club in Bushwick, New York. A Brooklynite by way of Hamburg, Thode’s prescription for inner peace is an hour and a half of screaming and growling soundtracked by thrash metal and grindcore. This is not everyone’s path to bliss, but her growing following confirms what the Romans always knew: that some of us need to be a little bad before we can be good, even when it’s wellbeing that’s waiting for us at the end. Travel through the darkness and you will find the light.
Jessica Brinton: What happens in your classes?
Saskia Thode: I try to bring anger out in people. Sometimes you need to release it and where else is the space to do that? We warm up by jumping and boxing into the air, growling and having dance-offs. I play Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, Motorhead, some hair metal – whatever has a distinct beat. I want people to do what they would do at a show in front of the stage, except now they have all the room they need to express themselves.
“We don’t do sun salutations because we’re saluting the darkness.”
When did you first get into metal?
My mother was a metalhead so I grew up listening to Manowar, Iron Maiden, Terroriser and Sodom. When I was a kid, we went to metal festivals in Europe and even with 8,000 people, there were never any fights because there was an outlet for negative emotions.
How did Metal Yoga Bones start?
When I was going my teacher training, I would be playing metal at home. We were supposed to come up with a playlist and my teacher said, it’s important to do whatever you feel like doing. So I made a metal playlist. I started playing it for yoga with friends in the park, and one day the Cobra Club said, why don’t you do that in the back of the club?
Yoga is sacred and metal is profane. How can they co-exist?
They’re way more aligned than that. Metal has a lot of spiritual aspects to it and they are both very connected to nature. The difference is that metal acknowledges the darkness we carry too. The sound of it can be a trigger for letting that out, and releasing some aggression and anger. Extreme music actually makes you calmer, not angrier. When the music is faster than your feelings, it can help you clear out your head.
How does that express itself in your classes?
The classes are as intense as possible. Halfway through, I play death metal and grind to push the students further. I put on Death, Suffocation, Sodom, Possessed, Venom, Nile, and Onslaught, and try to piss them off by having them hold standing poses for ages. I’ll say; “Are you angry now? I can’t hear you! Tell me how angry you are …” The emotions and the energy in the music and the endorphins releases so much positive energy in the body.
Does it mean that it’s okay to have vices after all?
I think it’s about having a choice. Sometimes after a yoga class, your body doesn’t want a drink, but if you do want one, have one. It’s the same in the metal world.
“It isn’t about being a cannibal and drinking blood; it’s about being who you are and feeling a passion for the music.”
Do you think metal yoga is an opportunity to dive into the darker of your sexuality too?
A lot of yoga poses, like bridge pose, are beneficial for your sex life, particularly your pelvic floor muscles. But I think it is far more about learning to be comfortable in your body. The best outcome is to show that everyone is beautiful in their own way, no matter what you look like. It’s the one place where you should be able to just be who you are, focussing on your connection with your own body, and being content with yourself.
How has Metal Yoga Bones been received by the New York metal scene?
A lot of the bands have come to the classes. Sometimes they don’t want to put on work out wear so they come in jeans. If it restricts their movement, they can take smaller steps.
Is it essential to wear a metal t-shirt?
You can wear whatever you want. I have straight guys coming with painted fingernails and face makeup, and another guy came in a skirt. Everything is possible. There’s no discrimination of any kind.
How often do you play Iron Maiden?
There’s never a class when I don’t play a Maiden song [laughs]: ‘Fear of the Dark’ is one of my favourites. That’s what I listen to on my bike. It’s kind of groovy but also heart opening.
A friend who runs the Live Evil Festival in the UK was speculating about how your classes would go down at his festival.
I would love to take yoga to some of the festivals. I think the scene is ready to embrace being healthier. There are already so many people who are vegan and eat really well. Drinking comes with the territory but at festivals there’s always down time in the day. It would be nice to have something to do when you have a hangover.
Yoga language must sound strange to your average metalhead.
I’ve tried to rename each pose from the feeling it gives you. Warrior 1 is The Destroyer, because you’re getting ready to go into battle and destroy. Warrior 2 is the Fuck You pose, because it’s the pose when you know that you’re better than everyone else.
If one of your students was going into a mosh pit next week, which pose would you recommend practicing beforehand?
During shows, a lot of people do Warrior 1 and Warrior 2. It’s a metalhead impulse. To do it well, it’s good to make sure your posture is correct. You need to be really grounded and in my classes, I will always try to push over my students to test how strong they are. Metal yoga is also an attitude.
Some teachers say that the end of a yoga class is the most important part. After all the craziness, how do you end yours?
I have a track I always play for Savassana [the last pose of the class, also known as Corpse pose]. It’s by Celtic Frost and it’s called ‘Winter’.
“We don’t do Oms. To connect as a community, we howl to the moon like werewolves.”
Has anyone ever properly lost it in one of your classes?
They get angry, they scream, and then they are just laughing.