Embrace the Dark Side!
The Cobra Club on Jefferson Avenue in Bushwick was already a fun place to play, a novel hybrid of bar/restaurant and yoga studio (e.g., its Hangover Yoga weekend class complete with complimentary Bloody Mary!) And now Saskia Thode is on the scene to push things a step further with a class that lets you headbang to heavy metal classics like Judas Priest, make “devil horns” in warrior poses, and let out a primal scream whenever the mood strikes. It’s Metal Yoga, and Saskia delivers a sequence designed to invigorate and release a lot of pent-up stress and emotions.
“We do a lot of deep releases, digging deep and embracing the negative and dark parts inside of us,” says Saskia. “A lot of growls and screams and warrior poses! I also like to bring a lot of groovy dancing and movement into it. And we usually end together with a very deep howl, just to send one last message out there. And I like the idea of everyone united in that way, which is what yoga is all about, people coming together who all have something in common.”
Saskia started her yoga journey in 2003 in Germany, and the practice was her constant companion upon moving to New York three years later. She studied at Go Yoga with
Lilia Mead, Michael Hewett and Matt Lombardo and is versed in traditional vinyasa, therapeutic and restorative yoga. Recognizing the joy she felt in doing her own practice to the accompaniment of her beloved death metal, it dawned on her that there might be an untapped community out there. And when I attended her Wednesday evening Cobra Club class, packed with both asana devotees and metal lovers, I knew she was on to something.
“I started with a few classes at the St. Vitus bar, in Greenpoint, last summer, when there were no shows going on,” says Saskia. “I emailed Nikki (Koch, owner of Cobra Club) and asked if they had any interest in taking this on, and she was really into it.”
We started class by saying our names out loud, and just moments later we were literally pounding our fists on the mat and literally howling, letting out some deep-rooted frustrations. From regulars to newbies, nobody in the class was shy about this dramatic self-expression. Saskia invited us to growl, roar, scream, whatever we needed to do to release our emotions, regrets, and possibly a demon or two.
We exploded into free form movement as the music got loud, dancing around the asana room with abandon. Each of us got a chance to go to the front of the class and lead our fellow students in some liberating impromptu movements, from backbends to jumping jacks to just plain flailing. “Let go of your anger, anxiety, all that stuff you carry around!” called Saskia.
I did some Pete Townshend-style guitar moves, windmilling my arms while leaping two feet in the air. Already exhilarated, we proceeded to the sequence, which was the vinyasa flow we all know and love, but amped up and assertive. Saskia even had us to literally “flip the bird” in warrior two, and shout out the related epithet, which was extremely satisfying! “Warrior Two is the ‘F You’ pose!” grinned Saskia. (She also referred to another signature pose as “Doggie Style,” to a burst of knowing laughter.)
At the end of the 75 minutes, after a tongue-in-cheek (maybe!) salute to Satan, the class burst into appreciative applause. And the love of the music adds to that. “Every class is a different playlist,” notes Saskia. “I usually spend an hour at home and put them together. It’s the same artists and bands, but different songs. A lot of death metal bands; I really like to practice to Bathory, a band from Norway. I like to practice to them when I’m in a bad mood and need to let go of stuff!”
Saskia encouraged fellow metal lovers who had never given a thought to yoga before to give this version a try. “Some were like, ‘I’m not flexible, I don’t stretch!’ And I told them it was about a whole lot more than that. And everyone is surprised at how much they can actually do. We also get some walk-ins, and people hanging outside at the bar area always come in and ask about it.” In fact, as we chatted a bar patron was just coming in to try his first class.
And what about the yogi who’s never practiced to death metal, or even listened to it?
“It’s about accepting that challenge and going out of your comfort zone, and reaching deeper inside of you,” says Saskia. “Just being open-minded. A lot of people who come in and have never listened to this kind of music have said, ‘Oh this is good, I can work with this! It’s probably weird for them in the beginning, but then they get into it. “