Photo of Black Yo)))ga founder Kimee Massie
Interview with Miguel Chen of Teenage Bottlerocket and Chris Pinto of FÓRN | By Scott Murry
In basements, clubs, and VFW halls, there are hundreds of sweaty people of all ages filing in to catch punk rock, hardcore, and metal shows. As guitars squeal and drumbeats race through their chests, fans are slam dancing and screaming along with every word. People get kicked in the head and there are some bruises by the end of the night. On the outside, it may appear violent and dramatic—sometimes it is. At its core though, this is a cathartic experience being shared by everyone in that space. This is not a scene hellbent on punching you in the jaw or cracking your ribs… It’s about living in the moment.
While yoga has been a tool for strengthening people mentally and physically for centuries, it hasn’t commonly been associated with brash punk rock communities. Yet, there is a profound crossover between the two practices. In each, people are seeking a moment of release, and finding balance within themselves and the world around them. Bands form dynamic narratives of sound that inspire us to react deeply. Going to a show and being surrounded in reverb and distortion can dissipate negative feelings like a form of meditation.
Miguel Chen—bassist for the punk band Teenage Bottlerocket—has used meditation and spiritual practice since 2006 to deal with anxiety and depression. After initially disregarding friends’ suggestions to try it out, yoga has been a part of his spiritual practice for two years, something that he finds highly beneficial. “The physical aspect of yoga became a whole new layer to my spiritual practice, building on years of meditation,” Chen shares. “The more I dove in, the more I realized yoga provides an all encompassing approach to spirituality and life.”
Particularly powerful is the realization that we can have control within ourselves. Outside forces and experiences can disrupt our happiness, but ultimately, how we react can adjust our balance. Chen breaks it down: “This moment here and now is already perfect, and when we come back into balance with ourselves and the world around us, we can see life as it really is. There are many ways to return to balance, and I think punk rock is a very effective tool for that. It helps us cut through the bullshit and live fully in the now.”
Chris Pinto—vocalist for the funeral sludge metal band FÓRN—agrees about yoga’s balancing effects. As a relative newcomer to the practice, having begun last February, he says, “It greatly interested me to try yoga once I heard just how many things yoga might be connected to and unlock for a person.” Pinto elaborates that it’s a great creative tool as well, saying, “Interestingly enough, it has helped me write lyrics in a way, because I have learned techniques from yoga that I’ve applied to doing vocals, mostly breathing techniques that help me figure out different vocal patterns. Also, doing yoga before writing helps me focus and think much more clearly.”
Punkers and many musicians on the road push themselves to extremes. These scenes have rich histories of excess and nihilism, but Chen is quick to clarify, “Punk rock really is what makes me want to treat my body differently, yoga is the tool to do it. So much time sitting in a van, hauling gear, or jumping around on stage starts to take its toll. Not to mention partying all night, eating garbage, and sleeping poorly. Years of these behaviors made me want to take better care of myself. Yoga provides the opportunity to not only take care of myself physically, but to get in touch with my deeper self, figure out what my mind, body, and spirit are really craving.”
And where might these cravings be fulfilled? Aside from traditional yoga practice, many spaces are forming across the country for those who have different needs. The sounds of waterfalls and chirping birds in a forest are relaxing, sure, but maybe they don’t put everyone in the right zone. Being at a show can elevate your awareness and put you in the moment, so why not combine that scene with something serene? Pinto mentions trying black metal yoga while on the road in Austin. The premise of black metal yoga is commonly using those stretchy-hot, soothing poses of Vinyasa yoga in a dimmed room, often by candlelight. “I’ve heard various metal songs over the years and was like, ‘Whoa, this would be killer to do yoga to,’” he says. “Once I tried doing them together it actually made sense and worked so well.”
BLACK YO)))GA in Pittsburgh, PA, is at the forefront of this blooming approach. Their site states a clear objective: “Our goal is to form a heavy, meditative space and spread the benefits of yoga to people in our art and music communities.” This will resonate with punk rockers, who are often drawn to the music’s unique energy and ideals outside of the status quo. Since they don’t have their own gym, 200 hour RYT certified instructor and BLACK YO)))GA founder Kimee Massie runs the operation like to a nomadic band. They instruct in spaces all over their city, wherever sound systems and windows are lacking, presumably. If you aren’t in the area, the playlists are available online at mixcloud.com/blackyoga.
Ultimately, we all need to find a way to be our best selves and enjoy our time in existence. Whether it’s in a circle pit or on a mushy mat, it’s crucial to keep yourself centered. Chen reflects, “For many, yoga is a great way of accessing and connecting to that power, and that’s why I feel so strongly about sharing it. I’m not saying yoga is the only path, but I do believe it is a very direct path and it can benefit many other people.”
Miguel Chen from Teenage Bottlerocket & Lily from Oh My Snare! will be hosting free yoga during Fest 14 this year! Check out the details below and be sure to grab your Fest 14 passes here!