Doom Metal Is a Surprisingly Perfect Accompaniment to Yoga
As far as regular exercise goes, yoga is my friend. Like all my favourite pastimes, it's on YouTube and you can do it in your pants. Therefore, it sidesteps the whole "leaving the house" issue that typically prevents me from doing anything resembling cardio. It's also the only thing besides manic depression that allows you to lie on the floor hugging yourself for 30 minutes and can call it a workout.
My current practice mostly involves sitting cross-legged in my room every night, doing breathing exercises and high-key checking myself out in the mirror. Suffice to say, it has become a very solitary experience. So when I received an email inviting me to attend a "doom metal yoga class" last Friday, I had reservations. The last time I tried to get involved in group exercise was a year ago at a spin class led by a hype Australian woman yelling "PUSH" over a playlist I'm going to assume was called something like "1000% Drum and Bass", and it pissed me off so much I just sat on the bike very aggressively not spinning.
Counterpoint: it was 18 degrees on Friday, and literally anything is better than being in the office in those conditions. Also: doom metal. So along I went.
DO.OMYOGA is run by Kamellia Mckayed, who leads the class, and Sanna Charles, a photographer and filmmaker who helps source the music and match it to the flows. Described as "a slow vinyasa based yoga practise set to a selection of music from the heavier and vibrational end of the music spectrum", DO.OMYOGA promises an "intense immersive doom metal experience".
Simply put: you do a whole bunch of downward facing dogs to Pallbearer and stuff.
It may not be the first class of its kind, but it's definitely a format that seems to be on the rise. Yoga has been a mainstream form of exercise for years now, duly folded into the crazes of #wellness and #mindfulness, which attempt combat the un-sustainability of late capitalism with... more capitalism! So it makes sense that smaller communities would begin to sprout up again. Some sound more legit than others – Drake yoga and noise yoga are things that exist, for example – but out of all the unlikely unions, doom metal seems to make the most sense.
It may sound oxymoronic to anyone who hears the word "metal" and immediately envisions a circle pit set to "Reign in Blood", but doom has always had a beneficial relationship with the spiritual and esoteric. References are everywhere: Sunn O))) wear hooded robes on stage and wrote an album partly inspired by a Lebanese megalith; the cover of the most recent Wolves in the Throne Room album is a painting by Russian occult artist Denis Forkas; the rhythm section of San Jose doom metal trio Sleep literally formed a band named after the Hindu concept of Om, and one of their songs goes: "Descends supine grace of the luminant / Attunes to access light of celestial form".
Those are just a few random examples, but you get the gist. Doom metal and unexplained cosmic energies, man. It's a vibe.
Anyway, so I was on my way to doom metal yoga and my arse was sweating. As I mentioned, I'm not one for regular physical exertion. I don’t own a single item of lycra clothing, just a six year-old pair of adidas leggings and loads of football shorts I’ve acquired from various boyfriends.
I'm telling you this for two reasons: 1) This was a taster session ahead of a 250-capacity classes they’ll be doing at Download Festival this year, and we were all given the option to wear some Download-branded yoga pants, which I was thankful for at the time because my outfit was already proving unsuitable (this is also why we’re all dressed alike – it’s not some mad athleisurewear cult for people who grew up on Myspace). And 2) I'm hoping it will explain this wardrobe malfunction.
The thing about yoga pants is they have a lot of stretch in them, and the thing about my arse is it's huge. I did have concerns about this beforehand, but I examined the situation indoors, where the sun could not bless my body with light, meaning I could not fully comprehend quite how see-through my visibly taut yoga pants were going to get.
I have a fantastic arse so I’m not mad about it, but it’s a disarming fact to be made aware of in retrospect. So, to whomever was behind me: I’m sorry / you’re welcome.
To begin, we sat for several minutes with our eyes closed while Kamellia said a lot of wise, meditative things that I've now forgotten, but can confirm did a great job of easing me into the practise and making me forget I was on a patch of landscaped grass in St Pancras. The music was exactly what you would expect: mantra-like in its repetition, verrrrrrry slow tempos.
At one point Kamellia encouraged us to focus on the space between our eyes, but also to look down at our noses. This created a feeling halfway towards an out-of-body experience, where you're aware of your body but also somehow, like, less aware of it? This is known as: doing yoga. We were then guided out of the meditative portion by some ripping sludge chords.
As promised, the practise was mostly vinyasa-based. A vinyasa is a sequence of three poses: plank (which is like the beginning part of a press-up), chaturanga (the lowering yourself bit of the press up) and cobra / upward facing dog (when you are sunbathing on your tum and someone mentions margaritas). There were also a few warrior poses, AKA you doing "drunk surfing" on the bus home from the students' union, and lots of downward facing dog, which everyone knows because it's the sex one.
Having never done yoga to music before, I found that it helps with two things. Firstly, breathing is a huge part of yoga, and that can fall massively by the wayside when you’re a beginner still trying to learn the poses, hold them and figure out how to transition into the next. Music alleviates that responsibility a bit by providing a background rhythm that you end up syncing up with subconsciously, rather than focusing on trying to get your hamstrings to behave and then emitting a big "HOOOOOSHHH" because you’ve forgotten to exhale for a minute-and-a-half.
"It's the vibration, the toned-down guitars and bass. I don't know what it is, but there’s a certain magic in that heaviness," Kamellia told me afterwards, when I asked her why she thinks doom is such a good fit. "That relief you feel when someone puts their hands on your shoulders – I think [doom] music does the same thing. And I think the psychedelic landscape of doom/stoner/sludge metal naturally lends itself to people indulging in other habits that put them in altered states of consciousness, so I’m doing the same thing with yoga."
I was told that the classes normally take place in dark, cavernous, candlelit rooms where the sound feels more enveloping, acting as a sonic blanket. They also last for an hour-and-a-half, rather than the 30-minute version I did. "It’s a bit like a long gong meditation," Kamellia said. "The whole idea of yoga in general is to go in, so that’s where this practise really helps – it sets up all the conditions to make it very personal and intuitive."
It's perhaps because of this that, during our practise, I sometimes forgot there was music playing at all. Even though it was blasting out of two massive amps a few metres from my face, it became part of the environment, like the wind or the faraway voices of confused passers by. Admittedly, "on the ground by some office buildings" isn’t the ideal environment in which to get your inner healing done, but the fact that I – a socially anxious worm who mostly wears XL T-shirts – felt so immersed that I was able to present my barely-clad arse for all the world to see speaks volumes.
The first time I ever did yoga was a few years ago, when my friend Chris gave me a one-on-one class after she came back from a course in Spain. She designed an hour-long practise for me that ended in shavasana. At the end, lying on the mat with my arms and legs splayed out like a squashed spider, all open and vulnerable, I burst into tears. I honestly couldn't tell you why. They were tears of relief, for sure, but I have no idea what for.
Kamellia told me similar things have happened in her classes. "I've had a couple of comments from people who have felt it's quite emotive, even if it is quite intense," she said. "If you’re shifting stuff on an emotional level and on an energetic level, you’re already doing way more than any of the postures ever could."
Talking about the class we just did, one person said, "You really tap into some old emotional issues," while someone else who previously took the 90-minute class said it made them remember they’re going to die alone, "and a tear rolled down my cheek".
All of which makes it sound heavier than it is. You might ~feel~ something, because that’s what happens when you introspect for a meaningful period of time, but it’s not just a bunch of goths crying in child’s pose. You also get to lunge while throwing the horns.
DO.OMYOGA will be at Download festival this year, which takes place June 8-10.