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Noise Yoga Is a Thing—and It's Actually Pretty Sick

Downward dog meets industrial sludge in Seattle's experimental noise community.

by Michelle Lhooq
Jul 24 2015, 6:50pm

There are many things I find insufferable about yoga classes: sweaty bums in Lululemon sweatpants. New Age yuppies. The constant reminder that your body is a crumbling tower of filth compared to the kombucha-sipping pretzels surrounding you. But perhaps the worst thing of all is the music they play while you sit there, mouth half-open, trying to tuck your dick into your elbow—a vaguely Orientalist soundtrack of booming gongs, Buddhist chants and bird tweets. (Always with the bird tweets.)

Which is why the idea of noise yoga is kind of sweet. Churning static and droning industrial sludge are—to me, and apparently many others—far more ideal for putting yourself in a state of deep meditation than pre-recorded "ohms." And it's becoming a thing—at least in Seattle, Washington, where the local noise community has been throwing yoga sessions with live performances from Pink Void, Hanford, Jason E Anderson, and soon, Yellow Swans' Gabriel Saloman.

"It started as kind of a silly idea with friends, but once we started the first series, it pretty quickly got a fair amount of interest and really good feedback from people," says co-founder Gabe Schubiner, a DJ at Hollow Earth Radio and a graduate student at University of Washington. Schubiner organized the first noise yoga session with his fellow radio DJs Carly Dunn and Corporal Tofulung in October 2014. Friends from the noise community set up amps in a beautiful, old brick community building called Washington Hall, and one friend who practices "anarchist yoga" taught the class. 30 people showed up. Since then, the series took off and moved into the Frye Art Museum, where classes re led by yoga instructor Emily Denton (who also plays in the band Stickers).

Schubiner, who booked the lineup, thinks the two fields are more complementary than you'd think. "The focus of yoga creates a really good environment to appreciate sound, in a deep listening kind of way." It works the other way around too: "Intense music creates a kind of mindfulness as well, in that it can be very aggressive in displacing thoughts."

Noise yoga also changes the way that our bodies respond to this sort of music. Instead of surrendering to the waves of pummeling noise like a little bitch while stroking your chin (like you would at a noise show), your physicality gains some agency, and the performance becomes more of a two-way street. "Lots of people have talked about noise as having a BDSM-style domination/submission relationship with the audience, and I guess part of that for me is that noise can feel paralyzing in intensity," Schubiner says. "I think having a structured movement in that context is a bit of a role shift."

Of course, it works the other way around too. Just as yoga challenges the noise community to rethink their relationship to the music, these events are making noise music more accessible to people who would never pick up a Prurient album. And maybe, just maybe, it'll make them rethink those Lululemon pants.

Noise Yoga is on Facebook. Their next event with Steve Peters will take place at the Frye Art Museum on July 30.

Michelle Lhooq is THUMP's Features Editor. Follow her on Twitter.