Respect Your Neck: An Interview With Metal Yoga Instructor Saskia Thode
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It seems that other than the bottle, the spine is a touring metal musician’s worst enemy. Stories abound about guys like Tom Araya undergoing surgery caused by constant headbanging and gear-lugging. And as the power strip for the central nervous system, one’s backbone often feeds one’s state of mind. If the spine hurts, often the mind and soul aren’t in great shape either. As much as it may pain some hardcore soldiers of the apocalypse, it might be good—even enlightening and clarifying—for metalheads to take care of their wretched bodies.
Enter Saskia Thode, founding instructor of Metal Yoga in New York. A true lover of the music and the discipline, Saskia seeks to bring the two together in her classes at Saint Vitus and Cobra Club in Brooklyn. Funny and approachable, she happily answered our questions about her background, yoga stereotypes, and whether or not it’s healthy for fat chuds like us to join her class.
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Tell me about getting into metal. What attracted you to extreme music?
I think the love of metal was given to me with the mother’s milk I received as a baby . . . no, but seriously. I got into metal quite early. My mom is a metalhead and was leading as a good example. She would be blasting Blind Guardian so loud that everyone on the block could listen to her music. Plus, a lot of people around me listened to metal and rock. It is pretty big in German culture and with one of the biggest metal festivals, Wacken Open Air, being so close to my hometown I got to know a lot of different kinds of metal very early. I was 13 when I went to my first Wacken, together with my mom—she said I was too young to go by myself, but I think she just wanted to go herself and needed an excuse.
When did you start doing yoga? What prompted you to learn the form?
When I was 18 years old, I was in a car accident and had problems with my back. I started to take Tai Chi and yoga at the same time. It helped me to gain full mobility in my back, and ever since then I have been practicing yoga. I took a break here and there due to moving and too much work, but I always found my way back to it. After moving to New York in 2006, yoga became a very important and substantial practice in my life, to find peace, clarity and a connection to nature in the craziness of NYC. Yoga practice can be very grounding. Being exposed to so many stimulating and uplifting influences in the city, yoga is a great practice to stand solid on both feet and to still keep an open mind.
What do metal and yoga have in common?
Yoga and metal both have the ability to be deep and touching, and both are a great method of release. They allow you to get into that zone that makes you be able to forget everything around you and to just be in the moment. Both are meditative . . . I know a yogi who has no love for metal would not agree, but how many of us metalheads get lost in a good song or at a good show, just like a yogi gets lost in their own yoga practice?
Tell me about the Metal Yoga class. When did you start it? When does it occur?
I started off with a few metal yoga classes at Saint Vitus in June and July, and since August I have a metal yoga class on the schedule at the Cobra Club in Bushwick. The classes are every Wednesday at 6:30 pm, and Sundays at 3 pm. There will be more classes at Saint Vitus in the new year. Depending on the schedule at Vitus, they will give me days when they don’t have a show scheduled. I’d love to do more at Saint Vitus, or even have a weekly class there.
What's the most metal yoga pose?
The most metal yoga pose . . . hmmmm . . . all the warrior poses are fierce and devotional and totally metal. I have people open up their hearts to Satan in some poses and bring their horns up into the air.
Is there a yoga post that you would suggest most people do?
Cat and cow stretches are perfect for anyone with back problems and who is sitting a lot. Tadasana - Mountain Pose is a very simple but very active pose and very helpful to everyone to find some proper alignment in the body and space between the vertebrae in the spine.
Who in metal would you like to teach some yoga?
That is quite a difficult question. I think one of my favorites, Doro Pesch. She is such an amazing woman and it would be an honor to give her a yoga session. Otherwise, I think there are a lot of great people out there in the metal world that could use a good round of yoga. Jeff Becerra would be great as well. I could show him a bunch of chair yoga stuff that he can do.
When I think of a yoga class, I think of suburban parents in unflattering tight outfits. How common is that in yoga? Are there a lot of people who don't fully understand the form?
Hahaha . . . rarely you get to see those suburban housewives, and sometimes you see people wearing things that may not be the best choice for their body type, but I don’t judge people. As long as they wear what they want and they are comfortable in their clothing, I don’t care how they show up. In Metal Yoga I have students show up in jeans.
Another stereotype of the typical yoga instructor is the super-hippie. How do people react to being taught by a tattooed metalhead? Do you ever receive resistance or criticism for not being the typical instructor?
No, not at all. When I show up to teach a restorative or very gentle yoga class, people may look at me twice, but personality and voice is more important. There are actually more and more people with tattoos in the yoga world.
Similarly, metalheads aren't known for their clear minds and flexibility. Have you ever gotten shit from the metal community for not being the typical metalhead?
Not much . . . of course there are always a few guys that make fun of people doing yoga, but I have to say most people are really open to it and think it is awesome. They may notice that I don’t drink as much as the typical metalhead but, I love beer and whiskey and definitely don’t say no to a glass of either. I just don’t like to get hammered but that is also because I mostly have to ride my bike home and NYC is a little too dangerous to be riding around drunk.
I'm a 200-plus-pound dude with a beer gut. Can I still do yoga? Does it require a level of physical fitness to do it properly?
You can definitely still do yoga. Just do whatever you can and don’t get upset if there is something that doesn’t work out. If you have two healthy feet and hands, you are in business, and even without those you’ll be fine. Everything can be modified. Once you make yoga a regular thing in your life, you will reach that physical fitness level that your would like to reach. Yoga has a lot of benefits and will help to overcome physical challenges.
What music do you listen to while training? What are some great metal records for doing yoga?
I love to listen to Bathory while I practice. I have been thinking about putting an entire playlist together for one class with some of the best Bathory songs. Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Bloodbath are fantastic as well.
Any advice to a metalhead who might want to start doing yoga?
Yes, come out and have fun. No need to be scared. I won’t hurt you.
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