Yoga isn’t for everyone, but that’s not a point the Pioneer Valley is ready to concede. Or at least, it seems that way judging by the varied yoga offerings here. Yoga and beer? Yes, please. Yoga and art? Why not. Yoga with death metal? Yes, that is a thing here.
I’ve written this before in the Advocate’s pages — as a yoga lover, I’m downward-dog-darned pleased to live here and sample the serene bounty. And now, every month, I’m going to share my Western Mass yoga excursions with you. This column will feature new yoga styles, discussions on class etiquette (Is it ever okay to laugh when someone breaks one?), and the people who are making it all happen.
And we’re going to begin with metal yoga. Yup, you read that right. Yoga for death metal fans.
Yoga instructor and studio owner Angela Fontaine believes yoga is for everyone, but common yoga classes with their traditional Indian melodies, sanskrit references, and earthy crunchy vibes can be intimidating for the hard-as-nails crowd that needs yoga just as much as the next kombucha-drinking joe.
Intrigued at the concept and not adverse to metal music (yoga to country music, however, sounds like my personal kind of hell) I check out Fontaine’s metal class in Easthampton on a Friday evening.
As we settle into our first downward dog, the metal music plays softly. The guitar riffs suggest some harder core music to come, but at the class’s beginning the signature death metal screams are absent. Fontaine tells us to rock back and forth on our feet, and the instruction takes on a whole new meeting given the musical context.
Fontaine says she holds the class from 6 to 7 p.m. on Fridays so students can recharge before going to see their favorite metal acts later in the evening. “Who’s going to the show tonight?” Fontaine asks the three students and me. One student responds that she’s going to the show at JJ’s in Florence.
Just as we do our first warrior pose of the night, the music picks up and we hear that first guttural scream. With our legs settled into a standing lunge and hands hovering to either side of the room, palms down, and our gaze towards the front of the room — standard Warrior Two positioning — Fontaine feels our pain and tells us we can throw our horns to the front of the room instead. “I’m making warriors out of you guys,” she says.
I don’t listen to metal music in my spare time, but in this moment the scream and the throwing of the horns feel reaffirming. It’s like it’s externalizing what is happening in my mind and body while moving through the most difficult yoga poses.
Students who come to this class are often new to yoga, so Fontaine sprinkles in informational tidbits to make students aware of the ways in which they’re helping their body.
With our hands in prayer position over our hearts, Fontaine, who has a background in physiology, tells us our heart is more centered than towards the left.
“If you don’t know where your heart is you can’t fight for what you believe in,” she tells us. “Be a rebel and fight for what you believe in.”
Heavy minor chords haunt the room, seeming to emphasize her suggestion and enhance the spiritual aspect of the class.
In a standing quad stretch — our right hands grabbing our right feet, which are bent at the knee — she tells us to reach our left hands straight in the air with purpose.
“We’re not just throwing our hands in the air like we just don’t care,” Fontaine says.
We end the class sans chavasana and one of the students bows in namaste. “Do you know what that means?” Fontaine asks him.
“The divine light in me sees the divine light in you,” he responds.
“Can you imagine if everyone greeted each other that way?” Fontaine asks. “There’d be no crime and everybody would just listen to death metal every day.” Fontaine throws her horns straight into the air, smiling and looking up with closed eyes.
One of the students, Nichole Galenski, 29, says she’s come to every metal class since RPM Fest.
Fontaine says there were so many people who joined in on her class during the festival, she felt inspired to bring more yoga to the metal-loving crowd. “We all love this music anyway,” she says. “So I thought, maybe I should do this all the time.”
Galenski works at the travel agency downstairs from Fontaine’s Vortex Dance Fitness Studio at Eastworks. She says she couldn’t touch the floor from a standing position when she first started coming but now she can.
“I guess I kind of thought it was uptight and snooty so I never did it,” says Galenski.
The other two students in tonight’s class, Nick Saldarini and Andy Beresky, are both local rock musicians. As Fontaine discusses her strategy for reaching more of the metal crowd and showing them yoga’s not so scary, Saldarini says people fear the unknown.
“People are just afraid of doing things they’ve never done in front of other people,” he says.
Fontaine says it’s her mission to do “whatever makes it fun” for her yoga students. In her non-metal yoga classes, she says she talks to the students, finds out what they like, and plays it.
Fontaine says other yoga teachers may be more serious in their teaching style, but she likes to keep it light and playful.
“I’ve talked to people who’ve gotten kicked out of yoga classes for laughing,” she says. “And I was like, pssh, you gotta be in my class.”•
Got a yoga news tip? Email Amanda Drane at firstname.lastname@example.org.