With gyms and swimming pools closed, job uncertainty, working from home and a global health crisis, we must try harder than even to maintain our mental and physical health.
Working from home, work closures and self-isolation can have a massive affect on mental health, not to mention the looming dread of a pandemic.
One way to get moving, stretching AND keep on top of the mental stress is yoga.
An ancient practice, yoga is a holistic form of exercise – meaning it encompasses the entire body as well as the mind – making it the perfect way to unwind, meditate, work your muscles and strengthen.
While most yoga is set to a calming, soothing, soundtrack New Age relaxation tunes, there's a growing popularity in alternative forms of yoga.
The enchantingly spiritual Viking metal festival, Midgardsblot in Norway enlists the instructive growls of Saskia Thodes aka Metal Yoga Bones (opens in new tab) for yoga sessions during their annual event.
Meanwhile in Salem, Massachusetts, Black Widow Yoga (opens in new tab) provide yoga classes at the Satanic Temple headquarters. And that's just the beginning...
Doom Yoga, Black Yoga (opens in new tab) and many, many more yoga classes set to heavy music have cropped up across the globe in the last few years, primarily playing the heavy drone of Sunn O))), doomy, atmospherics of Esoteric, primal folk tones of Heilung other subgenres that lend themselves to meditative movement and deep breathing, such as blackgaze and post metal.
The resident yogi of London's Black Heart (opens in new tab), Selma Ra/(heavy) metal yoga (opens in new tab), chooses to teach her classes – set in the upstairs gig space of the legendary metal venue – to a mix of doom, black and progressive metal.
Due to the virus, her classes are currently being streamed online for free. She simply asks for a donation, if you can afford it, which will go straight to the Black Heart to help them through this unsettling time.
Check out her Facebook page (opens in new tab) to keep up to date with her live streams and how to get involved – but act fast because there's only room for 100 people to tune in!
We've teamed up with Selma to bring you your very own beginners guide to heavy metal yoga, complete with a playlist to get you started on your journey. So turn up the music (the playlist is at the bottom of the page), and turn off your mind!
The way you breathe has a very profound and significant effect on your brain activity. If you're wanting to calm down, cool off, chill out, this is one effective way to do so:
Inhale for 3 / 4 counts, and exhale for 6 / 8 counts. Repeat.
Essentially, you want to try to make the exhale longer than the inhale, maybe even twice as long.
Notice if you get out of breath: you probably could breathe even slower, give it a go!
Don't ever pause between the inhale and the exhale if what you want to achieve is the calming of the mind!
A pause between the in-breath and the out-breath would activate the sympathetic nervous system (the active one!) rather than the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest).
Imagine you're trying to fog up a mirror. Do that sound now, with your mouth open to release that imaginary (or not...) fog out. Notice the muscles in your throat and how they feel.
Now do that again, but keeping your mouth closed, activate the same muscles in the throat.
You'll produce an ocean breath (or Darth Vader-like) sound. Don't force it, keep it very gentle.
Engage the same throat muscle action as you inhale. There you go! That's called the Ujjayi Breath in Sanskrit, and is very effective at activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
It's a great breathing technique to use throughout the physical yoga sequence: when you find your mind is going towards brain-chatter, focus back on this breathing technique to keep you engaged in the present moment.
Now, keep breathing while you try and hold each of the following poses for 7 breaths each.
1. Cow Pose
Arch your back and imagine your collarbones are trying to reach forward and up.
Roll your shoulders away from your ears to create space.
2. Cat Pose
Suck belly in, curve your back, press into your hands and drop your head.
3. Low Lunge
Bring your right leg forward.
Your left knee on (or for more advanced, off) the ground draw your front hip back a little, sink your weight towards the front and keep your core engaged. Avoid arching your back!
Stay here for a while to really feel the stretch and the benefits.
4. Low Lunge with Twist
As you inhale, feel your spine getting longer and as you exhale, lift your body and twist with your right arm reached out. Twist comes from the torso, keep your legs in alignment.
5. Runner's Lunge
Bend forward and straighten your front (right) leg. Find your balance while keeping a straight spine (you might need to bend your front knee to help with that). Imagine your collarbones are reaching forward.
Important: Flex your front toes towards your face!
6. Half Moon
Make sure your left/back foot is not tucked it, lay it flat on the ground.
Bring your leg up and stack your hips on top of one another. your torso should be turned to face the side as you reach your arm up and raise through your finger tips.
Flex the foot of your lifted right leg and press into your supporting hand.
Make sure you engage your core!
Now repeat steps 3-6 but bringing your left leg forward instead of the right.
Lie on your belly and push down on your hands so that your chest raises off the ground.
Ensure your shoulders are away from your ears and not tense. Press into your hands and spread your fingers wide, keep your elbows close to your ribs.
Important: Avoid compressing the lower back by ensuring focus is on reaching the collarbones forward rather than skyward.
Clench your bum muscles to protect the spine if you have any lower back issues.
8. Half-way Shoulder Stand
Lie on your back and bring your feet near your bum. Push down into your feet and raise your bum off the floor, squeeze your buttocks and feel your stomach rise toward the sky. This is bridge pose.
From here, press your hands into your lower back, press into the arms and raise your feet off the floor.
Stay here a while and engage the core and try and straighten your legs. You can move into a full shoulder stand if you wish, or towards plough pose (an inverted pose where you bring your feet over your head as if you are going to roll backwards, planting your feet onto the ground behind you and stretching out your arms to the floor).
Make sure you don't move your head from side to side!
9. Child's Pose
Back on all fours, spread your knees wide apart and bend over, resting your torso towards the ground.
You can put a cushion between your heels and buttocks if they don't reach.
Spread your hands wide, rest your forehead on the ground (or on a block, cushion, pie with clotted cream...)
You can come into this pose at any point during your practise if you feel you need to rest.
10. Downward Facing Dog
A weird one... Start on your hands and knees, spread your arms wide and push off the ground with your hands. Feet a hip-width apart, keep a bend in the elbows, spread your fingers and press into your palms.
Roll your shoulder blades down and away from your ears. Find a compromise between bending the knees (which will help lengthen the spine) and pressing the heels towards the ground (a nice stretch in the hamstrings, but will also cause your back to curve).
Don't press your back too far towards your knees. Enjoy! It gets less weird with time.
11. Corpse Pose: Finishing off the sequence
At the end of the sequence, lie on your back, (or on your side if you prefer), perhaps close your eyes. Be totally passive.
Every time you exhale, feel the muscles letting go, feel the weight of your body supported by the ground. Engage with a breathing practice of your choice.