An individual like me faces a real conundrum when matching my personality and aesthetic to a fitness community.
While I’m known to exorcise and exercise antisocially at crowded gyms, I yearn to be part of a class or collective that allows me to be me. Recently, like countless others, I’ve sought out yoga, but have been stymied to find a yoga group that can handle me and the many contradictions I encompass.
For example, I have as many pairs of yoga pants as I do corpse/true-crime related tattoos (I’ll let you guess how many), because both enhance my aesthetic and speak to my specific interests; I love openly weeping at Pixar films in theaters as much as I love knocking out grown men in mosh pits (and for the same cathartic reasons); and I want to explore the complexities and turmoil haunting the murky recesses of my mind, but I don’t want to do that with words, per se.
Get to Know BLACK YO)))GA
Thankfully, there is a Pittsburgh-based, unconventional yoga collective that caters to my criteria as well as welcoming all those who have perhaps never tried a hand at yoga. BLACK YO)))GA is a “misfits-welcome,” professionally-run yoga collective that uses metal music (specifically drone, doom, noise, and sludge metal) and an emphasis on mental health to boldly restructure the landscape of yoga and meditative practices in Pittsburgh, one vinyasa-style class at a time.
Black YO)))GA is the brainchild of Pittsburgh artist and yoga instructor Kimee Massie, and, now in its seventh year, has found a new, 1,000 square-foot, skull-adorned studio/home-base on East Warrington Avenue in the ever-diversifying, metal-friendly Allentown neighborhood.
Their Allentown neighbors include the macabre boutique The Weeping Glass, hail-seitan, vegan hotspot Onion Maiden, metal-coffee aficionados Black Forge Coffee Shop, and the punk/metal record mecca, Skull Records.
The Birth of BLACK YO)))GA
BLACK YO)))GA, a name that evokes the amplifier-inspired name of experimental metal/drone powerhouse unit, Sunn O))), was founded by Kimee Massie (and is run by Kimee and her husband, Scott Massie) as a way to create an environment that both allowed her to teach yoga and practice the physical art in a space that was conducive to her mental growth and well-being. For Kimee and Scott, that meant creating a yoga collective with a uniquely metal flair.
Kimee had dabbled in yoga casually, but it wasn’t until she became intimately aware of the overwhelming salubrious potential practicing yoga could have that she made the move to explore more seriously. As Kimee explains, “I had done yoga here and there throughout the years, but only started taking it seriously in 2009, a year after our son was born with a life-threatening medical condition. It helped my anxiety disorder so much (when medication did NOT) that I started to get trained to be able to teach it.” Indeed, yoga provided much more than a phenomenal physical workout, it could also be an invaluable tool in dealing with and mitigating the effects of trauma, stress, anxiety disorders, and mental illness.
Finding the Right (musical) Fit for BLACK YO)))GA
Throughout her intensive, 200+ hours of instructor training, and in her nascent teaching career, Kimee routinely encountered the same experiential roadblock: the music, and the atmosphere created by music, of the yoga world was stale, excessively-recycled, and off-putting to many potential yoga-goers.
“I was bored with the music when teaching, it seemed like EVERY instructor (as well as massage therapist) was using the same playlist,” Kimee stated. “I knew I wanted something more my style (dark and heavy, yet relaxing), but wasn’t quite sure how to fit it to my class…. until I heard a jazzy doom band in my husband’s car, Bohren & Der Club of Gore. THAT was exactly what I wanted for my classes!”
Our 1st LIVE event in Allentown was a success!
— BLACK YO)))GA® (@BLACKYOGA1) January 18, 2020
Bohren & Der Club of Gore, a broodingly downtempo, menacingly bard, jazz-doom metal German outfit, is a band not readily known to a music novice, but is characteristic of the breed of metal and musical ambience that would epitomize the BLACK YO)))GA experience Kimee and Scott have worked tirelessly to cultivate in the past years.
— BOHREN & DER CLUB OF GORE / official (@BohrenOf) December 31, 2019
Purposefully Navigating the Sub-Genres of Heavy Metal
BLACK YO)))GA, rather than relying on the calming to some, insufferable to others music one thinks of when envisioning a yoga class, would heavily rely on genres of metal music like doom metal, drone metal, sludge metal, “stoner” metal, and ambient metal. These bowel-trembling sub-genres of metal are known for creepily slow tempos, low-set instrumentals, howlingly low-register vocals (if any vocals are featured at all), a noticeable “thicker” sonic effect, and thematics that often center around dread, crisis, existential sorrow.
This kind of music not only perfectly represented Kimee’s aesthetic, but this kind of music explicitly and implicitly explored the anguish and ineffable turmoil or stress that the folks Kimee wanted her yoga classes to reach and include. Such a music/yoga marriage allowed her to collaborate closely with her husband Scott, who manages the artist and musician collective innervenus, and fellow artist/musician/metal-enthusiast Chad Hammitt, to create a strong musical backbone to BLACK YO)))GA that matched the superb skills and guidance Kimee provided as instructor and leader.
Hammitt, who has been a fixture in a myriad of PGH bands (including his most recent project, Altar and the Bull) was approached by Scott in 2012 to be promoted from raucous fan of Scott’s musical projects, to creative collaborator in his wife’s new endeavor (lovingly being referred to as “metal yoga”). Hammit delineated the original backend creative process, noting “[The] original plan and task was to make hour long mixes for a “Darkened, Blackened” yoga class that [Scott’s] wife (our guru and cult leader) Kimee Massie would teach.
We met once a week for a few hours and swapped drone jams and other tunes we thought would work. We used stuff from horror soundtracks and one-off numbers from other bands we liked.” The crew started to create mixes for the classes (that can be heard here), but eventually tired of sourcing from other artists when they knew so many talented musicians in PGH, and were seasoned musicians themselves. “Screaming Crow Records approached us to make a home instructional DVD. We were never going to get the rights for many of our favorite songs, so we were sort of forced to work on the first soundtrack Asanas Rituals Vol.1. We called up a bunch of like-minded folks and got to work. The Black Yo)))GA Meditation Ensemble was born.”
Dealing with Life’s Darker Moments
In addition to helping out on the creative end of things, Hammitt is a convert to the cult of metal yoga, having experienced firsthand the tremendous healing power of a yoga class taught by someone unafraid to deal with, and certified to handle, the vexing issues of life. I was in a particularly dark place in my life and the yoga aspect intrigued me.
“I am willing to say that my involvement in BLACK YO)))GA saved my life at that time as I was particularly suicidal and the classes gave me an outlet to spend an hour a week thinking about my own thoughts and breathing through the negative emotions…It sort of surprised me at how much immersion into a project and spending a little time with my mind and body really changed my outlook on things. It wasn’t immediate, but the positivity did take hold,” Hammitt remarked about his involvement with the BLACK YO)))GA.
To this effect, Kimee notes, “unlike most instructors, I am certified to help those with trauma/PTSD, as well as addiction and recovery,” and she not only encourages and welcomes those struggling with addiction, mental health, suicidal thoughts, and so on, but she is able to provide the appropriate and informed guidance to help those under her tutelage.
Oh, and a gnarly, haunting soundtrack for the whole process, too.
Building a Multi-Faceted, Yoga / Metal Community
Yoga-devotees (especially the Millennial sort) and metal-acolytes are not two demographics known to intersect or overlap in any sense–conflicting fashions (wildly different color schemes, anyway), diametrically opposed musical sensibilities, and seemingly radically different ethos.
With BLACK YO)))GA, Kimee and her crew (or, as they prefer, “cult”) strive to simultaneously override misgivings and preconceived notions about the multidimensional interior world of metal (and metal fans), and the disdain or aversion for yoga held by folks who felt they didn’t belong at a yoga class.
In doing this, Kimee, above all else, prioritizes the mission of showing everyone the kind of peace and healing that is possible when you shed your baggage and open yourself to metal yoga. BLACK YO)))GA has grown from a nomadic troupe using warehouses, beauty salons, and basements, to landing their permanent home, being featured internationally (including in renown publications Decibel and Yoga Journal), and creating a community for countless, diverse individuals. On her impact on the metal yoga participants, Kimee remarks, “I have helped people with physical/emotional pain and/or anxiety/depression, some of which who were even ok’d by their doctor to no longer need their medication anymore. I’ve witnessed many people cry in class, letting go of past traumas and such.”
Know Before You Go – BLACK YO)))GA
So, what can you expect from a soul-rattling, limb-twisting BLACK YO)))GA session?
Kimee states, “You can expect it to be a little darker than a typical yoga class – not only with the lighting (it’s all lit with candles), but also with the music. In using the darker style of music that we do, it tends to bring up some darker emotions and I help those in class to release and let go of their “darkness” or baggage (or trauma) that weighs them down so they can start/continue to heal and feel better. We tend to get an average of 15 people or so each week and I try to make the class suitable for everyone, whether you’re brand new or practice regularly. I start in modified poses and give the option to intensify if anyone wants to. I like to welcome EVERYONE and try to make everyone comfortable enough to do their own thing in class. No judgement, whatsoever. We tend to get a lot of “misfits” – those are my people and I feel like they would never try yoga if it wasn’t for what we do… and I LOVE it!”
And what if you’re not someone who follows every move of doom metal behemoths like Sleep and Earth, or live for the deep-cut B-Sides of Trent Reznor?
You can check out some of the aforementioned archive mixes to get a taste of the sort of music BLACK YO)))GA features, or take some of Hammitt’s recommendations: “Ulver, Dark Buddha Rising, Jodis, Om, Sleep, Neurosis, Sunn O))), ASVA, Raison D’être, Requiem, CHVE, Brian Reitzell, Passion by Peter Gabriel, Dead Can Dance and Lisa Gerrard’s solo work., Mustard Gas and Roses, The Owls ANWTS, etc….I could honestly [list] band names all day….”
What are you waiting for – suit up in your flexible clothes (yoga pants are indeed welcome, if that’s your cup of tea), loose limbs and muscles, and a profoundly open mind and spirit. After all, as literally no one says, “Ohm is where the heart is.”
BLACK YO)))GA meets Tuesdays 8-9 PM, at 827 E. Warrington Ave, 3rd Floor // Pittsburgh // 15210.
Classes are $20 each or five classes for $80, pre-payment accepted through PayPal via [email protected] (include name, email, and phone). Private classes are available upon request.
Header Image courtesy of Paul Werkmeister