‘Nama-slay:’ Metal yoga draws a new population into the mind-body practice

  • “When I first started doing metal yoga, I was completely out of shape,” says Wesley Jillson of Chicopee whose former preference for heavy metal music was rekindled by the class. Before starting about four years ago, he couldn’t touch his toes. Now, he’s able to easily move. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • “When I first started doing metal yoga, I was completely out of shape,” says Wesley Jillson of Chicopee whose former preference for heavy metal music was rekindled by the class. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Jillson and Ryan Murphy of Springfield, right, practice yoga to metal music at the Center City Arts Space in Westfield. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Wesley Jillson of Chicopee, left, and Ryan Murphy of Springfield, right, practice yoga to metal music at the Center City Arts Space in Westfield. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Wesley Jillson of Chicopee practices yoga to metal music at the Center City Arts Space in Westfield. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Instructor Angela Fontaine leads a yoga class to metal music at the Center City Arts Space in Westfield. The six-week long sessions are hel d periodically, based on Fontaine’s schedule. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Instructor Angela Fontaine helps Wesley Jillson correct his form during a yoga class to metal music at the Center City Arts Space in Westfield. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Fontaine, right, Jillson, left, and Murphy, center, rest during the class. In the center is a speaker that’s playing metal music. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Instructor Angela Fontaine, right, checks to make sure Murphy, left, is stretching into a yoga pose correctly. During classes, Fontaine encourages participants to ask questions, and explains the benefits of each pose. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Jillson, far right, Murphy, center, and Fontaine, left, stretch into a pose at the Center City Arts Space in Westfield. Over the years, Fontaine has held classes at a few different  locations throughout the Pioneer Valley, including at the Center City Arts Space in Westfield, where her most recent class was held. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Ryan Murphy, right, and Jillson, center, practice yoga to metal music at the Center City Arts Space in Westfield. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

@AndyCCastillo
Published: 8/14/2018 12:38:49 AM

They leaned gently forward, carefully balancing on yoga mats into or ‘warrior-two,’ simultaneously forming their outstretched hands into devil’s horns and keeping time with heavy metal music that blared from a small loudspeaker.

“Reach out, lengthen the back,” instructor Angela Fontaine called from the front of the room at the Center City Arts Space in Westfield. She paused and took a deep breath as the high-pitched wail of an electric guitar cut over the steady thunder of bass drums.

In front of her, Ryan Murphy of Springfield and Wesley Jillson of Chicopee, both wearing black band T-shirts, settled into the stretch and nodded along to the beat.

“We’ve got to become old metalheads gracefully,” said Fontaine, 42, who is also a middle-school teacher.

Fontaine first conceptualized and taught metal yoga in 2014 at Vortex Dance and Fitness, an Easthampton dance studio she previously owned. It seems incongruous with the peaceful, relaxing tone of most yoga classes. But for those half-dozen loyal practitioners who sign up whenever she announces a new series of classes it’s a way to unwind and keep in shape while listening to their favorite bands — Cradle Of Filth, Nightwish, Black Pyramid, Iron Maiden, Graviton, Savatage, Forever Autumn, and Puscifer.

Metal yoga reaches a subgroup of musicians and music lovers who otherwise might not try yoga — men and women of all ages, Fontaine says. Because of the loudness of heavy metal, and the sometimes fast-paced lifestyle metalheads enjoy, “of course they’re not going to be attracted to a peaceful yoga class,” she said.

In contrast, Fontaine’s metal yoga classes are laid back and sometimes loud. Throughout, she gives her students advice about their health, describes how poses positively affect the body, and provides alternative stretch-es for anyone who is having trouble. During class time, practitioners are encouraged to ask questions about poses or talk about the music.

Two-way draw

If not for Fontaine’s class, Murphy said, he wouldn’t consider going to a yoga class because it’s just not his style.

“The metal is what got me in,” he said. “(The yoga) relaxes me, calms me. When I leave here, I’m like, ‘alright. I’m ready for my weekend.’”

For Jillson, 50, who fell out of the area’s metal scene in the 1980s, Fontaine’s classes not only introduced him to yoga, but also reconnected him to the local music scene. When Fontaine taught the classes at her studio in Easthampton, he recalls, the group would sometimes go to a metal show at 13th Floor Music Lounge in Florence afterward.

“It was metal yoga that got me (back) into the local metal scene,” Jillson said. “I’m an old man, and as you age, your body stiffens up a lot. When I first started doing metal yoga, I was completely out of shape. I couldn’t touch my toes. ... It has loosened me up so much.”

At her core, a metalhead

On the yoga mat, Fontaine directs the members of the class, who are sitting cross-legged, to gently pull their heads from side to side, stretching out their sternocleidomastoid muscles.

“Neck muscles, I love you guys. You help me move to the music,” she said.

Murphy, who is a bassist with two local bands, Burial and End Of An Age, laughed and added, “they help me to do windmills.”

Fontaine, a science teacher in Springfield, her home city, holds a master’s degree in education, and has a wildly diverse resume. She served as a Peace Corps community developer in the Dominican Republic, studied endangered California Condors in California, protected sea turtle nests from egg poachers in Costa Rica, led youth camps in Hawaii, and went through Satchidananda Ashram’s six-week Yogaville teacher training program in Mexico about a decade ago.

Musically, Fontaine says she can enjoy every type of music there is — from rap, to country, to Christian rock. But at her core, Fontaine, an upbeat slender woman who drinks black coffee and seltzer, is a metalhead.

As a teenager, she grew up in the Pioneer Valley’s burgeoning metal scene in the late-1990s and early-2000s, back when the Springfield metal band Yucky Octopus was still playing regular gigs, she says.

“And now, these guys are in there 30s, 40s, and 50s, and still in the bands,” she said, remembering when she first saw Pantera at Vertex on Route 9 in Hadley — which is now Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters — before they were popular.

“We would all drive out there when we were 15 or 16 years old. We were called ‘the peanut gallery,’ me and all of my friends,” Fontaine said. “I’m not a groupie, but I’ve been going to these shows since the Brass Cat used to do shows on Saturdays. Since Baystate (Hotel, now Eastside Grill) used to do shows on Thursdays. This is 20 years ago. I’ve been supporting the local metal scene since I was 20, and a lot of these guys are getting older now.”

In a way, Fontaine views her role in teaching the metal yoga classes as a way to give back to musicians who gave to her through music.

Carefully curated

Because her practitioners appreciate heavy metal music so much, Fontaine, who says she equally enjoys the music and still goes to local shows, puts special attention into what’s played during class time.

Each playlist, which often includes local bands as promotion, takes hours for Fontaine to curate. Per the ‘integral yoga’ style that she teaches, Fontaine’s hour-long classes always start with ‘mountain,’ a standing yoga pose, peak in the middle with ‘warrior,’ and then wind down to ‘corpse pose.’ Playlists mirror the physical arc of the class, starting with quieter symphonic metal and moving into louder and more intense music to reflect the more challenging poses.

“I don’t need someone to throw out a guttural roar when we should be in shavasana,” Fontaine said. “I’ve got it timed down to a science. There are metal songs that are very melodic, and there are others that, when you’re in the warrior pose, make you feel like a warrior.”

Metal can be very emotional and rhythmic, trance-like at times, Fontaine notes, which is ideal for a yoga class.

When chosen well, she says, a good metal playlist can take practitioners into “another world.” But she has to be careful about which are included, because her students have strong opinions. “Wesley thinks of Deftones as bubblegum rock, but Ryan on the other hand doesn’t care,” Fontaine said. She also noted an Amherst high school teacher, originally from Germany, who, “every time I play Meshuggah, he’s like, ‘yeah, European rock!’ ”

Gradually, Fontaine’s Friday metal class wound down to ‘corpse pose’ for ‘shavasana,’ a restful ending to the more challenging movements that came before. Fontaine always ends her metal classes with ‘Gollum’s Song’ by Emiliana Torrini, which is part of “The Lord of the Rings’ ” movie soundtrack, because of its emotive, quiet melody.

Wistful notes from high pitched string instruments floated over the lingering piano notes as Fontaine’s students, lying flat on their mats, eased into a meditative state. After a few minutes, with the song’s last chords still in the air, she led her students into a seated position.

“May the entire universe be filled with peace and joy, love and light, and may the light of truth overcome all darkness. Victory to that light,” Fontaine said. Then, bowing deeply, she completed the practice with a common phrase that often accompanies the end of a yoga class, “namaste,” which means ‘I bow to you’ in Sanskrit.

Her students, bowing in return, offered up a metalhead version of the same salutation.

“Nama-slay,” they said in unison.

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.

HOW TO CONNECT

Looking ahead, Fontaine noted plans to hold metal yoga at Poor Richard’s in Chicopee, which used to be Maximum Capacity. For more information on metal yoga, and to find out about Fontaine’s next session, which could be held anywhere in the Pioneer Valley, email her at fontaineangela7@gmail.com. On Instagram, where class updates are sometimes posted, Fontaine can be found at www.instagram.com/getinthevortex




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