Heavy metal yoga

The lightness of listening to Metallica while doing downward facing dog

The class description read. “Listen to metal. Do yoga. Melt your face off in a very relaxing and healing way.” This sounded preposterous. And intriguing. I’ve dabbled with yoga for years—beginning with a hot yoga class in college, a decade ago, which eventually led to a “laughter yoga” class, in which we sat in a room and “relaxingly giggled” for an hour—but never stuck with it for the long haul. This isn’t yoga’s fault, really: I avoid long-term commitments to specific fitness regimes. I’ve gone through distance-running phases, mountain biking kicks, and weight-lifting obsessions. I’ve done boutique spinning classes, Piedmont Park boot camps, high-intensity recreational basketball and some cross-fit. And I’m sure I’ll do it all again. I like variety where exercise is concerned. But heavy metal yoga? I don’t even listen to the stuff—unless you count early Metallica, back in elementary school, and the occasional Slayer song on an irreverent Sunday morning, coming through my neighbor’s wall.

Neda Draupadi Honarvar is the owner of Tough Love Yoga, self-proclaimed inventor of metal yoga, and a “yoga ambassador” for Howell Mill’s high-end workout clothing store, lululemon. (Lulu seems to be the aesthetic of yoga’s most serious and/or moneyed practitioners these days.) Honarvar, a muscular woman in her thirties with jet black hair, possesses the fiery, funny, self-assured demeanor of someone who can bend her body into a pretzel and say things like, “Stick your ass in the air like this is Magic City.” (For the uninitiated: Magic City is a strip club in downtown Atlanta frequented by rappers who rhyme about it in their songs.)

So it was that a few minutes into Honarvar’s seventy-five minute intermediate metal class, which had attracted around twenty mostly sweet-looking young women, and a tattooed man, I found myself aping a stripper as Iron Maiden played on an iPod dock nearby. We were in the studio’s large, dimly lit, main room, which was already warm with body heat. There was a colorful mandala painted on the far wall—created by celebrated local multimedia artist, Sam Parker—that combines a skull and cobras. I tried to focus on it.

In swift succession, we did downward facing dog, plank, crow, wheel and other yoga poses I’d come to know over the years. I sweated and grimaced, trying to follow Honarvar’s feisty lead. She didn’t use quite as much of the idiosyncratic yoga terminology—like “melt into your heart,” which I’m still trying to figure out—that I’d heard, confusingly, in past classes. Her instruction was more matter-of-fact and, when necessary, encouraging. What did listening to metal add to the experience? Well, I’m not entirely sure. But it felt more hardcore, like something I’d do again (and write about) with pride. Also, in that peculiar way I’d discovered before, in other yoga practices, I felt very relaxed when it was over. Or perhaps relieved. Sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference.

Honarvar, who has always enjoyed metal music, later explained to me that some of her male friends said they would only try yoga if metal music played during class. Calling their collective bluff, she created this class and it’s now the most popular at Tough Love. The soundtrack for each class is a single artist—say, Neurosis, Isis, or Metallica. The music isn’t blasted, but, as my girlfriend found out, setting up your mat right next to the speakers isn’t a good idea unless you’re a huge Mastodon fan.

Heavy Metal Yoga classes are offered four times a week; it costs $10 per class to drop in. Tough Love Yoga was located in YoungBlood Gallery and Boutique in Poncey-Highlands, until the gallery changed hands last year. Since December of 2012, it’s been on Dekalb Avenue, next to Radial Cafe. 404-919-1008 / 1530 Dekalb Ave, Suite D