All things metal: Musta Jooga
Yoga and metal, does that go together?!?! one might ask but I can assure it does. Yoga classes that play metal music have been popping up around the world so even the more dark inclined could enjoy yoga without the 'happy hippie-world peace-love everyone' kind of vibe that might make their metal hardened skin crawl. And as Finland is the promised land of (heavy) metal, it is no wonder you can find Musta Jooga courses here as well. Fittingly, Urfaust are bringing their latest album 'Empty Space Meditation' to Helsinki on February 17 for a live ritual for which Musta Jooga is hosting a competition in collaboration with the concert's organizers - time to sit down in lotus position with Meri Mort and find out more about just how metal and joga go together.
Meri Mort, the woman behind Musta Jooga, describes herself as "a wild woman, artist, yoga teacher and visual every day wonderer." Her aim is to "bring people together and make them move freely in their bodies, and hopefully help them discover the wisdom of their souls. I like to keep things moving. I only stop for meditation and yoga. And that's why the spiritual path has become so important to me. It makes me drop in and drop out of the everyday life." This is something that probably many also say about music be it live or otherwise: It is a break from the everyday, a way to experience themselves within themselves, and something that possibly guides them towards something deeper.
Music is essential for Meri. "Music is something I couldn't live without. I find comfort, power and a gate for expression in music. Music is a tool to find altering stages of consciousness. Music is magic. These days I don't listen music all the time – not like consuming, it's more like really giving it the space and time it needs. We just bought a new vinyl player, and I've really enjoyed the concept of an actual album after so many years of listening to playlists."
But where is now the actual connection between music and yoga as such? " Yoga is meditation in movement, to connect to the inner rhythms. To create connection and consciousness. Music connects our inner world to the outer world – just like yoga does, on a good day. Music and yoga MOVE. And we need to be moved. There are so many emotions, lots of inspiration, different paths in yoga and in music. In some way I am also searching for purification in both – more spaciousness and clarity, the feeling of release to the mind," says Meri.
Meri Mort (Photo by Kira Leskinen)
Combining yoga with the darker music genres still might not be an obvious choice given the nature of yoga and its lifestyle which often is perceived as very cheer- and colorful but for Meri it was an organic development. "Darker rhythms and long guitar intervals have always been part of my life. When I started 'doing yoga' (you don't really do yoga, yoga does you) as a teenager I found it to be natural to do practice listening to my favorite music. Well not really listening, but having it as a background ambiance. When I met my partner in crime 4 years ago and we practiced yoga together, he said I should open a possibility for our rock/metal/alt scene friends to witness the greatness of the practice. That's how the idea came alive, we wanted yoga to be reached in alternative grounds. Basically, Pete (my husband) made me do it, so we'd have our friends with backache come and discover yoga. And I was up to it because I was kinda getting sick of all the love-light-talk. For me yoga can be a mystical shamanistic experience, so I wanted to cultivate more of that feeling in the classes. And my path is to rattle the cages in many ways, so here we go."
As yoga is a quest for more balance, the darker side shouldn't be ignored but seen as an integral part of life and yourself as Meri explains. "When I started to teach yoga, I remember my old school friends asking: 'How can you teach yoga and listen to metal music?' Well, hey, we come in many forms. Metal music has always helped me to look fearlessly into my shadow side. It should not be ignored in any practice. The deeper the shadows, the brighter the light! Yoga aims for balance and unity. It is a vivid tool to self-discovery. For realizing that there is no separation. We just have our own unique ways of finding tranquility and the connection. Darker music can also give pleasure, peace and all the emotions that all the other music does. It is a matter of how the present moment reveals itself to you, and basically how your system is wired!"
Tuska Musta Jooga Open Air 2016 (Photo by Tuomas Kaisti)
The Musta Jooga journey started at Pihasali yoga studio in Helsinki, and while Musta Jooga is not for everyone it has found its following and spread from Pihasali and monthly classes on Friday evenings to even to Finland's biggest metal festival Tuska Open Air which e.g. organized an event together with Meri at the legendary Helsinki rock club Tavastia. The first class is something Meri still remembers: "All who came were wearing band shirts. I was thinking, oh yeah, let's keep this shit real! And fun! Also." Since then all kinds of people from all walks of life have participated the classes. Though, they share some similarities that other yoga class participants might not. "Nice people come to the classes! In all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. No drama, no hassle. Just spirited open-minded people who are interested in exploring the shadow side of life and mayyyybe they have a little bit more tattoos and hair than the rest."
Musta Jooga at legendary Finnish rock club Tavastia in cooperation with Tuska Open Air (Photo by Markus Helander)
The classes themselves take the different backgrounds of people into consideration, they are rather the doom metal of yoga than speed metal. "I try to keep the classes so slow that it's always suitable for beginners. It's not acrobatic or too serious. You don't need to know anything about yoga beforehand. I crack really stupid jokes, and you just have to deal with it. I align students just like in any other class. Sometimes, I bring a drum and guide a shaman journey. It's all very intuitive. I usually make plans and never stick with them."
And just like the metal scene is often seen as a community, so is Musta Jooga. "People should take away the feeling that they can be themselves just the way they are. Empowered, relaxed and more open in the body and the mind. For me it has also been super important that Musta Jooga creates a community – the feeling that we are in this together. For herself, Meri says that she has "taken away more freedom to be the holistic multidimensional persona that I am. For that I am deeply grateful."
Now on to the Urfaust gig and the collaboration with the concert organizers Deer Lord Agency - how did that come about. "Their wonderful agency contacted me, and we started to think in what kinda ways we could work together. I didn't know Urfaust before and immediately checked them out, and discovered that they have songs that fit Musta Jooga classes really well. Their raw and untamed, yet atmospheric and dark tunes give me the good kinda shivers."
Musta Jooga is here to stay, it seems. "The Musta Jooga family is growing, and we now have three instructors. Me and Ruska Schönberg in Helsinki, and Satu Malinen in Joensuu (East Finland). I would love to do a Musta Jooga session with live artists, and hopefully that is happening later this year! Stay tuned."
There is still time to participate the Musta Jooga - Urfaust competition and win either a free entrance to the next Musta Jooga happening on February 24 with your Urfaust ticket, or a ticket to the Urfaust gig with your prepaid registration to the yoga class. All information on that can be found here.
The next sessions at Yoga studio Pranama in Helsinki take place on the following Fridays: 24.2. / 31.3. / 21.4. You can find more information on Meri Mort's Website and the Musta Jooga Facebook page.