You’re standing in a dark room, drink in hand, staring towards the coloured lights on stage. A low hum ringing in your ears, the energy in the room is electric, the air warm and thick as it fills your lungs, sweat slowly trickles down the middle of your back, and then… it begins. Guitars screeching into clarity, vocals booming, the bass line melodic but smooth and the drum beat is so hypnotic it sends you into a trance. Before you know it, the drink is down and you’re in the pit, thrashing and jumping around with the energy of the music and the people. You feel empowered, you feel exhilaration, you feel release, you are completely and utterly in the moment, nothing else matters…

That’s the feeling of punk rock.

That’s the feeling of yoga.

Punk to yoga is the Yin to Yang, whilst appearing to be contradictory of one another, they are actually interconnected, and together they bring balance and clarity on how we view ourselves and the world we live in. Both educate us, expand our knowledge, encourage us to question the world and enlighten us on so many aspects of life.

Like yoga, punk is a release for a lot of people, a way to express themselves, to alleviate stress and tension; it is a union, a community of like-minded individuals coming together to be a part of something that not only makes them feel good but to have a positive impact on the world. And punk music is so broad, just like the many styles of yoga.

Alternative yoga’s have made the press and a good thing too. The westernisation of the practice has created a ‘label’ and perception of what yoga is and who should do it. Wanting to scrub the elitism and rigidity out of modern yoga, Kimberlee Jensen Stedl founded Punk Rock Yoga in the USA and in 2003, she published the Punk Rock Yoga Manifesto.

“One of the main goals [with the manifesto] was helping the teachers already out there teaching Punk Rock Yoga,” said Kimberlee.

“It gave them something to show to say, ‘here, this is what my class is about’. In a way it was a bit of a challenge to everyone who had dismissed Punk Rock Yoga as a gimmick. It was something our teachers could hold up and show that there is quite a bit of thought, thought that might differ from everything that has been repeated, and there is quite a bit of substance to what we have to offer as teachers.”

On the contrary to what most people think, yoga is actually something anyone can do. It is a practice that is mastered over time, just like learning an instrument, except that instrument is your body. You don’t need to be flexible, pure, thin, beautiful, know all the postures before you get to the class and “you don’t need a $100 yoga mat or special clothing to do yoga,” said Kimberlee. “…what you need is you, your commitment, your energy, and your focus.”

One of the many misconceptions about yoga is that it is all about the asanas, but this is just 1/8th of philosophy of yoga.

“Yoga goes beyond just stretching exercises, there are many suggested poses and sequences to help the body re-align itself, while simultaneously drawing attention to our body,” said Kimberlee.

“When we discover tension in the body we can then probe deeper to realise where we are holding tension in our mind. Through actively engaging rhythmic deep breathing we can alter the patterns in our brain, we can lower our blood pressure, we can bring our body and our thoughts into a more peaceful state. Through doing this, we can see the world with more clarity, more vision, and more truth.”

The benefits of listening to extreme music and a yoga

In a recent study by University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia, it has been discovered that the effects of extreme music, which is normally associated with anger and aggression, actually make listeners ‘inspired and calm’.

According to an article on the university’s website Head-banging tunes can have same effect as a warm hug, School of Psychology honours student Leah Sharman, states:

“We found the music regulated sadness and enhanced positive emotions. When experiencing anger, extreme music fans liked to listen to music that could match their anger. The music helped them explore the full gamut of emotion they felt, but also left them feeling more active and inspired. Results showed levels of hostility, irritability and stress decreased after music was introduced, and the most significant change reported was the level of inspiration they felt.”

So here we have two things on opposing sides of a spectrum but both having similar positive effects of releasing tension in the body and mind. One by listening to ‘extreme music’ like punk and the other through something as tranquil as yoga. By why?

“It has to do with acknowledging your feelings at the time and working through it, rather than trying to avoid, or drown it out—only through facing your pain can you transcend it,” said Kimberlee.

Trevor Westerlund, a.k.a, Stage Diving Yogi, has been teaching Yoga in Vancouver, Canada, since 2010 and practicing yoga to punk rock since the beginning of his teacher training, “When I started my teacher training the first thing pumped into our heads was ‘bring YOUR practice with you to class’, meaning just teaching from a book is not only unauthentic, it’s downright boring."

"My home practice has always included music and not the music common in yoga studios, not that I have any issue with that music, I just noticed the difference in my attitude, commitment, flow, and face when I practice to the music I have enjoyed since I was a kid. I work harder, I flow from beat to beat and I have a smile on my face throughout. Singing along, I am breathing, taking deep long breaths to belt something out,” he said.

“I figured that there was no way I was the only one who practiced and taught to punk music. I found Kimberlee online and her book [Punk Rock Yoga Manifesto], I read a bit of it and even the foreword from my now good friend Brian and I was sold. I contacted her and got on board. Finding this group and book seemed to legitimize my yoga self.”

Trevor also teaches Hatha and Yin Yoga classes but finds that punk and Kundalini ‘just fit together so well’ and has created his PUNKundalini yoga classes “…as I always like to mess with things, I started teaching PUNKundalini. Not to say I don’t teach an Iyengar style class to punk, but Kundalini and punk aesthetic/ music seem mesh perfectly. I teach Hatha to hipsters and my Yin classes get Mogwai, Lowercase Noises, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Sparklehorse and the darker, quieter Matthew Herbert mixes, stuff that gets people deeper into that meditative state in each of the poses.”

And Punk Rock Yoga has even hit the UK shores. Disillusioned with her Hatha Yoga course, Mel Evans, of Wild Lotus Studio, started looking online for inspiration, “The title just leapt out at me,” she said. “Kimberlee writes beautifully, her wisdom and interpretation of texts an oasis of sanity in a sometimes crazy yoga world.”

“Developing from Hatha, my interests and influences today are from Vanda Scaravelli, and her students Erich Schiffman and Marc Woolford. To me Scaravelli is the ultimate in “Punk” throwing away the confines of defined asana and defined dogmas,” said Mel.

Punk Rock Yoga means many things, for Kimberlee, the first is the ‘stop right now and pay attention urgency of punk’, “It’s the same thing yoga is trying to tell us, and that is just stop, stop what you are doing and observe. Why are you clenching your jaw, why are you furrowing your brow, why do you have low energy? What is going on with your thoughts that is causing things to manifest in the body?”

“We go through life often just reacting, not thinking, not understanding the source of our behaviour. Yoga urges us to stop and pay attention, and when we frame it in the context of punk rock, it give us that urgency. Just stop and pay attention, right now,” she said.

“The second thing is punk rock challenged everything—in a way celebrating the heretical. Punk Rock Yoga takes that and says yes, heresy is often necessary. There are many things we do today that would be considered absolutely heretical, for example, allowing women to practice. Yet ironically, you hear many women bashing modern yoga as not being pure and true to the lineages—the lineages which once excluded women."

"None of us are being true to historical yoga so I think we need to relax a bit and stop taking such umbrage when someone does something outside of our expectations. We have to ask ourselves, is what they are doing still true to the goal and the spirit of yoga—making people more peaceful and compassionate?”

Is yoga, punk?

Well, yoga is an ancient practice and philosophy shared with the world over centuries. It was passed down generations verbally, evolving and developing over time into many different forms from its original foundation. Trevor feels this is where the connection between yoga and punk truly begins and in it's own way, how much yoga takes on the a lot of the punk attitude.

“Yoga is punk. Over the centuries Yogi’s were the punkest mother f*ckers you’ll ever read about, they were the outsiders, hunted down at times by the authorities of their time, they’d come into villages, show people the way and sometimes those people left their downtrodden lives to follow a new path. In more recent years, Yogi Bhajan was a punk in the truest sense. And yogis party harder than most – we do yoga to combat what we do to our bodies when we let loose,” said Trevor.

As most people will agree, yoga provides a tool kit to help us stay mentally and physically healthy, how to cope with change and encourages us to open our minds.

“It [yoga] shows us not to run away from human experience but to run towards it, embrace it good or bad. It keeps us from being those sheep that buy, consume and disregard,” said Trevor. “We want to build open communities where people have the right to think, talk and live in a way that betters society not just the individual. It shows us life is a wonderful struggle and that we should never back down from the fight.” Kimberlee Jensen Stedl

Kimberlee sees the tool kit of yoga to not only lead a better life and be more compassionate and peaceful, but to be more real, “It’s a framework of physical and psychological development, which says you can’t have one without the other. The development of the mind, or the spirit, if you want to think of it that way, is interconnected with the development of the body. It’s like the adage, ‘You are what you eat’, which I would apply to yoga as ‘You are what you do’. It’s an awareness of what’s going on in every part of you and a means to fix the things we find a bit broken.”

What's next?

Whilst yoga has become mainstream and globally commercialised, yoga is changing, and is branching out to the wider populous. Its image is becoming less for the elite and more for the everyday people. “I believe we are now seeing the last breath of this contemporary yoga.” said Trevor.

“This factory studio and assigned outfit style of workout that is only for those with money who can afford it. Just like the death of Punk, when it shows up in Vogue it has become tainted. I see people taking yoga back, just like you can still see bands that embody and amplify what punk was, yoga will move back into the streets, into the basements and away from the huge travelling circus it has become,” said Trevor.