Yoga, Heavy Metal and World Peace

I’m trying not to drown in the near infinite sea of information that is the Internet concerning all things yoga to the point that I’ve declared a moratorium on surfing the subject until I’m further along. There is so much information out there and some of it doesn’t match up. So I will stick to the reading list and pay attention in class for now and focus. Teacher has mentioned once or twice how it’s possible to be addicted to information which can rob you of the experience of the moment and I swear she’s looking at me every time she brings it up.

But, still, I have found some things and made some observations.  For instance, this site explains mudras which are various hand positions that provide a variety of effects. My understanding is that “mudra” basically means “energy seal”. Very interesting stuff and it explains of a lot of the meditation poses one might see where the fingers are curled in various configurations while resting on the knees or lap.

One mudra in particular caught my eye which was the Apana Vayu Mudra which is the “Gesture of the Heart”. According to this particular website, at least. And it just so happens to bear a remarkable resemblance to this pop-culture gesture.

Well, that’s a bit of a coincidence. Could there possibly be a connection? Is the the ancient practice of yoga the original one way ticket to midnight? Could the most noble and righteous genre of rock music be the yang to yoga’s yin, approaching the quiet mind and tranquility of the perfect moment from the direction of staccato solo and the grounding influence of a solid bass line backed up by a double drum kit? Is it possible to find the end of the ego in the cacophony of energetic sound or the symphonic chaos of a Metallica album? Could this be the end solution? The unifying theory of everything? Could an enlightened physicist look down at his hands, one folded in the Apana Vayu Mudra, the other hand slowly rising to salute those who are about to rock, and suddenly realize just how connected it all is? He could write the perfect equation that would bind the quiet to the riot and bring us limitless energy from power chord and wailing voice screaming incomprehensible lyrics.

Could the power of heavy metal yoga finally bring peace to the world?

Ok, probably not.

I consulted with Teacher and the version of the Apana Vayu Mudra she is familiar with is more like this. You touch your two middle fingertips to the tip of your thumb and then tuck the first finger to the base of the thumb. It still looks a little like the metal horns but not quite. I point again to how much information is out there and how much of it doesn’t match up and I trust Teacher over the Internet.

However, I did some research and the wikipedia article on the origin of the horny gesture again is a lesson on the amazing fluidity of modern culture. For the lazy, Ronnie James Dio of Black Sabbath fame actually took the gesture from his Italian grandmother who used it as a ward against the evil eye but the subculture of metal took it and owned it as their salute. So when metal fans throw up the horns towards their favorite song or band, they are actually warding against the evil eye.

As I said, the fluidity of modern culture is amazing.

But this all did force me to reminisce and consider a few things.  Back in the nineties, I worked as a roadie and ran lights for a local band which gave me the opportunity to surf the edge of the music scene and explore a wide range of venues and environments. And I found myself making certain assumptions. In a country bar, there is going to be a fight at some point. In a bar that plays classic rock, there is going to be a fight. At some point. Even in dance clubs, I saw a brawl or two (if a bunch of loose wristed, slap fighting counts as a brawl).

But in the metal bars, which I probably frequented more often, I don’t really remember that many fights.

Now some would say that the mosh pit was it’s own fight. For the uninitiated, the mosh pit is the area in front of the main stage where dancers (usually men) don’t really dance as much as they bounce and slam into each other to the beat of the music. To the same uninitiated, it probably looks like a brawl but it’s really not. I enjoyed a pit or two. Or three. And the dynamic was energetic but strangely safe. In my experience, if someone went down, those around him pulled back and picked him up. If someone was obviously in trouble, this strange, morphing group hug would happen so that the person would be transferred to the edge and deposited into the nearest chair to catch is breath. If someone was obviously trying to get truly violent, the same group hug thing would happen until they were ejected into the waiting arms of burly bouncers. In my experience, no one wanted to get anyone hurt (too badly, anyway) because it would stop the music.

Let’s not sugar coat it though. There was anger. There was rage. You could feel it blazing off the mob like the heat from a wildfire and this should be expected when a bunch of twenty-somethings sweating testosterone get amped up on fairly angry sounding music and choose to express the pent up rage of the insecure youthful mind in the form of violent dancing. But that’s just it. They were expressing their rage and anger in an appropriate venue. As strange as that may seem. One could even bear witness to the relaxed faces and easy smiles at the end of the night. The rage was expressed and it was gone. At least for a little while.

(Side Rant: Before any of you take what I’m saying and run out to schedule your six-year old’s next birthday at the nearest metal venue because it’s full of happy, shiny people, please be reminded that I’m using one aspect of my own experience to to illustrate a point. Metal, for the most part, is pretty dark and scary. That’s why it’s called metal. To be fair, a lot of bands and musicians have come out against the pits due to injuries or even deaths but I can only report on my experiences and note that my experiences occurred in smaller, more intimate venues instead of stadiums were mob mentality can easily overrule common sense. Also, I think modern metal is trying too hard to push on taboos and social boundaries in an attempt to stay relevant. The music seems to be getting lost in favor of stunts and stage gags. Old metal is the best metal and if you want to explore some of the history and variations, I present to you the Map of Metal.  :End Side Rant)

So can metal, as dark and sinister as it is, teach us something about the emotional reality of the common human?

Little baby humans are trained early that some emotions are bad. The parents may not even realize that the training is happening. They just want to get control of the wailing two-year old throwing a tantrum in the middle of the grocery aisle. The child is expressing anger and the parents explain to the child that expressing that emotion in that venue is inappropriate. The child hears a bunch of big words but gets the gist that expressing anger is bad.

And so we grow into emotionally constipated adults, pushing down “inappropriate” emotions until they fester and ooze out through other avenues or, worse, we explode in a spectacular fashion and then feel guilty for the damage done.

I personally don’t believe in “bad” emotions. Emotions are the security system of the spirit and the body. We make them into more than that through a bunch of intellectual voodoo but in the end it’s just the way the body and spirit are kept safe.

Let’s use our metal example: Anger is considered a negative emotion. Unchecked it makes people do remarkably stupid things. But what about anger expressed toward an injustice? What about the anger that often pushes people into action to make a situation better? Is that anger wrong?

What about fear? Fear makes us run away or fight. Fear is considered a negative emotion. But in a dangerous situation, fear can be your best friend as long as you don’t fall into a fetal position and fail to act. Consider the fact that fear is there to give your body an adrenaline boost to help you through that dangerous situation. Fear is not negative. One’s reaction to fear is what is negative. Also, admitting to one’s fears and justifying them is a road to self-discovery. Honestly, the only time one should experience fear is when the physical body is in obvious trouble. If a person lives their life in fear then that person should ask some hard questions about the true sources of those fears.

What about jealousy? That’s a tricky one. Jealousy usually stems from self-esteem issues or a lack of faith in a certain relationship. Of any “negative” emotion, jealousy is often the most revealing if one is honest with oneself as to why they are feeling jealous. Am I judging myself and coming up short? Am I judging the relationship and its not what I think? How honest can you be with yourself? Here, again, is another passport to self-discovery. If you can’t be honest about the feelings that certain situation generates you will continue to have those feelings until they eat you alive. Process the feelings honestly and see what happens.

Let’s even take on the biggie: Hate. It’s wrong to hate. But once again what if the hate is justified? I can hate racism. I can hate bigotry. I can hate corporate welfare. Is that wrong? Hate is really just the child of fear and anger. What do I fear? What am I angry about?

And, for all of these, how do I express it? Or do I express it? Can I express it and then question it and try to answer to the true source of the emotion? As I see it, the problem with these “negative” emotions isn’t so much their potential negativity. It’s the fact that if I have to ask myself about the source of the emotion and be honest with myself, I may not like the answer. It’s easy to look at ourselves in a mirror when we are all shiny and happy. Looking in that mirror when I’m seething with jealousy or boiling with anger is not pleasant but it is the fastest way to find those dark corners of the soul that may need to be cleaned out.

We can bring this back to yoga with another observation: A good practice gives you the tools to process the emotions and express them. The revelation for me is how effective breathwork is for releasing a pent up emotional experience so much so that the problem of finding a healthy avenue of expression for a “negative” emotions is solved. For example, work made me angry. A few breaths, a few asanas and I’m not angry any more and I can evaluate the situation from a neutral standpoint and decide if the emotional response was justified or was I overreacting.  Know what? Sometimes it is justified and that’s when my anger can be directed to possibly change the situation. The energy is expressed and redirected to a potential positive solution. It’s much better than having a screaming meltdown in the grocery aisle that your inner toddler wants you to have.

Also, the emotional landscape evens out considerably with a consistent practice. There are still highs and lows but the transition is smoother.  “Negative” emotions sneak up on you less and you can express and question without being ambushed. The “positive” emotions are a lot more focused and full. The breathing and movements ease out repressed emotions and provide a clarity that helps you answer some of those “why” questions. And answering “why” can only lead you to a centered calm in matters of spiritually and, personally, the centered calm is the place I want to be.

Even so, I do miss the mosh pit. I miss its visceral honesty of expression. We can’t always let the emotion go that freely in a so-called civilized society.

But I can take the example, know the power of the expression and the freedom of letting go, express in other ways and learn. I see this, now, at this point in the journey as the path to a centered calm.

And, personally, a centered calm is the place I want to be.