Yoga, as it's practiced in this country, tends to be a warm, bright affair, associated with orangey light, wood floors, soothing singing bowls and nature sounds. But yoga instructor Kimee Massie wanted to offer something different. As she puts it, "Not everyone wants to listen to birds and waterfalls."
So Kimee and her husband, Scott Massie, developed Black Yoga (sometimes rendered as "BLACK YO)))GA"), which sets Vinyasa flow yoga to drone and stoner metal. No strangers to heavy music, the Massies are also co-founders of the local label-and-more Innervenus Music Collective, whose recent catalog includes releases by Vulture, Molasses Barge and Sistered.
Each class features a music mix curated by Scott and Chad Hammitt of the band Agnes Wired for Sound. Sunn O))) — a band that's synonymous with drone metal (and is cleverly referenced in the Black Yoga logo) — is often on the mix, along with music by bands like Earth, Horseback and Om. But you'll likely hear a little Portishead or an ambient Depeche Mode deep cut every now and then, too.
At a recent class in the ominously named Murder Room at Commonwealth Press' South Side warehouse — one of three places Black Yoga meets weekly — the Massies worked to counteract the cold darkness outside with a scattering of candles and lamps and several space heaters. (Whatever chill might have remained was diminished by Kimee's warm welcome.) As the music buzzed in chests and brains, Kimee soothingly and methodically explained each pose in succession, sometimes pausing to help someone sort out left from right, or offer a modification, or a more challenging step.
The ratio of men to women was about 50-50 — something that is typical for Black Yoga, but not yoga classes in general. "It's hard for men to find a place to relax," says Hammitt, a regular attendee. "They can go to the bar, but most yoga classes are oriented to women." Kimee theorizes that more men are attracted to the music, but it's hard to imagine anyone feeling uncomfortable in one of her classes, regardless of how challenging the poses — or the music — might be.
"I always say," she says with a bright smile, "If you can breathe, you can do Black Yoga."