Namaste. In an effort to stave off writing about more grindcore – I truly love it. I do. It’s just increasingly difficult to write “fast as fuck” in fifteen different ways every month – we’ve something a bit different for this edition of Words From The Underground. As is now tradition, a veritable shit load of the UK punk scene made the annual pilgrimage to Slovenia for the legendary Punk Rock Holiday this August. Myself, and Jo Smith of Bad Juju Yoga were amongst those present.
For those of you who’ve never heard of Punk Rock Holiday, it’s well worth checking out. Located in the most stunning alpine setting imaginable, in a valley described as being “like Jurassic Park but without the dinosaurs”, the festival site alone is something special. Some of the finest mountain views, the crystalline blue waters of a snaking Soča River, and a generous helping of the planet’s hottest punk rock combine for a party like no other. This year Propagandhi, The Offspring, Face to Face, Less Than Jake, and many other well-seasoned acts joined the likes of Actionmen, Not On Tour, Darko, and a whole roster of global underground talent, that were spread thickly over two of the most picturesque stages imaginable.
Thanks to various mishaps involving planning and drinking, but mostly poor friend selection, a full Punk Rock Holiday special feature won’t be forthcoming for WFTU. However, I couldn’t let pass the opportunity to grill Jo on the unlikely match she’s found between punk rock music, and yoga, as well as her own teaching group and travelling yoga school – Bad Juju Yoga.
For once, I’d done my homework and made sure to attend a class or two during a week of heavy excess. I found the sessions to be an amazing tonic to compliment the heavy levels of gin still coursing through me at eleven AM at any music festival. Skate punk and hardcore music plays during class, and Jo times poses, movements, and breathing to the beat, cleansing both body and mind. Being forced to take a moment to yourself and relax after sweating out last night’s hedonism is a brilliant start to any festival day and set me up perfectly for egg and chips, Irish coffee, and another session with the planet’s finest punk rock noisemakers.
It was during a frankly outrageous line up on the final day of the festival that Jo and I eventually found time to talk about her joint passions of music and yoga. Where better to do it than an idyllic, riverside location in punk rock paradise? Well, actually the best we managed was under a brolly in the pissing down rain in the press smoking area. Ah, Slovenia—
On the surface, punk rock music and yoga seem like opposing ideas. The angst and aggression of punk could be seen by many as the antithesis of the peacefulness and tranquillity of yoga. What’s the deal with it, and why do you think they sit so well together?
I think balance and moderation are really important in life. I like to get in the mosh pit, stage dive, and get rid of all that angst but I also like to take that time to internalise, take it easy, and look after myself. When we go to festivals we can all go a little bit over the top. We don’t sleep a lot, we drink too much and the next day we can feel a bit rubbish. Just by doing a bit of yoga, and breathing it can make you feel better. It’s not quite a cure for everything though!
I read a bit of research years ago that was done at the University of Queensland. They were saying that people who listen to extreme music are actually more in tune with their emotions and they use the music to get rid of pent up feelings. The way that I teach the class is that we start off with a lot of movement at first, almost aerobic-like. We get rid of all the tension, loosen up the body. You know? Let go, get the blood flowing. Deep breaths. All that sort of thing. Then we get into the poses.
In starting with the physical side, it’s not that its necessarily easier for people to do, it’s just that it’s an easier concept for people to understand. After stretching out the body, they feel more relaxed and by the time we get into the pranayama (breathing) exercises people are physically more relaxed. They can then concentrate on the inside and the mental side of things.
So, it’s getting rid of all that angst in the beginning, and coming down into a calmness towards then end.
Do you think punk rock yoga is just for people who already like punk music and yoga, or is there something more to it? Are the two complimentary to one another?
Yeah, I think they’re complimentary. I teach regularly in the UK and I have people who come to my classes that don’t necessarily get into the music. They come along because they like the way that I teach. Particularly with Bad Juju Yoga, I follow the punk rock philosophy because it has elements of inclusivity. That’s not just inclusive by physicality – people’s own ability in class – that’s also financial inclusiveness. I teach my classes in stages, so that people can work to their own boundaries and watch themselves progress. I also allow a sliding scale when it comes to payment, and I do a donation-based class so that people who can afford to, pay, and those who can’t, don’t. It means more to me that they get benefit from my yoga and they don’t have to worry about whether they can afford it. It’s much more than just yoga and punk music. It also means I get a broad range of people attending.
And in terms of the aural experience, is the punk music used for timing, or to generate a certain feeling? Or is it just that you really love punk rock music?
Skate punk and hardcore are really important to me and I really want to incorporate the movements with the breathing and the sounds – almost like choreographed sequences. You can close your eyes and become so much more aware of what’s going on inside.
What schools of yoga is Bad Juju based on? Is it entirely your thing, or have you picked and chosen from multiple styles?
I’m trained in what’s called Dru Yoga – described as “stillness in motion”. There are a lot of unique sequences to that type of yoga – all based off hatha yoga. They’re all about movements, and breath. They’re called “energy block releases” and are meant to help unblock any energy, or any stuck tension in the wrists or the hands, or anywhere else in the body. So, I sometimes incorporate that and sometimes I go with a bit more of vinyasa flow-type thing. That’s moving quite quickly between postures. I always start slow so that people get the movements first and speed it up once they’re comfortable. I really like holding poses too – building that strength off your own body weight.
With the punk rock yoga though, you could be a teacher if you’d learned to teach any type of yoga. It’s not so much a style as it is a philosophy about how yoga should be accessible to everyone.
What are your qualifications, and how long have you done yoga, and Bad Juju more specifically?
I have been doing yoga on a regular basis for eight years. Prior to that I was a ballet dancer for ten years. I had to quit that because I had damaged both my knees and I wasn’t able to continue doing anything – not even sport. One of the first things they advised me to do was Pilates. At that point, I was living in Australia. It wasn’t very popular and was really expensive too. Within a couple of years, Pilates and yoga became something that more people were doing. You could go and do it at your local gym.
So, I actually started off with Pilates and the main reason for that was that I was a bit concerned about all the “woo-woo”, “spiritual” side of yoga [laughter]. I was a bit like “hmm, I don’t about all this—”
—” Hippy shit”?
Yeah. Exactly! I didn’t know if that was really for me. As time went on I began to see the correlation of what they say about yoga and scientific fact. I guess on my journey it took me a little bit of time to see the internal side of the being, rather than focusing on the physicality of doing a pose.
I started Bad Juju, I think, err, I want to say in 2015? Not long after I discovered Punk Rock Yoga. When I did my instructor training, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a teacher. I went because I wanted to get better at yoga myself. I started off with a foundation course and I really enjoyed it. I felt that it was really helping me with my anxiety disorder, so I continued. I still didn’t know whether I wanted to be a teacher, and then I saw the punk rock yoga manifesto. I was like “that’s me”, it was one of the best days of my life.
Where was your first experience of punk rock yoga?
It was at the Om Yoga Show in London. I was helping at a Dru Yoga stall and was walking around trying to find some vegan shoes. I came around a corner and just saw it and thought “I just have to know about this!”
Do you have a favourite pose?
I really like balancing poses. There’s one that I believe is called “frog” and I like doing the “crow” pose. I love the challenge of balancing and I’ve said this to a number of people – any balancing pose is the best thing to do when you feel stressed because you’re concentrating solely on not falling over. You can’t think about anything else. If you’re able to do that and some nice deep breathing, you’re going to end up feeling pretty good.
Why did you call it Bad Juju Yoga?
I was having a bit of dilemma because I really didn’t know what to call it. Originally, I really wanted to have the typical punk rock symbol [gestures devil horns with hand] for a logo which is also a mudra for purity which I really liked. I threw around a couple of names with some friends of mine and I eventually decided on Bad Juju. As I mentioned before, I grew up in Australia and there’s a really awesome Australian band called Anchors who have an album named Bad Juju. I use them in a lot of my yoga playlists and it felt like an awesome thing to bring together. The other reason behind the choice is that the one thing which you try to do in yoga is to get rid of your “bad juju”.
Do you think your classes suit festival “culture” well?
Yeah, I know that people wake up with hangovers, and “stone-overs” and all those sorts of things –this is my third time at Punk Rock Holiday and I’ve done KNRD Festival a couple of times. I’m learning every time to just read the crowd. Depending on how the crowd is looking, and the time of day – that sort of thing – I’ll make sure that the class isn’t too much. If it’s going to be a morning session after a really heavy night, I’ll tend to keep people standing upright, and we’ll do a lot of standing poses and sitting down. If it’s a little later on, and I know there’s a few more regulars, then we might do some forward folds and things like that. I have certainly been in a couple of situations in “downward dog” thinking, “right. I’m going to go and check everyone out because I need to get out of this position myself!”
Festival diets can be notoriously rough on certain bodily functions and it’s not hard to imagine how a deep relaxation of the body could lead to certain “mishaps”. Have there been any such accidental “voidings” during your sessions?
No, actually I haven’t had anything like that happen to be honest! We have a lot of people who fall asleep in the relaxation session…
Judy (of Less Talk More Records) fell asleep in a relaxation session, didn’t she?
She did! I had to go around and wiggle her toe a little. It’s weird, if somebody has fallen asleep, they always apologise to me?! I have to say, “no, it’s cool. You needed that. It’s relaxation.” One of the most important parts of yoga is to learn to relax the body and the mind, and it’s one of the hardest things to do.
Lastly, how do you decide on the soundtrack for each session? Is it just stuff that you love? Or, is there a reason for a fast song here, and a slow song there?
Yeah, definitely. I try to choreograph the music along with the poses. For example, if we’re doing anything that’s intense and people have to hold a pose, I’ll chose a fast song, or a really heavy song – maybe Deez Nuts, PEARS, or Edward in Venice. I always see it as if you’re going for a run, or going in the pit for that matter. You say, I’m going to run until I get to the end of the song – it’s the same thing. You think, “I’m going to hold this pose, I’m going to listen to this music, and that’s going to help me get through it.” I do that, and I also like to bring in songs that have the same name as the theme. For example, when we did a balancing yoga session a couple of days ago, I put on Comeback Kid, “Balance”. I used the three “warriors” (poses) as part of it. Maybe other people don’t realise that but it’s a nice little thing for me at least.
Another thing I do quite a lot of is bringing in underground bands. I try to look for bands that are on labels like Lockjaw, Less Talk More Records, TNS, Bearded Punk etc. I try and bring in the types of bands that I really like, and not necessarily the bigger bands. We do have big bands, because people know the tracks more, and it makes it a bit more accessible but I try and get a good balance across the punk genre.
With obligations, journalistic and spiritual, out of the way, Jo and I returned to “our lot” to prepare mentally and in my case chemically for an evening with Propagandhi, and undoubtedly another very late night.
If you find the mixture of hardcore punk and yoga alluring, Bad Juju Yoga host loads of classes in the Guildford area, and regularly have sessions at festivals like KNRD and Punk Rock Holiday. To find out more about it, and for enquiries relating to classes, and bookings, visit Jo over at http://badjuju.eu.