I learned about Alissa and her work initially from my editor. He introduced her to me by sending a video in which she explains what is her teaching “black metal yoga” and how she was inspired by such an innovative idea . As I am my self different in the way I teach yoga, Ιbecame really excited and along the way of the article I became even more excited discovering that a lot of people in Hellas know about her. She immediately and very willingly responded to my proposal to share an interview.
I confess that I appreciated it because her response was humble and respectful to our approach. She thanked me many times and gave a lot of time and thought in her answers, telling me that she wanted to respond to the depth of my questions becauseshe thought she was particularly honored by them. One can perceive her nobility through her speech. It is undoubtedly a carrier of the spirit of yoga. I understood it as soon as I read the answers but when I translated it I was even more convinced. She is keeping an eye on what she says, and with every word she tries to send a message to the world. Intensely, she addresses the three main issues that concern not only the people who have followed the yoga path but all the thinking people, and she is trying to discreetly awaken those who have not yet resisted social planning. Hypocrisy, honesty in speech and the actions that follow it, diversity.
Although my questions carry my own intensity but unintentional intent to provoke, she responds to everything by maintaining the meditative silence and going through one answer to the other, just as a practitioner owes to go from one position of yoga to the other : without carrying the past tense. In her speech, I found gravity and wisdom and I believe that you will agree with me regardless of whether you have come into contact with the world of yoga or not. The main element of the interview is that she manages to maintain her spiritual balance and to examine all the issues I have raised in this perspective without taking extreme positions, just as we teach in practice. She is consciously aware of the present, and she is shown that by the choices she has made. Alissa constantly links with the past, wanting to highlight the changes she has made in her life through the path she chose.
Osho says there are two kinds of teachers:Teacher and Teacher. I’m sure you will put a major T in her title because it emits the most important lesson one can be taught and teach: Yoga is not in the asana but in the mind, because in essence releases the mind and not the body and that as long as it can be groundbreaking a teacher taking off himself and offering him to his other students can be both traditional and respectfully obeying this lesson. She is herself, does what her heart tells her and is not in any competition, experiencing the greatest Buddhist truth: to be in peace, whatever happens around you.
Hello, Alissa. Hari Om! “Rock your life” and me personally want to thank for the interview you are sharing with our readers. First of all, hellenic yoga is sending her regards and we would like to ask how yoga is doing in the United States? In my country it blossoms slowly facing many stereotypes and must overcome fear and misunderstanding.
Thanks so much for getting in touch and bringing me into the conversation! It’s always an honor to share the teaching.
Yoga is HUGE in the States. Especially where I live in Los Angeles, it’s become a standard part of the dominant exercise culture. You can’t leave the house without seeing someone carrying a yoga mat or wearing yoga pants. Almost all gyms offer yoga, and a lot of schools will teach kids yoga too. Yoga has gone from a hippie subculture activity to totally mainstream.
A “black metal” yoga teacher interviewed by a “horror writer” yoga teacher. Do you believe that the energy flow brought us together?
I have a tough time thinking about energy flows to be honest. It’s not tangible to me and so I have a hard time conceptualizing them as an actual thing. But I am very clear about what I put out into the world and what I want to allow into my life at any given time so that lends itself to connecting with like-minded people. And I want to do that! I want to find my tribe and build a community together. It’s not an accident that you’re asking me these questions; I put out something into the world (my words, my voice, my writing) that connected with something that you hold dear and that made you want to dive deeper. That’s all intentional on my part. I want to connect with people like you! I think we have a lot of important teaching to share with each other.
I know as I have seen your videos that you started yoga in order to heal yourself after a violent incident that happened to you. Would you like to explain us how did it help you heal and apart from that, what was the deep inner reason that led you to the yoga path and finally to teaching?
After I was raped, I started to experience symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This manifested as a disconnection between my mind and body. I would completely zone for long periods of time, I didn’t have much of a sense of where my body was in space and what I was feeling. I would literally walk into tables and wind up with no idea how I was getting bruises on my body.
I had practiced yoga before this happened and started going to classes at the urging of my therapist. Once I started practicing I felt a deep sense of relief: by focusing on my breath I was able to set aside the racing thoughts in my brain and reconnect with what was happening in my body from moment to moment. I got physical relief just by moving and releasing the tension in my body caused by constant anxiety and fear. And I started to understand where my body was in space again.
The more I practiced, the more relief I felt and the more I could see the same kinds of symptoms in my social work clients. There wasn’t anywhere in their neighborhood to take a yoga class, so I decided to start a teacher training program so that I could learn more about these skills I was learning to teach my clients and hopefully help them work through some of their own trauma.
Would you like to explain us from your perspective ahimsa (non violence), the first of the social yamas ?
I think about ahimsa all the time! I see it as both an inward- and outward-facing practice. We have so many choices in our lives and every moment presents us with a new way to potentially heal or harm ourselves and others. It’s a delicate balance. So as much as possible, I consider whether the choices I make (in practices, eating, substances, whatever) are more likely to help me in that moment. Likewise, I spend a lot of time thinking about how these choices affect the relationships in my life and the world around me.
It’s tough to live in our world – there are so many ways that our societies don’t facilitate our ahimsa practice. For example, I used to ride a bicycle for transportation when I lived in San Francisco. As a more “European” city in its organization, it was an easy thing to do. That choice was better for me physically, mentally, and financially. It was so much better for the planet. Los Angeles is so much more spread out and the roads aren’t very safe for bicyclists so I had to buy a car. It’s harder to buy food without lots of packaging here and it’s more difficult to recycle and compost.
There are so many ways our governments and societies could better support an all-encompassing view of ahimsa in terms of access to healthy practices for all, but we simply don’t prioritize it because it costs the people who currently have power too much money.
Is the purpose of yoga practice to make you stronger in mind, soul, heart and body?
Absolutely. I also see yoga practice as a way to create and tolerate discomfort and to understand that it can be a tool for growth and greater ease.
I teach both hatha and ashtanga yoga but I believe you have certainly observed yourself that there is a “war” between the two ways of practicing. I am unable to understand it. I have recently participated in a Hatha Yoga festival and everybody would whisper to me secretly “don’t say here that you teach ashtanga”. Tell us your opinion.
That’s so funny! There are so many different schools of yoga and little dramas that happen between them. Right now there is a big push to question everything and incorporate more functional movement into yoga rather than pushing for classical alignment a la Iyengar and Sri Patabi Jois.
I respect the discipline of Ashtanga so much and some of my favorite teachers come from an Ashtanga lineage. I also know that if it were the only style of yoga available to me when I first started practicing that I never would have stuck with it. I first practiced Iyengar style and it was so much more accessible to my body.
Ok…now the million dollar question: Why did you choose black metal music?
It just works! The music is so much less distracting than so many other genres, but it’s still rhythmic and allows you get a little bit lost. It also reflects what I mentioned before: confronting discomfort. It reflects the idea of looking at and integrating your shadow to be your full self. And I listen to so much heavy music and didn’t want to live separate lives between yoga and music, because those have been two of the most healing communities in my life.
Our readers would definitely like to know about the bands and the sequence of songs you use and what is-are your favorite/s?
There are a few go-to bands for sure: Boris, Earth, Neurosis, Wolves in the Throne Room, Sleep. I follow an arc with the music just as I do with the sequence of class, so I try to reflect that by starting quietly in meditation, then getting more rhythmic and driving for namaskars and standing poses. I just found a Coil cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Who by Fire” that is perfect for savasana! I post playlists on Spotify that you can check out too.
We share a common taste in Coil! Now, let us talk about “bulling”. I practice yoga for six years. Usually, people in the class knows that I am a writer of horror stories or If they are not aware of the information, they don’t really care about it, as long as the lesson is working well. My teachers always told me to be a teacher my self but when I went to the yoga school I faced a really weird situation for the first time. I was the goth that was going to scare people away. And I am not even a goth. I have students that encounter that same behavior and came to me feeling awful. So…how is people treating you, “black metal Alissa”?
I was really worried about that, and I do feel like I stood out initially in yoga teacher training. In San Francisco (and elsewhere) there is a group called Yoga Punx that really transformed that feeling for me. Now I see more and more people with tattoos and wild hair teaching and I feel like I stand out less. Now I have people saying that there’s no way I could listen to black metal, which makes me laugh.
Right now I live in the suburbs of Los Angeles so I feel like I stand out more in my day to day, but my students don’t seem to notice at all. We connect over the teaching and the movement or talking about our mental health more than over music or tattoos (this might also be a function of getting older!).
My black metal yoga classes are different though: lots of black band shirts, tons of tattoos and piercings, and some of the nicest, most welcoming people around. I’m really looking forward to building this community more and showing that yoga can be a tool for both healing and social change.
And speaking of which…I strongly believe yoga is about your inner self. You must close your eyes and search your true self as you surrender to the darkness and travel until you find who you are and come out to the light. What do you believe about all that and is the enlightment of samadhi a personal experience meaning different things about each one of us?
I see yoga as a mirror to what is going on for us internally. The way we approach practice is the way we approach all things and it’s an opportunity to turn some light on how our beliefs and behaviors. It’s hard for me to say exactly what samadhi might be for anyone in particular, but I think a lot about stories of monks who achieved enlightenment while washing the dishes: there’s an element of seeing the beauty in the mundane and everyday in there. There’s also an element of losing the resistance to the mundane, which contracts everything we hear in the West about achievement being about notoriety to some extent.
Osho would agree with us! And now let a goth and black metal teacher touch the Supreme Being subject. Patanjali clearly said that yoga is a path that someone follows in search of self evolving and I think he does not even believe in God. Why do you think there is such a tremendous need in the yoga world to connect yoga with something divine?
Oh wow, that’s a hard question. I wonder if some of it has to do with the backgrounds of so many yoga practitioners in Western thought and religion and our disconnection from the natural world. Or just a need to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
I do think that yoga is a set of tools for how to approach the world and doesn’t ever need to be connected to a god, but it does also give us the tools to see how we are all connected. There are probably a lot of people who feel like giving those connections a name or a god-like manifestation gives them a sense of peace or wellbeing, but I’m not really one of those people!
Me neither, Alissa! In one of your videos you say that you have found out that your black metal yoga is irritating some people and that you are making them uncomfortable which means a lot. Tell us about your achievement!!!
I once had a student tell me that the music I was playing in class that day was making him angry! I think that people who are willing to sit in their discomfort and become friends with difficult emotions tend to gravitate towards what I’m teaching. People who come to yoga to feel good the whole time won’t be happy in my classes. And that’s okay, we all need different teachings at different times. But my goal is to get people to look at their discomfort and dis-ease and interrogate it rather than push it away or numb out.
Last question is about veganism. Do you support and follow? Is it necessary when you choose to practice yoga?
Diet is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, especially as it relates to ahimsa. I was vegetarian for 10 years before realizing that it was healthier for me personally to eat some meat. However, I was very careful about what I was purchasing for years after making the switch and made a point of only buying meat and eggs from farmers I trusted and could visit. I think that we have to consider the impact that our choices have on everyone, including the animals and planet. If you can’t source your animal products ethically, then it’s better to be vegan. I haven’t made it back there yet but I’m eating more and more vegetarian and vegan meals these days and I feel personally more balanced internally and with the world.
I would really like to thank you again for the amazing conversation and I am telling you that you inspired me to put together classes with rock and dark music, as I have always wanted. And I am more than sure that you will inspire many people to be themselves and to be strong. We would be thrilled if you visited Hellas and teach yoga here. Black metal Yoga rules. Na maste, Allissa!
Thank YOU! Your questions were incredibly thoughtful and insightful. The light and the dark in me sees the light and the dark in you. Xo