Recently I walked out of a yoga class. From the plinky-plonky music to the sickly scent of lavender and the unbearably smug, soft-voiced teacher, I couldn’t stand another second.
As a working parent of two young boys, I am in dire need of a dose of zen. But the prospect of doing yet another downward dog while being told to ‘clear my mind’ and ‘exhale my worries’ — the kind of woolly, infantilising mantras too often associated with yummy-mummy yoga — makes me want to scream.
So imagine my delight when I came across a radical new trend that’s perfect for stressed-out mums like me — and actually involves screaming: rage yoga.
Instead of mellow music, there’s heavy metal or rock blaring in the background. Instead of silence, there’s shouting, screaming and — if you’re so inclined — swearing. And, in place of gentle, flowing movements, there’s fist-pumping, arm-slamming and plenty of vigorous high kicks.
Better still, as the creator — a yogi and contortionist called Lindsay Istace — is based in Canada, classes take place online so you can do it from the comfort of your living room.
The prospect of doing yet another downward dog while being told to ‘clear my mind’ and ‘exhale my worries’ makes me want to scream
It doesn’t come cheap — a five-week subscription costs just over £60 — but there are plenty of video sessions to choose from, with motivational names such as Ferocious Foundations and Unleash Your Inner Badass, as well as accompanying pep talks about the importance of channelling your anger.
After a boom in popularity during lockdown, there are now hundreds of UK regulars — part of a rage yoga community that spans the globe.
Lindsay, 26, says she came up with the concept after a painful relationship break-up. ‘I was falling apart,’ she explains. ‘No matter how hard I tried to pretend to be OK, my sadness and anger came out in my practice.
‘At first, I thought that meant I was doing it wrong, but I leaned into the discomfort anyway. I let myself be a mess. Then something happened: I was finally able to let it go.’
It sounds appealing and I could do with some therapeutic anger management, especially if it comes in the form of exercise. Lately, I’ve found myself getting angrier than I’d like at little things: rowing with my husband over household chores and getting frustrated with my two young children.
Instead of mellow music, there’s heavy metal or rock blaring in the background. Instead of silence, there’s shouting and screaming
I’m not alone: midlife anger is a common but under-recognised, phenomenon, especially among women. According to a recent BBC study, there is a ‘widening gender rage gap’, with today’s women feeling significantly angrier than men (male and female anger levels were similar back in 2012).
Fluctuating hormones are often blamed but there are plenty of other triggers, including work stresses, social pressure and the never-ending juggle of modern life. Intrigued to find out if yoga could really change this for me, I log on to my first class after a particularly infuriating day. The heavy metal music in the background is off-putting at first but I soon find it strangely empowering. The vocal part takes more getting used to.
One of the moves involves lunging forward on one leg, reaching my arms overhead, then throwing my head back — and screaming.
I feel self-conscious and very aware of the noise I’m making. But I try it again, and again — and on the third attempt I find myself screwing my eyes tightly shut and yelling at the top of my lungs.
My husband comes running in to check nothing awful has happened and looks very confused to find me standing, calm and zen-like, on my yoga mat. I’m impressed by the impact it has after just a few minutes. Focusing on screaming helps me completely empty my mind, leaving me feeling liberated, full of energy and ready for more.
There’s plenty of screaming still to come — you can also yell, wail or howl if you prefer — as well as back bending ‘like an angry kitty’, several ‘majestic warrior’ stances with accompanying punches, and high kicks that involve shouting out a cathartic ‘hi-yah!’
I’m not alone: midlife anger is a common but under-recognised, phenomenon, especially among women
Of course, rage yoga isn’t for everyone and it’s provoked plenty of raised eyebrows among classic yoga devotees who say it goes against the practice’s spiritual origins. Particularly controversial is Lindsay’s suggestion that participants pour themselves a beer or glass of wine to drink throughout — a gimmick that she insists is designed to emphasise the relaxed nature of the class.
‘Some people have water, some have a beer . . . but it’s not like anyone’s getting drunk,’ she adds. Hampshire-based yoga teacher Jo Oliver (joarthur.com), who’s been practising for 20 years, says elements of rage yoga are the ‘antithesis’ of the ancient discipline.
‘For me, yoga is all about moving the body with the breath to calm the mind, and I’m not sure if drinking and swearing would achieve that,’ she says. However, she adds: ‘There is a market for it. I taught a gin and yin yoga class last year. Everyone has a G+T to sip beside their mat and that was very popular so there’s certainly an appeal.
‘Some people might be intimidated by a calm, zen studio with lots of lycra-clad yogis in it. If that puts them off, then maybe this is a way to make yoga more accessible for everyone.’ Participants in Lindsay’s classes agree. ‘I thought it would be much more aggressive but it’s actually very energising,’ one tells me. Another says: ‘This isn’t for people who want to feel zen but I like the buzz. I’m feeling strong.’
What’s more, there are proven scientific benefits to channelling all that anger, rather than suppressing it and keeping it inside.
A report by the Mental Health Foundation in 2018 found that harnessing our anger could help us ‘achieve goals, solve problems and nurture social relationships’, as well as improve our mental health.
Lindsay says laughter is important, too. ‘It’s a real workout but we’re also silly,’ she explains. ‘When you create space to let loose, suddenly it’s hard to take yourself and your problems so seriously.’
Sitting cross-legged in my living room, having howled myself hoarse, I certainly feel the urge to laugh. This is far more fun than trekking to a stuffy studio with a group of strangers and the workout itself is more cathartic than an hour of gentle stretches.
All I need next time is a glass of rosé — and I think I’ve found my new favourite exercise regime. It’s not hard to see why this refreshing take on yoga is, well, all the rage.