Transcendence Awaits: Cop Problem/Painbody Frontwoman Deb Cohen On Her Heavy Metal Yoga Practice & Classes

Photo by: Sean Thomas Reilly at Atlas Brew works on 6/7/19

Deb Cohen — who more discerning extreme music aficionados may know as the the force of nature vocalist behind such seriously under-appreciated acts as Cop Problem and Painbody — first dipped her toe in the yogic waters five years ago to bring some variety to her exercise routine.

What she found at Palo Santo in South Philly was something much greater — and not so far removed from her life in brutal sonic transcendence.

“More often than not, after a pretty intense yoga class, I realize that for the past seventy-five minutes, I haven’t really thought about anything other than practicing yoga,” Cohen tells Decibel. “Sometimes I even have moments during practice where I don’t really think about much at all, I’m just present. Listening to and playing extreme music, specifically, singing and screaming, are other activities that naturally put me in a meditative frame of mind where I’m not consciously thinking about anything. I’m just doing what I’m doing. So combining yoga and heavy music, two things that allow me to access that pure awareness, makes total sense to me.”

Now a teacher herself, Cohen aims to help others in the greater Philadelphia area achieve that same “pure awareness” via Heavy Metal Mondays at the Palo Santo — “heavy metal jams and an all-levels Vinyasa Yoga flow.” (Book here.)

“There are definitely parallels between teaching yoga and playing in a band, especially fronting a band,” Cohen said. “When teaching yoga, aside from instructing people on how to move from one pose to the next, you’re creating energy and directing that energy in the room. When playing live music, and creating any art for that matter, you’re essentially doing the same thing.

“Yoga asana — or the physical practice of yoga — is just one part of yoga practice as a whole life practice,” she continues. “There are a lot of other concepts in yoga philosophy that run parallel to how I approach music. Specifically the ideas on service and speaking the truth. While practicing yoga gives you the tools to improve yourself, it’s not just about becoming efficient at bettering yourself for selfish gain. It’s about connecting to your higher self so that you can be of service to others. Part of that includes speaking the truth, which to me means not only expressing my personal truth, but shining a light on social and political injustice. That’s something that attracted to me to hardcore and punk in the first place, and it’s a thread that runs through all of the music I’ve been a part of.”

To give you a taste of the not-Hell that awaits, Cohen was kind enough to curate the following heavy metal yoga playlist!

1. YOB — “Pain Like Sugar”

YOB is a no-brainer for me as far as including them in my yoga playlist due to the spiritual themes that run through much of their music, specifically Eastern Religion and Philosophy. So not only is the content closely related to yoga philosophy and practice, but the music itself has a driving, trance-like quality that lends itself to entering a space where you can still the mind and turn inward. I chose this track because it’s one that I really dig and the runtime is on the shorter side as far as their tracks go, but really any YOB would serve a yoga playlist well depending on the mood and energy I’m trying to build for a certain flow.

2. Godflesh — “Like Rats”

While Godflesh may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of yoga, I think “Like Rats” specifically has a dark, filthy, driving quality that is perfect for a fiery yoga session in a sweaty, dimly lit yoga studio in the heart of gritty south philly. While the content of the track may not necessarily have a direct link to yoga, the music absolutely provides a groove that you can lean into when breathing through a tough pose. I like to throw this in early to help set the tone.

3. Cannibal Corpse — “Evisceration Plague”

Again, Cannibal Corpse probably isn’t something you’d expect to hear during a yoga class, but the class I teach is Heavy Metal Monday, and I try to stay true to heavy metal tracks that I like, tracks that immediately make me grimace in riff approval, and tracks that have a deep groove that you can focus on to get out of your thoughts. So why not include one of the sickest tracks from one of the longest running and consistently ripping death metal bands of all time? I think it’s required of me.

4. Inter Arma — “Transfiguration”

Inter Arma’s music provides a fitting soundtrack for staring at the dark parts of yourself that want to tell you can’t do something or that you can’t handle discomfort while you’re holding a tough pose and your muscles are trembling. “Transfiguration” is a sonic surfboard that carries you through those waves as you continually adjust, reconnect to the breath, push past doubt and transcend the mind, even if for just a moment. In essence, you’re cultivating the skills that can lead to your own transfiguration.

5. Kevin Hufnagel — “Ashland”

At the end of physical yoga practice, we enter Savasana, which is Sanskrit for Corpse Pose. This represents the death of our practice where we let go of anything that happened during practice and really rest; reap the benefits of our practice, so to speak. “Ashland,” and truly any track from Kevin Hufnagel’s solo record bearing the same name, sets the proper tone for Savasana. While Dysrhythmia and Gorguts don’t quite work for this part of the practice, the beautiful and ethereal sounds of “Ashland” from one of the most talented and prolific guitarists in heavy music today are a perfect way to end metal yoga.