Warning: This article contains very strong language that may offend some readers.
After a frustrating day at the office, many of us need to blow off a little steam. Some of us head to the gym to sweat out our anger. Others, out to a bar to vent to a friend over a drink. But what if the best way to release tension is by combining the two?
In a pub in Calgary, Canada, yoga enthusiasts are encouraged to do just that with a new twist on an ancient art: Rage Yoga. This new concept takes the quiet, zen-like environment of a yoga class and flips it on its head — those who attend the classes are encouraged to swear and shout between poses, and stick around afterwards for a beer.
When you create that space to really let loose, it’s hard to take yourself and your problems so seriously.
Yes, it’s real and expletives are very welcome. “Foul language, laughter and shenanigans,” are what you can expect during a class, according to the company’s website, which combines stretching, positional exercises and bad humour, with the goal of attaining good health. The one hour class costs CAD$12 ($9.20) and includes two tickets for discounted beer.
Creator Lindsay Istace, 24, who teaches flexibility and wellness, stumbled upon the idea of releasing her anger with her asanas (yoga poses, postures and positions) after a bad breakup. “I was in a really rough spot,” Istace explained. “I was very hurt and angry and confused.” She found she was inadvertently incorporating expletives into her daily yoga practice.
The benefits of yoga and meditation are well documented — the activities help many people manage stress and improve focus and overall health. Indeed, many workplaces now encourage such practices. But swearing? There are surprising upsides. Studies have shown that salty language can increase pain tolerance, make us appear more persuasive at work and in certain group settings, create a sense of solidarity. So, could melding humour, serenity and swearing offer a new pathway to personal peace and mindfulness and help us cope with the stress of work and day-to-day life?
Istace said swearing helped release her negative emotions in a safe environment. “I went from screaming and swearing and crying to laughing at myself. When you actually create yourself that space to really let loose, suddenly it’s hard to take yourself and your problems so seriously.”
After laughing about the idea of Rage Yoga with friends, she decided to create a workshop for festivals. It was a hit. So she designed a class catering to the after-work crowd. Istace said the idea has taken off. “It just seemed like this really cool concept that people were actually connecting with. So it started off as a joke, but you know after doing it a couple of times, we realised there was something there.”
Classes start with a calm, peaceful moment where Istace asks attendees “let go of the shit-storm of their day”. The swearing is also incorporated throughout the class. "And at the end of the class, too, instead of saying ‘namaste’ we actually say ‘fuck yeah’,” Istace said.
She isn’t the only one to cotton on to the idea that serenity, silliness and swearing might make for a heady combination when it comes to mindfulness. Jason Headley, a writer and director who lives in San Francisco, created F*ck That: An Honest Meditation, a YouTube video which has attracted more than 6.5 million views, after joking with his wife about the soothing voice on a guided meditation recording.
“I keyed in on the voice of the guy,” said Headley in an email interview. “And I started doing that voice around the house just to make us laugh. One day my wife was upset about something and I said, in the calm, soothing voice, ‘Just acknowledge that all that shit is fucking bullshit.’ And we laughed a lot. And then we said, ‘Maybe that’s something.’”
So Headley wrote, refined and recorded a script. “I wanted it to be just the right amount of soothing and swearing. Once I had it right, I put it up on YouTube in July 2015 and it just took off.”
Serenity and science
The mindfulness and wellness trend — which includes meditation apps such as HeadSpace, partying before work at events like Daybreaker, yoga hybrids and a wealth of books, magazines, workshops, accessories and nutritional offerings — offers rich pickings for those who are cashing in on the art of zen.
A report by US industry research company IBISWorld showed the alternative healthcare segment was worth $13.3bn in revenue in 2015 in the US alone. Of that, meditation makes up 7.4% of total industry revenue at nearly $1bn, with yoga at 15.1% and deep breathing exercises 15.3%.
So can mindful swearing and expressing verbal rage really be good for you?
For the most part, these offerings focus on the positive. So can mindful swearing and expressing verbal rage really be good for you? While no studies have been done on this specific topic, there is other research that suggests it might be.
One study showed expletives aren’t always considered negative, even in work settings. And, a 2003 study by researchers in New Zealand of workers in a soap factory found that in certain contexts, swearing together can create a sense of solidarity.
And, research led by psychologist Dr Richard Stephens at Keele University in the UK showed that swearing can help you become more persuasive and increase pain tolerance, particularly for those who seldom swear in everyday life. The reason? Swearing seems to trigger the “fight or flight” stress response.
“There’s evidence linking swearing with different brain areas to how language is normally processed,” said Stephens, who is also the author of Black Sheep: The Hidden Benefits of Being Bad.
And, while Stephens and his team have published data on physical pain, and not emotional pain or anxiety, he said the idea that swearing could help reduce stress is a valid one that warrants further study. “It seems logical that it’s doing some kind of a job,” he said. “In emotional situations people do swear, just like they do in painful situations.”
Swearing has a bit of cachet if it’s done in a novel sense.
And, the idea of combining mindfulness and swearing is a creative one, he added.
“Swearing has a bit of cachet if it’s done in a novel sense,” Dr Stephens said. “Performers can sometimes use a swear word and get a reaction, whereas if you overuse it, that stops happening.” In the same way, in a relaxation setting, you don’t expect to hear that kind of language, so it has shock value, he said, adding that hearing it out of context makes you laugh, which is relaxing in itself.
While both Headley’s and Istace’s concepts may have started out as a bit of a laugh, they’ve resonated with people.
Headley’s meditation was always just supposed to be funny. “Not making fun of meditation or mindfulness, but making fun of our human limitations. The guy on the guided meditation would say something like, ‘Just clear your mind.’ And I was stunned by that. How do I just clear my mind? My mind is perpetually packed with ideas, agendas, emotions, and lightweight petty rage,” Headley said.
It’s a really awesome way to use negative emotions in a positive way.
To his surprise, the feedback to his Honest Meditation has been overwhelmingly positive. “People started saying they found the ‘meditation’ genuinely helpful. They wanted longer versions, so I made an app.” Headley’s new book, also titled F*ck That: An Honest Meditation, will be published by Penguin Random House in April.
Similarly, Rage Yoga also had a strong base of followers, Istace says. After garnering media attention and enquiries about the concept from as far afield as Russia, the UK and South Africa, Istace has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to develop online courses (the first of which will be named Bendy and Badass) and she hopes to do a Rage Yoga tour across Canada in August.
“It’s a really awesome way to use negative emotions in a positive way,” she said, “and be constructive about it.”
To comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, please head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.