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Feeling the power of Kemetic yoga

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Ancient art: LaToya Bridgewater offering restorative yoga for people of colour (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The first time LaToya Bridgewater tried yoga, things didn’t go so well.

Out of 15 people, there was only one other person of colour. She had a hard time connecting.

“I just didn’t see myself reflected in the class,” Ms Bridgewater said. “I felt uncomfortable the whole time. I stopped going after three classes.”

It wasn’t until she discovered Kemetic yoga on Facebook, six months later, that she was pulled in. She was fascinated by its origins with the Egyptian pharaohs thousands of years ago.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that black people have been practising yoga for centuries,” Ms Bridgewater said. “Indians, Greeks and Romans used to go to Egypt to learn from the philosophers there. The history of it appealed to me. I started seeing yoga from a completely different perspective.”

Now, she wants other black women to see that perspective too. Last Wednesday, she started a six-week restorative course for women of colour.

Students do healing stretches and relaxing breathing and have informal talks about stress.

“When I started offering these classes for adults, very few white students turned up,” Ms Bridgewater said. “In fact, I think the only white student I had was a friend from Bulgaria who was visiting me.”

But the absence of white people turned into an opportunity for blacks to talk about difficult topics like racism, without offending anyone or having to defend their stance.

“We can relate to each other and our experiences,” Ms Bridgewater said. “I think that is powerful. Gun violence was one of the things we talked about.

“Racism isn’t just about what happens between black and white people, but also what happens between black people. It is mainly young black men who are shooting other young black men.

“We also talk constantly about education, and the fact that the present curriculum is European-based. “We are learning about other people’s stories, therefore the lens that we see through isn’t necessarily based on equality and truth.”

She decided to make the class for women of colour, as a marketing move. Part of the problem is that most yoga advertisements feature white, middle-class women. “Black women have to know that the course is for them,” she said. “Yoga is often depicted as a white thing. I want people to see that yoga is for everybody.”

She has deliberately capped the course at six weeks to give herself a break. She works full-time at Family Centre and has four children.

“I was teaching yoga every Friday before without any end to it, and I experienced burnout,” she said. “I feel like six weeks gives the participant enough time to feel or experience benefits of the practice.

“I’ll probably take a month-long break and then offer it again for another six weeks.”

She has also taught yoga to at-risk young people at the Department of Child and Family Services, and Family Centre.

“I think children love it more than the adults,” she said. “I think everyone wants to feel good and yoga makes you feel good. The children talk about feeling more relaxed after a session.”

She trained under Kemetic yoga expert Mauta Ashby, a professor at the University of Miami in Florida.

“Dawn Broadbelt of the African Dance Company of Bermuda helped me bring him in seven years ago,” Ms Bridgewater said. “We got certified through him, and also offered sessions to the public. I’m now trained to teach two different types of Kemetic yoga.”

Her course runs on Wednesdays at 5.30pm and Saturdays at 10am at Lotus Bermuda on Victoria Street.

For more information e-mail kemeticyogabda@gmail.com or call 595-4105

In session: LaToya Bridgewater offering healing yoga for people of colour (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)