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HISTORY: Yoga is said to date back some 10,000 years after drawings were discovered in Egypt

THE INFLUENCE of African culture in the practice of yoga often goes unknown, or is not acknowledged at all. While its roots are understood to lie in ancient Indian culture, reports suggests that it dates back as far 10,000 years ago with drawings of the discipline depicted on temple walls in Egypt.

This practice is often referred to as Kemetic Yoga – referencing ancient Egypt also known as ‘Kemet’ – and communities around the world are embracing this spiritual and holistic discipline and challenging the perception of yoga being alienated from black communities.

One business working to inform and encourage black communities in London to embrace this is Melanin Yoga – a lifestyle brand which celebrates the origins of Kemetic yoga, which are steeped in African culture and encourages black people to embrace a trend which is often not exposed or promoted to them.

“One of the reasons my business partner and I started Melanin Yoga is because I think it’s become quite middle class, and a lot of our community are unaware of the role Africa has played in its origins,” says co- founder Louise Laurent.

“When I started looking at different Afro-Caribbean and African groups, I noticed a lot of the devices they were using were quite Eurocentric or Indian and coming from different kinds of philosophies. So Melanin Yoga as a brand just wants to incorporate our history and our culture back into that practice.

“The name came about through this idea of looking at melanin as a science. Even though it’s a skin colour, it’s also an active entity in itself,” she adds.

“It kind of serves as an antenna; it filters the sun and when you look at a range of products, melatonin is what is used be- cause people are intrigued to know how are skin works and how we process things.

HOLISTIC
“So from that holistic stand-point, we decided to combine that with the cultural aspects of yoga and Melanin Yoga was born.”

Alongside classes and events, the contemporary ‘Afro-conscious’ brand also sells apparel from t-shirts to yoga mats, with a recently released collection of Black Panther inspired designs.


INSPIRED: Melanin Yoga have launched a range of yoga mats using Afro-inspired designs

The brand started between Laurent and business partner Dennis, and is one of her many endeavours as a teacher, founder of other businesses and a mother.

“Dennis and I have a great dynamic and definitely adhere to certain roles.

“I’m the creative director so I sign all the marketing apparel and deal the website and he’s really about the marketing and sales and is the managing director,” says Laurent.

“So it works really well and we’ve developed the ethos to run this together.”
As a woman wearing many hats, Laurent’s interest in yoga places emphasis on the need to centre oneself in the midst of the busy day-to-day life that she and many women lead.

“I think one of the main components we’re missing cross generationally is the ability to reflect and to actually stop and think.

“A lot of the time we’re very reactive, so something will hap- pen and we’ll react. Yoga is re- ally a practice of the present, and allows people to engage in their thoughts and be still. This can be a great asset, spiritually.”

Alongside the spiritual and holistic advantages of yoga, numerous health benefits are packed within it. “A lot of yoga is to do with breathing and stretching – it’s actually one of the least intrusive types of exercise,” adds Laurent.

“For those who are over- weight or for older people in our community, yoga can be great. It boosts your immune system, can help with arthritis and different kinds of mobility.

“It’s really about understand ing that this practice came from Egypt, Africa, and was practised in a way that was integrated into our lifestyle. So it’s not some- thing that’s outside ourselves as it has been in our culture for centuries and is something that can be done at all ages.”

As a black business still in the early throes of its success, Laurent has many plans for Melanin Yoga – but they don’t come without their challenges.

“With this brand, it’s been great to work alongside some- one and bounce our ideas and creativity off one another,” she says.

“One of the challenges is finding that client base within the social media-driven world and thinking about a product that really resonates with people. But we’ve had a really fantastic response from the community and it’s all very exciting.”

Find out more about the brand at melaninyoga.com

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