Zakiya Bishton: Creating the yoga & wellness space for Black Women

Zakiya Bishton
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Mindwalk Yoga is a virtual wellbeing studio and social enterprise designing and delivering yoga, sound healing and yoga therapy for mental wellness. Founded by Zakiya Bishton, a qualified yoga teacher with over ten years of teaching experience and specific yoga-therapy-for-anxiety and yoga-therapy-for-PTSD training. Formed by a multi-skilled team of Black female practitioners on a mission to prioritise Black women’s wellness. Their mission is to reach Black women and allies with an empowering toolkit for mental wellness. Zakiya found time in her busy schedule to tell Afrowoman Online why she started her business and how she’s created space for Black women in yoga:

Tell us about your background; were you always enthusiastic about exercise and yoga? Or did you make a career/life change to become a teacher?

My yoga journey started when I was 17, I look back and realise I was an anxious young woman searching for a way to understand myself and feel comfortable in my skin. I’m mixed heritage Jamaican and British and I was trying to navigate the world and build an identity. I threw myself into sport to calm my busy mind, running, gymnastics, figure skating – it was escapism. Being active made me feel alive and in my body, but when it was over, my racing thoughts returned. Yoga appealed to me because it seemed to offer a more holistic approach to well-being.

Zakiya Bishton

I first went to yoga classes at University when I moved to London from my hometown Birmingham. Over the years, I tried out multiple styles, studios, and teachers all over London. My posture practice was expanding, but I never really found a sense of community or felt connected. There was always something missing. Yoga spaces are overwhelmingly white, expensive, able-bodied spaces. I never had a Black yoga teacher in all of these years. The racialised societal othering I was trying to process and build resilience to were actually being mirrored in the yoga spaces I was trying to heal in.

I was young and didn’t realise the negative impact trying to heal from racial trauma in white spaces was having on me. Reflecting now I can see how much I internalised from these experiences and just got on with it. This internalisation of othering created deep anxiety for me. 

For me, the way to normalise Black female wellness practitioners was to disrupt the wellness model and only employ Black women.

Zakiya Bishton

Black History within yoga

I did a two-year diploma in Yoga teacher training more than 10 years ago. We did explore Indian Yogic Philosophy, but we didn’t explore Egyptian Yoga, also known as Smai Tawi. Smai Tawi originates from Ancient Kemet (Egypt). It’s a system of yoga that combines deep breathing, meditation, and has unique postures and principles.

Sadly, this is another example of untold Black history. To decolonise our minds, we need to honour Yoga’s roots and explore all ancient systems of enlightenment. When I learnt about Egyptian Yoga, I became fascinated.

Alongside teaching Yoga, I am a creative strategist and have a degree in Contemporary Media Practice. I’ve worked as a digital creative in a range of organisations from corporate, to NGOs.

Starting her own business

Mindwalk logo

In March 2020 I founded Mindwalk Yoga. Mindwalk Yoga is a unique offering, we are the only yoga studio exclusively founded and run by Black women, our weekly timetable is open to everyone, all backgrounds and circumstances. We have sliding tiers for memberships starting from £10/month to pay-it-forward £60/month.

We also have a bursary membership option for anyone living in challenging circumstances, they can access the classes for free. This is important to me. Our society is unequal, wellness is exclusive, and the people who need it the most are often left out. I have had many times during my years in London when I just couldn’t afford to go to classes, they were too much.

Mindwalk Yoga is a virtual studio, we have no plans to open a physical studio. People tune in from their home, on their terms, we’ve created a space that is accessible, and we offer something for everyone, including Chair Yoga, Yoga therapy for anxiety, Hatha Yoga and Sound Baths. I remember my friend coming to her first sound bath and saying I thought sound baths was something old hippy white people do, but now I’ve been to one I want to do this every week! Cherelle Sappleton, our healing sound practitioner who does the sound baths, is a rare find in the UK, but she shouldn’t be. Experiencing well-being practices by Black women is a healing act in itself. The energy, practice, movements, and everything comes from a place that you resonate with in some way as a Black woman. 

Our studio community is diverse, we have a mix of people from women who love the teachers because they resonate with them to our allies that are pleased to see Black women take centre stage in wellness.

What does your yoga style focus on? 

I’ve been teaching yoga for ten years, and my focus now is on yoga therapy for mental health. I’ve had debilitating anxiety levels in the past and never fully recognised this for years. Learning to use yoga as a therapeutic tool for self-management and empowerment drives me to focus my teaching in this space. I have a British Wheel of Yoga Teacher Training Diploma, and additional training in Yoga Therapy for anxiety, PTSD and Insomnia. 

How does your style of yoga help people?

Yoga can be a powerful healing tool. The person who shares it with you is pivotal to you embodying it and making it your own. With Mindwalk Yoga, I wanted to make a space I had yearned for, where diverse Black women were not tokens conforming to white wellness ideals, but a place where diverse Black women were at the heart of the mission. Yoga is about community, social justice and empowerment. Yoga invites you to liberate your mind and body on your terms. We cannot do that when we are ‘others’ or ‘tokens’.

Mindwalk group yoga
Zakiya & her team of yoga teachers – Copyright: Mindwalk Yoga

For me, the way to normalise Black female wellness practitioners was to disrupt the wellness model and only employ Black women. We’ve felt overlooked and excluded from well-being spaces, so we’ve had to create a space where we can define what wellness is for us on our terms.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, have you seen an increased demand for your service?

Mindwalk Yoga was borne out of the pandemic so mental health is at the heart of our mission.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to use yoga to help them get through this pandemic?

Find a teacher and style that resonates with you, explore different options.

Yoga spaces are overwhelmingly white, expensive, able-bodied spaces. I never had a Black yoga teacher in all of these years. The racialised societal othering I was trying to process and build resilience to were actually being mirrored in the yoga spaces I was trying to heal in.

Zakiya Bishton

Yoga has often seemed like a space for affluent white women; Black women didn’t seem to occupy that space – Are you seeing this change?

Race intersects every aspect of society, and that includes wellness. In well-being, the inclusion of Black people can often feel like the token other. Mainstream wellness lacks meaningful, empowering spaces for diverse communities. Diverse representation in wellness is improving but we still see mainly able-bodied, slim, young women. Proximity to whiteness and Eurocentric looks is just as prevalent in yoga as in every other facet of society. Tokenising one version of Black female identity to represent all Black women is harmful. Diverse Black women need to see, feel and hear themselves represented in healing practices. 

Mindwalk yoga session
A Mindwalk Yoga class – Copyright: Mindwalk Yoga

How can yoga help Black women with managing stress and our overall health?  

Yoga spaces that centre Black women are a healing and safe space. In parallel to the open-to-everyone wellbeing studio, Mindwalk Yoga has created an exclusive Black Women’s Wellness Collective and hosts monthly affordable retreats for Black women and Black non-binary people. The Black Women’s Wellness Collective is founded by myself, Sound Practitioner Cherelle Sappleton and Yoga Teacher Karen James. We started the collective because we recognised that this was something we had craved for on our well-being journeys, a safe space to be ourselves among other Black women who honoured our identities.

The retreats are monthly virtual sanctuaries and they have grown purely through word-of-mouth. Our March retreat had over 70 women from the UK, Ireland, UAE, to Canada. It is always an emotional moment to be on zoom and see an entire screen of Black women looking back, smiling, ready to have two hours dedicated just for them. We rarely see this, especially in well-being spaces, so it has been an emotional journey. Karen, Cherelle and I are passionate about the collective. We very quickly saw how needed it was and recognise this is bigger than us. We have set it up, and we hold space for Black women, we share well-being practices that we have personally found useful so they come from a knowing place, Karen is also a writer, and she shares poetry she specifically writes for the retreats. The retreat is two hours of much-needed nourishment and escapism.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to try yoga?

Yoga is for every-body, every background and every circumstance. I started Mindwalk Yoga to reach people who didn’t think yoga is for them. If you’re new, find a class that is all-levels and seek advice from the teacher first. The exclusive perception of Yoga is false. Everybody has a place in yoga. 

Zakiya yoga practice
Zakiya demonstrating a yoga pose – Copyright: Mindwalk Yoga

Make props, your friend. I use chairs, bolsters, walls, cushions and a whole host of other things from around my home to make my yoga practice work for me and my mood. There is no right or wrong with yoga. There is just what serves you, which might be different every day.

What advice would you give to other women who want to start a yoga business?

When I started teaching, I wish someone would have said to me, take time for yourself. Being a teacher means you give a lot of energy and sometimes don’t reserve enough for yourself. To new teachers, ensure you make time for you. It is also essential to always teach what you know and feel comfortable doing. When a practice comes from the heart and experience, people can feel that, and it will connect you to them.

What future plans do you have for your business?

The future for Mindwalk Yoga is expanding our global well-being platform to reach more Black women and allies with well-being practices. We know yoga has a key role to play for mental health and we aim to provide socially prescribed yoga, specifically trying to reach Black women and people who wouldn’t normally access yoga. 

You can find out more about Zakiya and Mindwalk Yoga at:

Mindwalk Yoga: Website

Mindwalk Yoga: Virtual Studio

The Black Women’s Wellness Collective

Instagram: @Mindwalkyoga

YouTube: Mindwalk Yoga video channel

#Afrowomanonline #Blackwomenshealth #Blackwomen #Selfcare #Wellbeing #Selfcare

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