Zakiya Bishton
OM meets...

Zakiya Bishton

Zakiya Bishton is the creator of Mindwalk Yoga, a virtual wellbeing studio and social enterprise run exclusively by black British women. Here, she tells OM that yoga is social justice in action

How did you first get into yoga?

I first did yoga as a 17-year-old youngster in Birmingham, where I was born and grew up. I found a yoga book for beginners browsing in a bookshop, bought it, and started practicing some postures at home.

I have no idea what led me to that book, possibly the acrobatic images on the front as I was an energetic teenager!

But something kept me going back to that book over the months, and I went off to university in London at the age of 18. I found a group class and practiced with a student teacher for the first time.

Getting my body into beautiful shapes was fun! I had no idea about breathing or meditation…it was all shapes and gymnastics back in the early days.

What does yoga give you personally?

Yoga has now been a part of my life for 20 years. Yoga is my backbone and consciousness. It is embedded into every aspect of my life. Yoga has been the one staple through two decades of considerable change, from being a teenager into adulthood, and everything in between. Yoga is a force that helps me stay on track, look after myself and strive for positive change.

Any tips for students new to 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.

Zakiya Bishton

Any favourite teachers or studios?

I’ve had so many wonderful teachers over the years. Two of my favourite teachers right now are Donna Noble and Jonelle Lewis. They stand out as they are pioneering women and leaders in yoga, striving for much-needed diversity, inclusivity and empowerment in yoga, specifically with under-represented people and body types. Jonelle Lewis has just launched Radical Darshan, a yoga teacher training with social justice and collaborative care at the heart of its mission. And Donna Noble is leading the way in body positivity yoga with Curvesome Yoga.

How would you describe your own teaching style?

I’ve been teaching yoga for 10 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.

Yoga career highs so far?

Launching Mindwalk Yoga has been the highlight of my career and my life. My priority for Mindwalk Yoga is to grow an anti-racism wellbeing movement with black women’s wellbeing at the heart of it.

What are your thoughts on diversity in yoga today?

Representation matters, especially in wellbeing. People need to see, hear and feel their experiences by offering practices to soothe and heal. We need to diversify the yoga world and create culturally aware teachers, studios and systems to ensure people feel welcome from all backgrounds. Yoga is social justice in action.

I am of mixed heritage: my mother is from Jamaica and my father is from England. I never had a black yoga teacher until I was years into the practice. I now recognise that going to exclusively white yoga centres to ‘heal’ from my lived experiences of racism was sometimes more damaging for me due to a lack of awareness of the traumatic effects racism can have on someone’s mind, body and breath. Creating spaces with culturally aware practitioners that resonate with lived experiences is essential to healing and growth.

At Mindwalk Yoga, we have an exclusive black women’s wellness collective and host monthly retreats. Forming this collective was really important to me, it is the space I yearned for as a young yogi trying to find myself in the world so I am deeply happy to facilitate this much-needed safe space for collective healing.

Zakiya Bishton

What do you say to people who feel they can’t do yoga because they’re not in shape, too old or too inflexible?

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.

Any advice for new yoga teachers just starting out?

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 do you do when you’re not doing yoga?

I run a social enterprise and virtual yoga studio, so yoga is part of everything I do! I am currently focused on out-reaching to communities and people living in challenging circumstances to support accessible mental wellness services. Mindwalk Yoga works with charities and other social enterprises with the mission of providing preventative therapies. I read a lot. I’m currently reading The New Age of Empire by Kehinde Andrews, a fellow Brummie and brilliant British academic specialising in Black Studies. I highly recommend his book.

Zakiya Bishton
Zakiya Bishton

QUICK Q&A

Q: Favourite yoga book?
A: Dr Gail Parker’s Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma.

Q: Go-to health drink?
A: Cucumber, apple and pineapple raw juice. I make this a lot!

Q: Most inspiring quote?
A: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Dr Maya Angelou

Q: Favourite yoga pose?
A: Balasana: it is my ultimate safety position. Whatever is going on in my life, Balasana brings me home.

Q: If you could take a class as a student with any teacher from anywhere and from any period of time (now or in the distant past) who would it be with and why? A: An ancient Egyptian yoga class! I am fascinated with Smai Tawi yoga, and we are planning to introduce classes to the Mindwalk Yoga schedule very soon.

 

Mindwalk Yoga is currently running a 14 days for free promo for any newbie to the virtual studio, head to MindwalkYoga.org to sign up and have unlimited classes for 14 days for free.

Om Magazine

First published in November 2009, OM yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.