Dr Anesu Mbizvo is a yoga and meditation teacher and founder and co-owner of the all-inclusive yoga studio, The Nest Space, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
By: Thanduxolo ‘Thandz’ Buti
In a world that still views yoga and meditation as a practice for the privileged and elite class, Dr Anesu is on a mission to demystify the practice and make it more accessible. With an experience of six years (700RYT) as a teacher, she founded The Nest Space wellness centre to create an all-inclusive “safe” space to bring yoga and meditation to the marginalised – the other – communities.
“I am a medical doctor,” she tells Blacklight over Zoom. “When I was working as a doctor, I soon realised that the healing we were offering is not true healing. It’s mostly about curing and treating the body, neglecting the emotional wounds, the trauma, and the psychological effects of living in our communities.
“Apart from that, I was teaching yoga to people of privilege. I was often the only person of colour in the class or even in the entire studio. Even though I went to my studio for healing, I would encounter some type of trauma there through people’s prejudice, especially as a black woman. That’s when I realised that the marginalised communities need a safe space to heal; a space people can speak their language and confront the prejudice they face daily without having to censor themselves.
She continues: “I felt my purpose was to create a safe space: A physical space because black people are disfranchised when it comes to physical spaces. There a few or no spaces for us to gather safely. What we do now is to make the holistic healing lifestyle accessible to people who felt like it does not belong to them.”
The Nest Space centre offers a wide range of yoga and meditation classes taught solely by teachers of colour for all, regardless of colour, size, age, gender or sexual orientation. The yoga teacher says she has always been mindful of the revolution and protests of the people in society. She cites her practice as a space for people to spearhead change within before trying to change society.
“Many people may think that protesting is contrary to yoga – which is all about peace – but as a woman of colour, I see the need for people to use their voices to affect change,” she explains. “My role is to hold the people in the frontlines (the people who are witnessing violence and struggling with stress and trauma) so that their well-being is taken care of, and then they can affect change from a place of peace.”
With current chaos and violence in the country, linked to social problems like unemployment and hunger, Dr Anesu believes that the Disturbia in our society stems from deeper issues that have not been addressed.
“It’s discontent, suffering and poverty,” she says. “Regardless of where you fall in the spectrum, whether you are rich, middle-class, or under-privileged, we all experience trauma and stress.
“Right now, we need to take moments during the day to sit by ourselves. For me, it’s about sitting and taking five deep breaths whenever I can remember during the day. And also constantly reminding myself of my blessings – what I still have – no matter how big or small. I believe in the gratitude practice: Wake up every day, regardless of what’s happening around you, and list five things you are grateful for.
“No matter your economic standing, there is always something to be grateful for – the gift of life, having healthy loved ones, being able to breathe and move freely. If everybody could find some way to slow down and deal with stress, it might not prevent where we are, but it would make us feel more hopeful or positive.”
The image of yoga, especially in traditional and social media, has always been viewed as problematic. This makes the practice appear to be more about opulence than wellness and healing. In South Africa, the general public usually views the practice as far removed from the ordinary person in the township or rural areas. Dr Anesu believes it’s important to change this narrative about yoga.
“If we look at the history of the yoga practice, going back to India, it was always a community-based practice. People would congregate in public spaces, before or after work or during lunchtime – whether a merchant on the street, a business owner or just an ordinary person – to move and breathe together and go off to their lives. It was never about what you looked like, what you wore, or how much money you had; it was about connecting to that part that everyone has within.
“I believe that for the ordinary person, yoga is everything that can easily be adapted into one lives life. It’s just about restoring the spirit or refreshing the body. And the one thing we all need when bathing (refreshing) our bodies is a source of water, and with yoga, all you need is a body and the knowledge of how to move your body.
“Yoga is a moment for self. And as long as you have a self, you will need those moments. If you don’t have them [the moments], you start feeling stuck in a repetitive cycle of life. You feel like you are on autopilot. So it’s about reminding ourselves of what’s important, especially in a society that teaches us to value more what’s on the outside – the physical. And as long we continue to look outside ourselves for peace and happiness, it will always be temporary.”
Dr Anesu says she fell in love with yoga as a young girl growing up in Zimbabwe. Her mother would practice with a small community of women, of about six, every Saturday. They invited her along, and her life would be changed forever.
“I remember there was a moment after the session where everybody just laid down with their eyes closed, in sheer silence, and did nothing else other than breathing,” she calls. “That feeling of peace, feeling supported and held without doing anything, subconsciously, was the moment I fell in love with the practice.
Despite her passion for yoga, turning the practice into a viable career path was not an easy feat. From working as a medical doctor to now being a full-time yoga teacher, she had to redefine what success looks like. “I had to rethink the idea of a career and success completely. I believe that as much as money is important, in terms of allowing us the freedom to live a certain way, we don’t necessarily need a CEO’s pay-cheque to live a life of comfort.
“Success to me is about living a stress-free and peaceful life and knowing that what I am doing is making a fundamental difference in people’s lives. That made it a lot easier to deal with the challenges we face as yoga practitioners. And in a crazy way, my business has helped me flourish in life. I have been a doctor, earning a doctor’s salary, I have worked in corporate, and I am now an entrepreneur, but I can honestly say that I am the happiest I have ever been.”
Tips to live a more peaceful life amid chaos:
Take a moment in your week to sit and contemplate what you feel is truly important in life.
Remind yourself of the things you value the most and also the gift that life is. So many people have died from Covid-19, but we continue to live as if we still take life for granted.
Then take a moment to reconnect to that reminder. The most effective for me is breathing exercises. Breathing is the most important tool, and it immediately calms us down. It sends chemicals to your brain to remind you that everything is okay.
Whenever you remember to breathe, take five deep breaths and repeat something that you are grateful for at that moment. Taking a breath unplugs you and reminds you of the important things [in your] life, beyond the destructions around us. It’s free to do, doesn’t cost anything, and it gives us so much.