DENVER, Colo. — With African Americans facing higher risks of developing heart disease than other groups, yoga studio owner Ali Duncan has developed a program to help her community’s minds and bodies.
“It’s really important for me to create a space for the Black community to come and to feel comfortable in their healing,” she said. “So, they’re not the only Black person in a yoga studio.”
Duncan created Brown Sugar Yoga, a free practice dedicated to people of color.
“I feel like I’m getting a dual experience in this yoga class with being able to come in and stretch my body and also stretch my mind and really resonate with my ancestors,” said client Monica Wilson.
Leading the class is instructor Courtney Besser, who says the yoga sessions provide a safe space for African Americans to heal physically and emotionally.
“Being in a space of people that look like you, you’re able to fully relax and drop into the experience more so than other spaces,” she said. “And the support is here, too.”
This class is held at Urban Sanctuary, located in Denver’s historically Black district of Five Points.
Duncan is the owner and creator of this yoga studio that she built inside what she calls a very spiritual property, the building that once housed a mortuary run by Frederick Douglass’ family.
“I hope he would be a fan of yoga and wellness and energy work,” Duncan said of Douglass.
Duncan has made a career out of protecting others. Before helping her community heal through yoga, she worked as a police officer.
“I became the first and only Black female officer in Fort Collins,” she said.
Duncan has been able to take some of the lessons she learned in law enforcement and apply them to these yoga practices.
“Like not waiting until it gets so critical where your anxiety, your stressed, your overwhelm is just over the top,” she said. “But taking that time to incorporate it every single day to bring the body back into balance.”
That balance could be very beneficial to the Black community.
According to the American Heart Association, African Americans are at higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to other groups due to the prevalence of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
Duncan is trying to address those health issues one yoga session at a time.
“This is trauma being passed on from generation to generation and it's showing up in the bodies of the Black community,” she said.
For many people taking these classes, yoga is a spiritual and physical journey.
“I think it’s something for anybody to really get into to kind of stretch the mind, stretch the soul,” said member Djuan Luckett.
And for all the lessons learned while practicing yoga, Duncan hopes her students can apply them into their lives outside of these sessions.
“I just keep putting it out there for whoever it resonated with that our doors are always opened,” she said.