Co-owners of The Nest Space Banesa Tseki (left) and Dr Anesu Mbizvo (right)
Co-owners of The Nest Space Banesa Tseki (left) and Dr Anesu Mbizvo (right)
Image: Supplied

As with anything in life, yoga has its stereotypes. What it looks like to you, depends on your perspective. But two women are working to change this by creating a yoga and wellness space that’s inclusive and diverse.                     

Last year, Dr Anesu Mbizvo and Banesa Tseki were included in the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans list under the entrepreneurship category for the work they do at The Nest Space, the first black and female-run yoga and wellness studio in Johannesburg. They were also featured as “changemakers” on CNN’s weekly show Inside Africa and in 2021 they appeared on the cover of wellness magazine Holistica’s Visionary Issue.

As co-owners of their space in Parktown North, they’ve curated an offering of alternative healing where yoga meets meditation, sound therapy, hypnotherapy, massage therapy and reiki. And everyone is welcome.

“As a tribe, we’re completely mixed here,” said Tseki when I met her at the studio, overlooking the small garden from a terrace extending beyond the studio space. “Safe spaces for people of colour are even safer when there are white people or non-POC there because then it means we’re actually in this together.

“If you come for a class you’ll see, there are white [people], black, coloured — everything. A lot of people assume the yogis of colour push and go. They make it seem that only white people can afford it. There’s this idea that every white person is rich, that’s not the case. The same way as every black person is underprivileged. They’re very privileged. It’s going beyond race, beyond gender, beyond sexuality to connecting with people on the same wavelength as you.”

Mbizvo founded The Nest Space in 2018 to create a space that felt like home to everyone. She grew up practising yoga and found it relieved her stress when she started working as a medical doctor in the public health sector.

“Every time I found myself in a yoga studio or wellness community, I was the only person of colour in the room. Conversations about social justice issues were often avoided in these spaces — which felt contrary to my understanding of holistic health, which focuses on all aspects of the human experience to achieve wellbeing.

“I wasn’t able to be myself in these spaces because I inherently felt like the practices being taught weren’t for me. I felt ‘othered’. This became my main motivation for founding The Nest Space — I wanted to create a space that welcomed those previously other-ed in wellness spaces (people of colour, people of the queer community and people with disabilities) to fully be themselves on their journey of healing.”

A welcoming space
A welcoming space
Image: Supplied

They also host new and full moon gatherings according to the African lunar cycle as well as workshops, retreats and events, which they try to make accessible to people with both bigger and smaller budgets. As Tseki says: “For me, if it’s not accessible to the poor, it’s neither revolutionary nor radical. We need to make sure that if you don’t have anything, you’re not left behind.”

They try to find a balance between keeping The Nest Space sustainable and making it accessible, as the little trinkets around the studio — presented as gifts in return for being able to participate in a class or event — attest to.

On the same wavelength

I had been practising yoga for a year when I received the invitation to join them at a yoga retreat for a day at Farmhouse58 in the Cradle of Humankind. I’d made progress since I first started but in many ways still felt myself a novice and the idea of a retreat was daunting.

My fears subsided when the two arrived to meet the group. Radiating what someone in these circles would call light, full of smiles and warmth, they greeted every person in the group.

Those in the group who had arrived the day before participated in a Lions Gate Portal opening ceremony in celebration of the cosmic event that happens when the sun in Leo, Earth, the star Sirius and Orion’s Belt align, creating a powerful portal of energy. It reaches its peak on August 8 when it's believed to present a day to set intentions and manifest your desires.

This particular morning, our opening was focused on healing the feminine divine, which we started with guided breathwork before launching into our sessions for the day. Mine included 108 Sun salutations, a yoga session focused on emotional release with hip openers, yoga nidra and a mindfulness walk and talk about inclusivity in yoga.

Here were friends who hadn’t practised yoga in years who joined on the day, solo women who frequent the studio, internationals who call Joburg home, those who didn’t “look” the hip yoga type and all manner of shapes, ethnicities and levels of experience represented in the group.

I left feeling empowered — having discovered my limits are beyond what I set for myself and having happened upon a group of people whose wavelength (Tseki’s words) I enjoyed.

Discovering what works for you

The recognition the duo has received is deserved. During the Covid-19 pandemic they survived by holding online classes and they took the time to start a yoga academy where they provide inclusive yoga teacher training and alternative healing short courses which focus on indigenous African healing and knowledge. To date, more than 50 teachers have graduated from their programme, eight who managed to do so with a fully funded scholarship. They also opened a vegan eatery and a zero-waste store.

The dream is to have a space where they can host retreats and run their training. A “Harry Potter of yogis,” as Tseki describes it.

The Nest Space Zero-Waste Vegan Cafe
The Nest Space Zero-Waste Vegan Cafe
Image: Supplied

For Tseki, if yoga is the route you’re considering to do to find healing and balance, you’re on the right track. “Yoga is the most inclusive activity you can do because you have all the tools you need. You can breathe, you can sit, whether it be in a wheelchair or a chair, and you can focus on breathing techniques. You don’t need a book, you don’t need access to the internet, you don’t need a yoga mat, you don’t need those Lululemon pants. You don’t need any of that.”

If you’re unsure how to approach your wellness journey, Mbizvo’s best advice is to take it one step at a time — experiment and explore. “Finding the correct community to support you during your journey, as well as teachers, guides and spaces that feel safe and accommodating of all of your individual needs takes time, experimentation and patience.

“Allow your healing journey to be one of softness. Continuously keep track of how your heart is feeling when making decisions of what practice or community to follow. The yoga practice is for everybody. Find a way to fit this practice into your uniqueness, instead of moulding yourself to try to fit into someone else’s predetermined box.”

• For more information on their offering, visit the website

This article first appeared in Sunday Times Lifestyle.

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