Afro Flow Yoga Provides Exercise and Dialogue During Pandemic
Inside an impromptu yoga studio that used to be a living room, Leslie Salmon-Jones sits crisscrossed in the center. On top of a purple mat, she clasps her arms close together as she inhales deeply.
Her breathing and instructions are accompanied by the light plucking of an upright bass from her husband, Jeff Jones, behind her.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
The two join in an extended “Om” chant, a phrase that’s traditionally said at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. Jeff Jones softly strums the uke bass while adding the sounds of a tambourine and Indian bells into the mix, while Salmon-Jones continues her guided meditation.
The tempo builds. The sound of the uke bass is replaced by the steady beating of bongo, djembe, and conga drums, building up a feverish pace as Salmon-Jones stretches out and extends in every direction. Then, just like that, the rhythm comes to a halt.
This style of yoga is called Afro Flow Yoga, and it fuses aspects of West African dance with modern-day traditional yoga (or vinyasa yoga). Salmon-Jones created the class with Jones in 2008 after spending two years in Jamaica, Haiti, and West Africa. She describes each session as a “dynamic flow of movement and sound.”
Since 2015, Salmon-Jones has hosted classes through Northeastern Crossing, a university venue for skill-building and wellness workshops to help unite the Boston neighborhoods of Roxbury, Fenway, Mission Hill, and the South End.
Northeastern Crossing is run by the Office of City and Community Engagement at Northeastern. Marisa Luse, who curates Northeastern Crossing’s programming, says that in addition to these yoga sessions, Northeastern Crossing typically hosts a collection of different programs for these communities, such as English as a second language classes, and workshops to refine résumés or negotiate salaries.
“It’s a space that brings together people who have a common interest around self-improvement,” Luse says. “The beauty and the magic that it creates is that dialogue where you’re seeing all types of background and experiences coming to this one place where they feel safe.”
After the COVID-19 pandemic shut down offices and shifted life to a more virtual setting, Luse brainstormed ways in which Northeastern Crossing could continue to offer workshops. She thought of crises in the past, and how Afro Flow Yoga sessions could provide an activity for people to get away from their anxieties and process their emotions.
And during a time in which people are searching for new ways to stay in shape, Luse says it made sense to offer online Afro Flow Yoga classes, even if the sessions were virtual. She says “it felt like the right thing to do.”