Pablo Imani is a certified Hatha Yoga teacher, a Holistic Health and Wellbeing Consultant and Author of Afrikan Yoga ‘A Practical Guide to Smai Posture, Breath and Meditation.’ He is also the founder of Afrikan Yoga, a system of integral healing with Ancient Egyptian origins known as Tama-re Smai Taui, as well as being a Massage therapist, and Balanced Health practitioner trained in Kinesiology.
How did your yoga journey begin and what inspired you to become a yoga teacher?
There’s the informal and formal route. The formal came by an introduction to Scaravelli’s teachings a yogi, musician and artist I did not realise this coincidence at the time I was both these too and Scarevelli being a student of Iyengar. My personal journey to yoga practice is not the usual path of a need for a yoga guru, enlightenment, a book or a need to have a good-looking healthy body. I believe Yoga had been with me all my life. As a small child about the age of four we had two short haired domestic cats in my home and I studied my tuxedo cat friends with keenness, their movements, their play, watching them stretch observing their ability to deeply relax, purring in stillness and calmness, every muscle in a state of de-stress. The cats where my first teachers in the yogic arts I copied them the way our ancient ancestors studied various animals in order to develop their martial sciences. Cats are exceptional teachers and this experience in childhood became a ritual which is another way of saying habitual.
I grew to love art, dance and martial arts. I spent a lot of time during my youth on my own making excursions to nearby country villages where I grew up in the North of England, walking ‘rambling’ and studying nature in the windy moors of Lancashire. I used to find caves and sit in them watching the fields below. I never knew anything of meditation then. I constantly got into fights at school being the only African in my class and one out of say six African/Caribbean students throughout my whole school. Coupled with being involved in my local gang culture I took to martial arts at the age of 12/13. I began to learn and enjoy stretches other than what the cats taught me.
As I matured, I loved dance and was accepted in the local dance school as a student, however I chose not to attend. I did ‘my own thing’ in the clubs, it was the time of jazz-fusion and Break-dance plus the music was astounding. Such variety of music rooted in Africa spawned African movements within the dance world making dance a lot more interesting. This led me to being introduced to ‘Vanda Scaravelli’ author of ‘Awakening The Spine’ by my older brother’s girlfriend who is a yoga teacher and student of Scaravelli. You see I was not seeking yoga, the divine had all these situations in place for me to simply slot into this world of yoga I had no idea about. I thought it was ok but not cool, so I didn’t ever speak about my personal yoga practices to anyone. I couldn’t not to my peers anyway they just wouldn’t get it. I mean yoga is for skinny middle class white girls and Hindu’s who are even skinnier. A few years later I discovered I was doing a natural African yoga system based around African martial arts, when it was pointed out to me by a member of the Ausar Auset Society in whose house I was staying after being made homeless. During my private morning preparation in the backyard for an Afrikan Martial Arts training the lady of the house told me I was doing yoga, realisation flooded my entire being.
I called a very good friend of mine who is a Yoga teacher and sound healer, we used to deejay together in the nightclubs of Brighton on the weekends and at sunrise we would sit on the cliffs and he would show me pranayama. I am on the phone excited and inspired yet a little confused and doubtful, I needed confirmation my friend said, ‘Pablo as long as I have known you, you have always been practicing yoga’. What is this yoga I have always been practicing? I asked myself. It didn’t have a name and a bunch of people doing it and proclaiming it the best thing since slice bread nor did it have any patrons. What is this?
All my memories came back and I went on a journey of discovery, establishing an Afrikan System of Yoga in my life that was focused on healing. I was aware of Egyptian Yoga as taught by Dr Muata Ashby who has written extensively on Egyptian Yoga, Yoga Philosophy, Mysticism and its African Origins. He requested that I train with him but I could not leave my baby daughter for 6 months, so I studied his books and teachings from home. I consulted Seba Muata from time to time. Afrikan Yoga is now fairly grown and I can still consult him to this day and he is still very supportive. During this time I was driven by another form of inspiration my own recovery from back problems and the speed of my recovery using Afrikan Yoga. This propelled me to explore this system more.
I suffered from chronic back pain and I tried many modalities even Tai Chi however four postures from an Afrikan perspective of yoga healed my back in a week. As a result I became obsessed with this is, the more time went by, the more my hunger for knowledge, practical application and practice grew I would study intensely as well as practice 3 hours a day. I’ve sought many masters in my life and studied the teachings of Amun Nubi Roakh Ptah whom I had met in the US. He brought me into Sufism and Mysticism, he even taught me in my dreams. During this time I learnt the art of meditation and Zikhr (Chanting). The ecstasy of such chanting began to infuse me with the unity of the supreme. I began experiencing visions, vivid dreams and visitations of ancient and unexplainable beings, levitation and intense spiritual intuition. I was also under the tutelage of Master Ras Daniel Babu in Japan whom introduced me to Kinesiology- the study of energy in the muscles and organs of the body. During my stay in Japan I visited Shinto Temples for meditation and became very interested in Taoism ‘The way’. I then went on to study massage, anatomy and physiology, I gained a diploma in Systematic Kinesiology which means ‘Talking to the body”. Still quite hungry for knowledge I studied Holistic Health with the genius Dr Llaila Afrika. I also sat at the feet of a Shamanic priest of the GA people of Ghana where I was given a way to live my life.
I have had several spiritual initiations in Africa, USA, and the Caribbean. My 3rd Initiation level took place during a head on car collision, 3 of my children were in the back seat. I was told ‘I was supposed to be dead’ by the paramedics. They looked at the trunctuated car and wondered how I could be alive without a scratch. It was then I realised, I was meant to do something more with my life and my knowing of the ancestors who have been with me since childhood; keeping me from being killed in the numerous near-death experiences of my life. This time it was my baby daughter’s life on the line. She had to be rushed to the hospital as a result of the crash. The guardians were telling me clearly that I had to know and grow beyond myself. It was then I decided to practice and teach Afrikan Yoga full-time not as a career, but as a life choice, no more playing, complete devotion to reconnection to the source.
How do you like to start your day?
This changes from time to time according to seasons and where I am in the world. One particular start is to get up just before sunrise and go for a brisk walk and Hikau chant, stop somewhere and watch the Sunrise. Another start is to get up and stretch immediately then meditate or to meditate then stretch. My present ritual is I start the day with meditation before getting out the bed. I literally lay in the bed on my back for 5 min and purposely meditate in that position, after which I get up stretch a little knock out some push ups about 100 and go to bathroom brush my teeth left handed and look into my eyes in the mirror and tell myself I Love you 10x this is to refresh and rewire the brain, then step outside and do 25 deep breaths.
After which I do either 1hr meditation or 30 minutes meditation. I may take in a couple of chapters of a book before moving on with the day conducting the business of yoga and life.
Tell us about your book…
The book is a reflection of the new and exciting phenomena that is currently happening in our rapidly changing world. There is a growing African voice in every corner of industry, this particuar phenomena is a shift to the realisation of Africa being the centre of the world and that scientist have admittedly spoken of, that all human beings walked out of Africa. To see yourself as human is to see the African in you so it’s of no surprise when more people of European descent are claiming their Africaness and actual Africans will know what the in-depth meaning of this is, to be earthy, to be embodied and not ashamed of the body, to heal through expression and not repression that the highest value is love and that happens through relationships whether in a family setting, community setting or just with a stranger, because there is this need of going deeper and to break the cultural cycles of sadness and fear.
The book, though practical in format, requires a deeper introspection and is not about Africa only, it’s about world healing through an acceptance of African intrinsic value, it’s culture and healing sciences. With this acceptance one can truly claim universality a requirement of yoga no less is to be universal. Africa is often associated with Blackness yet on the continent Blackness is not associated with being African – there is a mingling and confusion around these associations because of what has been told to us the invention of Black and white people since the year and time of 1200 AD and in this day and time; that prison of lies is breaking down.
To be human is far more of greater importance now. Humanity is presently being threatened globally. The universe does not actually throw anything created away it will change it and recycle in various forms so through this understanding of Blackness and Africaness there’s a social uprising happening under our feet and on the street and with it must come an intellectual and spiritual uprising and yoga has apart to play in that movement. From what I can see if yoga is not uniting people then it’s very existence is worthless. Many will argue that the role of yoga is to unite the self with the divine and I totally agree however yoga from an African perspective is to unite to divinity and within the body and the rest of the world through compassion which means to unite with the other through their suffering, having empathy not running away from suffering but declaring a oneness. In other words Ubuntu I am because we are.
What inspired you to focus on Tama-re Smai Taui Afrikan Yoga?
My earthly incarnation is that of an Afrikan. I am in full acceptance of this fact. In that respect to culture my inner and outer is not in conflict. To be clear if I had incarnated in India in an Indian body it’s more than likely that my object of divine devotion would be Krishna, however I have ancestory in the Sudan so I would call the object of devotion Asar or Usir One who truly understands will see that these beings are representation of our higher selves.
However in many practices and rituals human beings make objects and names of the self. This is mainly cultural but we do, do it. We are reminded that we must be aware of the distinction and know the real from the unreal.
Teaching Yoga and sharing its wealth is not easy. For most yoga teachers who understand the essence of yoga to connect to source and align with source energy it is a challenge to simply transmit that yoga is more than an exercise, that yoga firstly is a lifestyle and a spiritual one at that, with practical principles for living life to the fullest. Some people go to classes to reduce their weight or strengthen their bodies, in those cases it can be considered to be just an exercise but it goes a lot deeper than that if a person is willing to explore Yoga, it is a pathway to The Self… the connection to source, they will find it gives one inner peace and insight and in today’s environment many have been forced to compromise themselves and are constantly distracted with the external or use blocking mechanism to not look within out of fear of what they will find..
As an artist I was never one turn away from what I can see as an obvious solution to a problem and wait around for someone to come and handle it. This was said of my work as a photographic artist by a curator “Menfesawe-Imani photographs demonstrate the notions that blackness is not fixed or limited but open for re-definition. He does not shy away from complex and supposedly difficult subjects”. I am the same guy even as a yogi.
I had an additional challenge to which I fully embraced; a yoga practice that comes from Ancient Africa and not from India or what most people call traditional Yoga. I believe in this practice as I saw what it had done for me and my personal experiences, insights and transformations. Through the teaching and practice of Afrikan Yoga I witnessed the healing of students in my classes from injuries, illnesses and even miraculously through osmosis.
How have you seen this benefit your students?
I have seen both physical and mental benefits of the system with students.
Healed leg and knee injuries, back issues, skin disorders, mental health issues, asthmatic conditions and even addictions. I have worked with sickle cell warriors and people with lupus, MS and even cancer and more. A gentleman contacted me saying that just using techniques from my book eradicated his tumour. A student I trained to be an Afrikan Yoga teacher said she shared my teachings of breathwork with a friend in hospital suffering from a stroke and the techniques provided considerable improvement for her recovery. There are so many I do not keep score. I teach and teach, that’s it. I do not make any claims to cure these folks. I have simply witnessed what the system of Afrikan Yoga has done, because I saw what it has done for me and continue to do. Seeing and feeling is believing anyone who has read these words and not experience Afrikan Yoga for themselves will no doubt be skeptical and because of that it may take you longer to receive its benefits because you have to come unforced to experience Afrikan Yoga for yourself. To come to know it through doing it, the only ways to know it is through immersion.
What is the most important message you share with new ‘students’ to yoga?
Self-enquiry is key to your success in gaining inner peace and resilience. ‘Know thyself’ Take your time and let whatever you are gaining in knowledge as a result of your training allow this information to sink in and to know what Afrikan Yoga is when anyone ask you tell them that Afrikan Yoga utilises drums, rhythmic movements, dance and Hudu which can best be described as African Tai-chi. Its origin is in ancient Egypt which covered most of East and Central Africa. Its focus is on cleansing the emotional bodies, through the exploration of the elements (earth, fire, water and air). Afrikan Yoga gives the practitioner a greater awareness of their inner and outer body. Yoga provides an interconnectedness with the divine, then you’ll find that you are connected to all beings and all things, this will not happen over-night for most people. Now that’s the first thing students of mine need to understand, then it’s personal practice and the taking the time to nurturing their bodies.
Students really need to understand what Yoga is as I feel while yoga has become an industry many are not taught the deepest aspects of the practice and their focus is on the body and that they go to a studio once or twice a week and that’s them doing yoga– Yoga is a way of living that requires introspection daily. It is proper exercise, proper nutrition (adequate eating), positive thinking, (affirmations), non-violence which has a lot to do with your relationship to people and your environment. Having restraint, self-control in all areas of your life including your thoughts. In order to assist the thoughts aspect, meditation is integral to the practice of yoga. Meditation is the discipline of steadying and clearing the mind in order to attain higher states of consciousness that creates our reality. What I mean is, if you are attuned to the natural state of being a reconnection to ‘The Source’ (which represents different things for different people) you flow with life just in the same manner as a clear river stream runs to the sea. When this stream is mudded and polluted the movement of the river is hindered, therefore your goal (destination) is hampered. This is why a cleaning up in every area is necessary.
This can take years to achieve. If there is a super highway to consciousness which is the goal of yoga then that highway is letting go of negativity in all it’s forms and complete devotion to the lord within, the source.
What is your favourite quote or life motto?
There are so many,
As above so below, as within so without, as the universe so the soul
I am the Universe and the Universe is I
“Guard your tongue from harmful speech, then you will be loved by others” Ancient Afrikan Proverb.
What matters to you most?
To know true Love….Corinthians 1. 13 kind of love. If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Perfect health which is a birth right spiritually, mentally and physically. A relationship with self, conscious connections and continuous realisation that I dwell in the secret place of the Most High. All of this is Love a result of Love in Love of Love I know how this may sound either hairy fairy or cryptic what I am saying is remaining in high vibrations accepting good and harvesting good in everything and letting go of negativity. These matters to me most because continuous surrendering allows for new and fresh creations to manifest . Creation of reality is a Love process, everything else, just isn’t real and is not Love.
What is coming up for you in 2023 / 24?
A couple of workshops in Nairobi before taking silent meditation retreat for 20 days in December in preparation for 2024.
2024 will kick off with some Afrikan Yoga inspired workshops in London. Hikau/ Mantra retreat followed by a course in Hikau and the Anuki CIC Scholarship program to Teacher Train Black Male Yoga Teachers June/July. 3 Yoga retreats one in Portugal one in Kenya and another in Brasil. The year is full of events all the way through to December.
Feel free to stay in touch if anything mentioned catches your interest.
I feel 2024 is a deep dive of balancing relationships and career, a time of mastering time, balancing of finances and materials with the spiritual. Of course each year in fact each day presents a new opportunity to grow and be.
How to find Pablo: