This month we speak to Amani Eke, founder of Project Yogi, a not-for-profit organisation that creates yoga, mindfulness and social emotional well-being based programmes, classes and workshops for children, adolescents and young adults.
Through yoga, mindfulness and social emotional learning, they hope to help young people live better, learn better and make better choices.
I first tried yoga in 2008 after reading a book about it, which left me fascinated. A few months later I found a yoga class which I started attending regularly for about a year and a half. I noticed a big difference in my physical and mental well-being.
In 2014, I decided to take a course to teach yoga. The certification was in Egyptian Yoga (also known as Smai Tawi or Kemetic Yoga) which is actually an ancient form derived from ancient Egypt, North East Africa. Not many people know that different forms of yoga have been practiced and taught all over Africa for hundreds and thousands of years.
My yoga training consisted of a strict 5-month training regimen and required extreme focus and discipline. I had to get up before 6am every day to mediate and do an hour of yoga amongst other things. The overall process helped me let go of a lot of negative thoughts and feelings I had been holding onto.
A few months after taking my 200hr certificate, I decided to take another course to teach yoga to teenagers. I was already teaching in a secondary school at the time. Since then, I have taken additional certifications to teach yoga to children under 11 and to teach mindfulness to young people. I am currently doing a level 4 certification in yoga teaching with The British Wheel of Yoga.
After doing my 200hr qualification, I decided to do another course to teach teens. At that time I was teaching in a secondary school and I could see how it could be really beneficial to the students. School can be stressful in addition to the usual troubles teenagers go through.
I set up Project Yogi at the start of 2015 to teach in and outside of schools. I really wanted people to see yoga from a different perspective. Most young people have a certain perception of what yoga is and the type of people it is for. I really wanted to change their opinion.
In 2016 I decided to make Project Yogi a not-for-profit organisation so I could reach more young people and work within more deprived communities. Project Yogi is not just a business teaching yoga to young people, we are trying to give back to communities. There are a lot of yoga studios and teachers that run classes for children, teens and families, but there are still so many families that cannot afford to attend those classes and a lot of the time they are the ones that need it the most.
I found that the young people most in need of yoga and mindfulness were from low income families or living in fairly disadvantaged areas. A lot of these children have a lack of knowledge on wellbeing but are usually very interested in finding out more about yoga and mindfulness once they have more information about them.
Growth has definitely been a challenge. Although I have had great support from the yoga community and some yoga organisations which have helped me to raise awareness of the work Project Yogi is doing.
The biggest challenge for me has been initially engaging young people. When I first started Project Yogi a lot of people didn’t understand the concept. You would mainly find a certain demographic who would go to a yoga class, so getting young people to classes wasn’t very easy and I’m not just talking about young people from deprived areas. A lot of schools and teachers didn’t really get what I was trying to do either.
It’s taken a lot of time, but more people understand what yoga is and what the benefits are. More and more people are taking yoga classes, there is more information being written about it and it’s all over social media. There are more conversations about the health benefits and more people want to see it being taught in schools as well as in the NHS.
There is still a lot of work to do, especially making young people aware of what yoga is about. Yoga is not the first activity that young people are thinking about doing in their spare time. There is an increase in the amount of young people suffering from mental health issues and obesity. Low levels of wellbeing can have a severe impact on anyone’s life, not to mention the life of a child or teenager. I do think it will all change but it will take a little more time.
There are a lot more people doing yoga, adults and children. There are so many yoga studios popping up around London now as well. Everyone is talking about the importance of self-care and wellness in general and this makes me feel like much more people are making wellness a priority.
I try to make sure that I am keeping up with my own yoga practice. I also love running. I used to run 2 to 3 days a week but have not been able to do that for a while. I recently joined a running club which is helping me to get back into it all. I want to try and run a marathon or half marathon by next year.
I don’t really have one individual organisation that is inspiring me at the moment. I’m inspired by a whole heap of people. There has been a big increase of social entrepreneurs who have set up initiatives to support the lack of funding and slack from government organisations and services. I think this is an inspiration in its self. It’s nice to see that people still care about their community and want to help others who need support.
Project Yogi has already changed a lot over the past year, we stopped a few of the services we were offering so we could mainly focus on delivering sessions to deprived communities and vulnerable young people. I definitely want to do more to help raise awareness of the health benefits and get more young people practicing yoga regularly. I really want to reach more young people across the UK and internationally. I would love Project Yogi to be able to deliver projects to young people internationally one day.
Movement is something anyone can do regardless of their ability. Any type of movement has a positive effect on your physical and mental health as well as helping you to reduce the risk of developing many different diseases.
It’s good for your overall well-being.
Career: Founder/Director of Project Yogi and Yoga & Mindfulness instructor.
Likes: Travel, yoga, cooking
Dislikes: Miserable people and cold weather
Book: Wild Seed by Octavia Butler
Film: This is very hard! Too many to name!
Album: Currently listening to Summer Walker - Last Days of Summer
Career ambition: To bring Yoga and mindfulness to more underserved communities and to introduce people to wellness
Tell us something we don’t know: I always wanted to be an architect
As well as running their teaching programs, Project Yogi run a yoga mat donation servicewhere one can donate new and used yoga mats to students that want to continue their practice once a class has ended. They also donate mats to the schools they work with.
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