Afro Flow Yoga® is not just another wellness trend. Pilin Anice, who has been teaching this unique class since 2011, knows exactly what she is doing as she invites a good 40 New Yorkers to breathe and move to the live drums, vocals, and flute in the sunny studio at Alvin Ailey.
Afro Flow Yoga® was developed by Leslie Salmon Jones in 2008. The class marries dances of the African Diaspora with Yoga Vinyasa sequences in a live music setting, creating a truly expansive experience that is both soothing and empowering.
Besides being well-versed in African and African Diasporic dances, Pilin Anice is also a certified yoga instructor and nutrition coach. Providing a “job of service, guiding people through these healing movements to tap into their highest self and their joy” is just one of the many things she loves about her job. Dance and yoga were never really separate for her.
“Moving your body in a purposeful, intentional way, telling a story, allowing it to be a vehicle of expression,” is transcendental. And if you look closer, there are traces of yoga in Africa: hieroglyphics in Egypt picture people in what looks like yoga poses, such as “Cobra, sphinx…and even though it wasn’t called yoga, it’s still the same kind of understanding [that] moving the body in a certain way opens up energy channels, to create space, opening, awareness to the divine,” Pilin explains.
Being an artist in New York City and a mother of two, self-care is incredibly important to Pilin. Her recommendation is to have “some sort of a practice to keep yourself grounded.” She herself wakes up every morning at 5am, no matter what, to do Ayurvedic routines such as tongue scraping, oil pulling, or a gentle Abhyanga massage. Then she sits down for meditation and some movement, to set her intentions, or to journal, “whatever comes up.” It may sound like a lot, but “you can start small, it can be 20 minutes, and that will make a difference in the way the day flows,” she says.
She also carries a veil of rose water with her at all times and sprays it whenever she feels a moment of stress as a simple version when she doesn’t have time for a meditation. “And, of course nourishing the body to have a sustained amount of energy” is a key element in leading a balanced life as well, says the certified nutrition coach.
In order to stay healthy and happy, Pilin wants young dancers to reconsider what they think about competition. She does not believe in competition because she shifted her “perspective to one that you have a unique path, a unique journey ahead of you and no-one can take that away from you. So there is no competition, what’s yours is yours.”
She advises that while being “very clear about what you want, and just keep doing the work and showing up,” it is equally important to “nourish yourself and take care of yourself so that you don’t go crazy because it can be.” In addition to cultivating a self-care practice, she finds it crucial to “surround yourself with people that support you” and have conversations that are uplifting rather than complaining, comparing or generating destructive energy in any way. This does not only serve you in your own wellbeing but also creates a community of respect and empathy rather than envy or competitiveness.
In addition, Pilin emphasizes to stay open and receptive, because your specific purpose may look a little different from what you expected. Fittingly, non-attachment is one of the eight limbs of yoga. “Just have fun! Enjoy it!” If at any point what you are doing does not bring you joy, it is perfectly fine to “take a step back.”
Especially in NYC, the mindset of hustling and grinding is this strange idea that the tighter your grip, the more successful and worthy you are. However, the best things that happened to Pilin in her life and career came in those moments where she “didn’t stress out and hustle, hustle, hustle.” It was in those moments where she “let go fully, not holding on so tightly, releasing, surrendering to the process,” that the magic happened.
All these practices of self-inquiry such as meditation, yoga, or journaling are a tool that helps dancers to not listen to their inner critic so much. “As dancers, you are putting yourself out there, always being judged, so you have to be comfortable with who you are inside so that the external does not affect you.”
One thing that teaching Afro Flow Yoga® has taught Pilin is “that we are all here to connect to each other.” In this day and age, it can be so easy to feel removed from the people around us, when on the subway and in the streets everyone is glued to their phones, making calls, rushing from one obligation to the next, completely absorbed within their own thought world. It feels reassuring to look up in Pilin’s class, and, while in a heart opener, to catch someone’s eye and simply share the love instead of quickly looking away in shame or stress. “Human beings connecting is so powerful.” By acknowledging each other with respect and openness, we realize that we are more alike than we are different.
Mental health awareness is not just an empty phrase. It can move mountains because when we are happy with ourselves when our cups are full, we are more ready to share our light with others and create a more enjoyable life reality for each and every one of us.