by Leah Hamilton / Photos by Blanc Photographie
JoAnnah Thompson is one of the few certified Black female Yogi’s in the Western New York area.
At 33, she owns and manages her own studio, Self Love Yoga (aka SLY studio), a quiet neat space located in the Niagara Arts & Cultural Center at 1201 Pine Street just five minutes away from the falls, one of the most visited wonders of the world .
Jo Jo the Yogi has been practicing yoga since 2012 and stretching her Black Girl Magic across WNY guiding students through Hatha Yoga, the main style she teaches. She offers a variety of affordable classes like gentle hatha, classic hatha, self love flow and newer classes like trap, hip hop and chair yoga.
Yet Despite her obvious success – she has nearly 20,000 followers on her instagram – this beautiful and focused millennial wants to attract more women of color, to share with them the beauty, power and benefits of yoga.
“I think social media has played a big role in the yoga trend and that’s great but I want to attract more women especially Black women in the WNY area to come and experience yoga. I want to help them realize it’s not just for someone who has a different type of figure,” she said. “ This practice has helped me so much that it drove me to want to help others.”
Jo Jo’s personal transformation takes the lead in her passion for the art-form and through every bend, stretch and flow of her scheduled classes she aims to encourage, inspire, uplift and challenge students, as she says “to leave their problems and worries on the mat.”
In a recent Q & A Jo Jo shared parts of her journey and encourages all to consider adding a little Self Love to their life through yoga.
CN: How were you first introduced to yoga?
Jo Jo: “I don’t have the normal yoga journey. At first I would hear about yoga from others or see social media posts but never actually got into doing it.” I hit a low point in my life and that’s when I ordered a yoga video from Amazon.
CN: Did you love it and latch on right away?
Jo Jo: It was ok but I’m a former athlete and although I really wasn’t a “fit” athlete at the time yoga wasn’t challenging enough, so I returned the video, but about 4 years ago yoga called me again.
CN: When it called you did you have a yoga partner?
Jo Jo: At first It was me alone, then I did yoga classes at the gym with friend, then me alone again with the help of apps, books and Instagram. For me the challenges were basically adjustments. Being a Black woman, most my weight is my lower body and certain poses I’ve had to adjust to obtain.
CN: So was yoga a more physical journey or a spiritual journey for you?
Jo Jo: It changed throughout the years. It wasn’t until I got past the physical kinks where it became spiritual. Yoga can mean different things to someone else initially. Whatever road someone starts on, as they continue, I believe it will always lead to spiritual rejuvenation.
CN: What type of yoga are you certified to teach?
Jo Jo: I completed my 200hr certification in the spring of 2018 for Hatha yoga just after opening SLY studio but learned about different styles of yoga including Yin yoga, ashtanga, Kemetic, etc. When I teach I don’t write or plan. I may include a sequence that is moAe yin-like or even a sun salutation that is Kemetic. …For me to teach means I am helping guide people along their spiritual journey. I don’t like to be tied down to just one thing so I do what feels right with the energy in the class.
CN: How do you feel about other yoga styles?
Jo Jo: I think all types of yoga are very regal in the development of mind, body, and spirit. I’ve incorporated Kemetic moon salutation in some of my classes … either way any form of yoga can benefit a person including one’s body image no matter what race, color, sex or religion.
CN: As a Black Woman was it hard to find people that looked like you in the practice?
Jo Jo: Locally yes, but I think when a Black woman sees another Black woman doing poses that they would normally think is not for them, it inspires them to want to do it. That’s one of the reasons I began posting videos on Instagram and where I get a large amount of Black women responding with raised interest and questions.
CN:How do you tackle body confidence issues in class
Jo Jo: Women in general tend to have body related issues.
In class I love to do goddess pose which is a very empowering pose, Warrior 1, 2 which are strong poses to help stimulate confidence, Tree Pose which helps ground you, and Knee to Chest which I often tell students to give themselves a hug in this pose. I also yell out affirmations in between poses and have students repeat and after classes we have a Self Love Yoga mantra that we say together.
CN: You’re obviously a true leader, have you always been this way?
I consider myself a leader now but I wasn’t always a leader. I was very shy didn’t speak much, and would have never dreamed of owning any businesses. I like to encourage people to be their best version of themselves. I’m a yogi but I can be very direct and transparent which surprises some people, but a leader as a yogi is something that is new considering the messages I get or comments on Instagram. I was like oh wow these people actually look up to me. ..Ok cool !
CN: What’s in the future for Jo Jo the Yogi?
Jo Jo: I’m thinking of getting certification for Ashtanga Yoga at some point… I plan on holding a Kemetic yoga event this year and pretty soon I will be coming out with merchandise to help promote self love and confidence that can be purchased on my website including ebooks, and videos, essential oil mixes and much So be on the look out!