During her Saturday morning yin class at Afya Yoga Studio, instructor Racquel “Rakz” Rhino wanders gracefully between students, offering a hand here, a prop there, and a nonstop stream of encouragement. “Sip some more air, my lovelies,” she says, encouraging deep breaths, groaning exhalations and surrender of control.
Afya Yoga Studio is set in a garden on a quiet residential street in Kingston, Jamaica. It’s named for a Swahili word Afya meaning a state of being free from disease. From my spot on my yoga mat I see tropical plants, a swing and a big Om symbol mosaic. Four ceiling fans move the warm air, scented at different times in the class with incense, burning sage, a citronella candle and blends of aromatherapy oils. A basket by the door offers two types of mosquito repellent – DEET and something less effective for the more natural types.
Yin at Afya Yoga
The yin class is full of deep, long stretches. I learned a new pose – bananasana – a supine side stretch where you stretch your legs out and your arms overhead, then move both arms and legs to the same side. I also learned a little Jamaican, as Rakz instructed us to put our “bunkies” (rear ends) against the wall.
A Place of Healing
Owner Sonita Morin Abrahams, a native Jamaican, opened the studio in 2003. Having an open-air studio is a natural in Jamaica, where the weather allows covered outdoor classes year-round. “I wanted to be in a place to enjoy nature,” she said. “I think the energy of the place is very important.” Her evening and weekend students draw mostly local, professional women. She sees more housewives and retired women in her morning classes.
In addition to running Afya Yoga Studio, Abrahams works full-time operating an NGO called RISE Life Management Services. They focus on violence prevention, at-risk youth, substance abuse, sexual abuse and HIV. On Sundays, Afya holds a donation-based class with proceeds benefiting local charities.
In addition to yoga, Afya has an onsite spa offering massage and Reiki, and some AirBNB rooms. “I envision this place being a healing village,” says Abrahams. I can attest to a healing morning of yin yoga.