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Magnolia Yoga Studio: The First Black Owned Yogo Studio in New Orleans

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I took my first yoga class a couple years ago. I was initially reluctant because I didn’t consider yoga to be a real workout. I was sadly mistaken. That class kicked my ass and forced me to put some “respek” on yoga’s name. I now understand how important the art form of yoga is, and was eager to speak with Ajax Jaxon, owner of Magnolia Yoga Studio.

This is what she had to say:

SB: How did you become interested in yoga?

AJ: In 2003, I met a very sweet older man from Iceland named Frosty. He invited me to my first yoga class and I agreed. I was completely clueless that this decision would catapult me to my greatest passion and life’s work! I loved my first yoga class and wanted more once it was over.

I started practicing and made it a big part of my everyday life. It took another four years, turning 30 and getting laid off for me to take another leap of faith and become an internationally certified yoga teacher.

SB: How can yoga be used for different types of healing?  

AJ: Yoga is a healing art form, a discipline and an ancient technology still very relevant for our modern day illnesses. The Yoga approach is comprehensive, working with the multiple facets of who we are as people. All dimensions are touched on as you get deeper and deeper into the practice. However, the most fundamental level of healing that yoga addresses is the physical body.

We then move to the mind and, once the mind-body connection is in sync, one starts to explore the emotional body and energetic body. This tends to be the order but it’s not set in stone, as yoga reaches each person in different ways. I always say a yoga practice is one of the most intimate things a person can experience.

Yet, people often don’t initially know why they like yoga or return for classes. It can be elusive and hard to put into words. It’s ancestral, natural and mythical, as yoga is said to be a gift from Mother Nature to humanity. It’s ours to use and benefit from.

However, let’s briefly break down the physical healing that occurs with yoga, especially hot yoga. Two systems are being intentionally used to bring forth health, energy, vitality, healing and well-being. First, you address the respiratory system with the huge amounts of deep breathing done from the very beginning of class to the very end. The respiratory system is assisted by the circulatory system, which increases due to all the movement and the heat, which speeds up the blood flow 2-3 times faster than normal.

The heat also thins the blood, allowing blood to flow into places inside the body that don’t receive sufficient blood flow throughout the day due to a sedentary lifestyle. This blood become so rich with oxygen from all the deep breathing, and the postures then deliver all this rich oxygenated blood throughout the entire body to every organ, gland, muscle, joint and bone. It’s a simple yet significant science. Most illnesses and diseases, if you trace them back far enough, start due to poor circulation.

So, we increase the blood flow and oxygen levels by practicing in the heat the series of 26 posture and 2 breathing exercises at Magnolia Yoga. This combo takes each student through every system of the body, nourishing the body with the basics it needs to naturally heal.

The postures also create space in the body so that the spine can naturally shift back into its proper alignment. The same shift is happening with the internal organs and glands. In addition practicing yoga reduces stress when you reduce stress one supports the immune system protecting the body from illness & disease.

With a regular and consistent practice, I have personally experienced these benefits and as a full time teacher I have been able to help countless others reduce, reverse and completely eliminate a wide range of issues including asthma, stress, insomnia, depression, anxiety, diabetes, blood pressure, thyroid issues, reduced range of motion, a wide range of serious spinal injuries and pain, joint pain, migraines, bronchitis, heart conditions, tendonitis, arthritis, weight management and low self-esteem. I have also seen Yoga Increase self-acceptance, self-confidence and self-love within my students.

SB: Do you feel more Black people should take an interest in yoga. And why? 

 AJ: I would absolutely love to inspire, encourage and ultimately support Black folks and their yoga journey.  I became certified to teach everyone with a personal aspiration to reach out to people of color and men.

These two demographics would benefit tremendously from a regular yoga practice. African-Americans, in particular, suffer from the highest numbers of physical and mental health conditions, as well as societal concerns.

Photo credit: Peter Koloff

Yoga can help us tremendously take our health and power back. In a yoga class, one gets this golden opportunity to reflect, reorganize and remember what is really important, who we really are and what we really aspire for ourselves as a collective and as individuals.

Life can be busy and hectic and it’s so easy to get bogged down and clogged up with negative thoughts and mental debris. Within a yoga class one gets a chance to clear out so new, creative and positive thoughts have a chance to percolate.

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Yoga is usually last on everyone’s list. Once they tried everything else, then they try yoga. As a race, I profoundly feel we are at the end our list. We have tried so many things and have seen some progress, but it’s time to go deeper.

It’s imperative to find time to go within. I think yoga and meditation is one of the most revolutionary acts one can do, because, for up to 1 or 2 hours a day, you tell the world you are unavailable.

Whether it is your kids, boss, students or clients, you model for them that you come first and in order for you to serve them or anyone, you first have to serve yourself.

So, yes, we need yoga for physical and mental health,  but also to help us to continue to self-realize and to help follow through with our next steps as minorities in this country where our positions, rights and health are not guaranteed.

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Photo Credit: Kee’s Little Feet Photography

SB: What challenges did you encounter while trying to get the business set up?  

AJ: Aside from raising capital and staying on budget for a brand new build out, I had to dig deep in my private moments to resurrect enough belief in myself. I had to pray and meditate on whether or not I would have the passion, stamina, expertise and grace to run a yoga studio committed to helping people through the challenges we go through in life.

I quickly noticed how the Universe was making many things easy for me, which gave me a lot of confidence that my destiny was manifesting and not even I could stop it.

In addition to this, right before I signed my lease, my Godson was diagnosed with leukemia. He lives in California and I had to rush out there and tend to him through this life threatened diagnosis, while the building of the studio commenced.

For a good period of time, I was very unsure about moving forward with opening a studio in New Orleans. After consulting with him, the rest of my family and our team of doctors I went ahead and took another huge leap of faith and signed a 5-year lease agreement to open Magnolia Yoga.

Since then, he has been doing well, with some setbacks. Through an amazing family support system and me flying back and forth, we are doing our best to support him through his cancer treatment.

The beauty through this particular challenge and other tough ones is that I now know what it takes to support a family member through cancer, and I can teach and support others from my experience. A true leader leads from experience.

 

SB: What is the most gratifying part about what you are doing?

AJ: There are a few things that give me gratification and one is when the yoga room is filled with people of color, men in particular! When that happens? I know my message is reaching and penetrating my target audience. But, the most gratifying part of my work is when people tell me how much better they are feeling.

How well they are sleeping through the night and how they can bend and move in ways they haven’t been able to in years. How their doctors are reducing and removing medications because their blood pressure has improved or their energy and metabolism has boosted and they don’t need as much or any thyroid meds.

Basically, when students share with me how the yoga is working for them. And these results often happens right away! Those stories and testimonies of stress relief and having more harmonious relationships with their kids and coworkers keeps me super motivated.

SB:What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

AJ: I think unrelenting belief in yourself is a priority. Having the commitment to your business and service is paramount, which means doing all that you can to help it grow. This includes taking care of yourself and eating and sleeping well, as much as one might be out networking and building community connections.  To look at building your business as a person-by-person endeavor that requires an authentic connection and passion is essential!

 

Be sure to pre-order Ajax’s 2017 calendar “Blac Magnolias: A celebration of women in color in yoga asana”.  

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

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