Rebekah is a medical doctor, Nike yoga teacher, wellness entrepreneur and a board member of the Yoga for Healthcare Alliance. She is the founder of Pana, a platform and community that intersects wellbeing and culture centring the African diaspora. After facing her own challenges with mental health, she learned the value of slowing down and engaging with mind-body practices. Through yoga classes, retreats and events, she creates inclusive spaces for people to nourish their wellbeing and reconnect with themselves and those around them.
Tell us about your yoga journey
Through my teens and early twenties, I went through many cycles of burnout and poor mental health. I’ve always worked hard, and I got to a point after 4 years of medical school where I needed a break.
I ended up on an island off the coast of Panama volunteering in a beach hostel and living with yoga teachers for two months. I started practising yoga every day and diving deeper into aspects such as chakras and the eight limbs. Slowly but surely, yoga became an integral part of my routine and wellbeing, and I decided to take the leap to do my teacher training. I’ve been teaching for about 5 years now and have always loved it.
What kind of yoga teacher would you say you are?
I like to understand and learn the traditional aspects of yoga while bringing in a creative element to present them in my own way. I love welcoming new people into yoga and creating a space where they can feel calm. That doesn’t always mean being still and quiet, but knowing that you can just breathe and be yourself, laugh, and try new things.
Has your own practice changed as a result of your teacher training?
When I started practising yoga, it was very vinyasa-focused. I think that’s similar to many people in London as there’s a feeling of always being short of time and needing to fit in exercise where you can. The teacher training was where I discovered a love for slower styles of yoga such as yin and restorative. After a couple of weeks of regular yin practice, I discovered a new set point of calm in my body and mind which I forgot existed. It showed me the transformational power of incorporating these slower styles into my practice.
Have you enhanced your teaching with any special training or courses?
After considering doing a 300-hour training for a long time, I decided to go in the direction of doing shorter trainings and workshops that are focused on my particular areas of interest. This has included a course with The Good Life Yoga School exploring the power of music in yoga, how to best utilise it to enhance a yoga practice and produce a mix for optimal breath control. I’ve also enhanced skill sets such as physical adjustments with short training sessions at Mission E1. Across the year, I’ve been to workshops that dive deeper into pranayama and yin yoga to deepen my understanding of these areas.
Further training is important to continue to grow as a teacher, however, it can often be expensive. One of the key ways to develop your learning as a teacher is to regularly attend yoga classes as a student. There’s so much you can learn from other teachers during a class, and having strong regular practice as a teacher is something I always recommend.
What has been your biggest challenge as a yoga teacher?
I qualified as a teacher shortly before the pandemic started. This meant over the past 4 years, a huge portion of that was during COVID where we weren’t able to be physically close to people or often leave the house at all. One of my biggest challenges was re-adjusting to teaching in studios and holding a space in person, after being conditioned to teaching online for so long.
It’s wonderful to be that person who gets to introduce yoga to someone. How do you go about getting new people to try it?
Through my own teaching and platform, I thought, ‘How can I reach communities who may feel yoga is not for them?’. I grew up listening to reggae so it felt very natural to incorporate this in my practice – it’s something that helps me feel calm. I created an event called Dub Garden Yoga & Picnic where we do yoga to reggae and have healthy Caribbean food after class. I teach it in the park which makes it more accessible and affordable, as well as allowing us to enjoy nature. We have attendees of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and abilities – for many people it’s their first-ever yoga class. Many feel comfortable coming as they resonate with the food and music, and yoga is an additional aspect they can try. It’s relaxed and fun, which I think is so important for helping people come back again.
What does a day in the life of Rebekah look like?
I enjoy having diversity across my week so many of my days look quite different. On a hospital day, I’m at work for an 8 am handover from the night team, then see a number of patients across the day presenting with different conditions. On other days I might be doing a shoot or having meetings. Some of my favourite days are spent doing laptop work in a cafe, drinking tea and enjoying a lunchtime yoga class.
What is your favourite quote or life motto?
“Feel the fear and do it anyway”
What’s coming up for you and Pana?
I’m really excited about a few things on the horizon. We’re heading to The Gambia in April 2024 for a retreat – exploring Africa and the Caribbean through retreats has become a wonderful offering for the community. We also have an online studio opening in Autumn 2023 so you can practice from home.
Find Dr Rebekah
Personal – @rebekahzeenajade
Website – https://wearepana.com/
Instagram – @weare.pana