Once a week, a classroom in Miami turns into a safe space for breathing, stretching, and getting still.
“Yoga really centers you,” said Gordon Eric Knowles, yoga instructor and member of the Circle of Brotherhood. “That’s what we’re about centering our community.”
For the past two years, Knowles has been teaching yoga to men in the Circle of Brotherhood.
The nonprofit based in Miami mostly consists of Black men dedicated to community service.
Knowles says shortly after their yoga classes started, they had to stop for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The world came to a stop,” Knowles said. “A lot of us didn’t know what to do.”
The yoga classes, which have recently been relaunched, are just one part of the nonprofit’s new health and wellness initiative.
“When you go out into the community and you look at the conditions, whether it be violence, whether it be economic-oriented, family-oriented, they all tie back to health and wellness,” said Brother Lyle Muhammad, executive director of the Circle of Brotherhood.
Muhammad says the goal is to get Black men healthier both physically and mentally.
“The emergency room is our doctor’s appointment,” Muhammad said. “We don’t check out ourselves the way we need to check out ourselves.”
“I was one of those men because I hadn’t had a physical in double-digit years,” he said.
It’s a reality he says that came to light during the pandemic.
“It really took the cover and the blanket off of the real health issues, particularly in the Black community,” he said.
Along with weekly yoga, the group holds Saturday exercise classes and Thursday night aerobics. On Tuesday nights, the focus is on mental health.
“If we’re not healthier, I don’t care what comes,” Muhammad said. “We’re gonna be suspect to it.”
The nonprofit also partners with local health clinics and with the Professional Firefighters Association for 42-day fat loss camps.
“From day one to day 42, the goal is to lose 20 pounds while getting healthier as well,” said Keith Martin, president of the Professional Firefighters Association.
The new initiative has helped COB members like Kildare Berry, a former professional basketball player who started practicing yoga after getting hip replacement surgery.
“It helped me greatly because let’s say three or four months after, you couldn’t even tell I had surgery because of the stretching exercises, the yoga,” Berry said.
For Knowles, the classes are about much more than just stretching and exercising.
“It’s really a spiritual journey,” Knowles said. “It’s not just the physical movement. It’s an awakening for yourself.”