“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?'”
It’s a timeless quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It begs us to ponder the importance of being of service to someone than ourselves. And while there are many outlets for helping others, Egyptian-Sudanese yoga and wellness instructor Zaineb Hassan is using yoga and mindfulness.
“I fell in love with the art of mindfulness by being fully present and attaining inner awareness,” she says. “The vitality of achieving knowledge of self, accessing higher consciousness and dimensions plus understanding who I was intentionally was the enticing factor that captured my attention.”
Hassan,, aka “ZiZi” of ZiZi yoga, always intended on prioritizing wellness throughout all aspects of her life. However, it wasn’t until she took part in a free meditation class offered at her alma mater, Towson University, that she found her path. “I latched onto the value [of meditation] as it was serving my purpose. I became a regular student at the classes for a few years, which allowed me to dive in deeply to attain my yoga teacher training certificates.”
The vast majority of yoga instructors are white. Black yoga instructors only make up a small percentage, 5.7% according to Zippia, of the population. The lack of them contributes to the normalization of whitewashed forms of yoga practices that we see on mainstream media platforms. But yoga postures, like Kemetic yoga, were practiced in ancient Egypt, as evidenced in records and recorded on the walls of Kemet temples. Hassan draws from this practice and incorporates it into her work.
“It is important for us to reclaim spaces as Black people and remind the world that we set the tone,” says Hassan. This is why Hassan centers her work in spaces that connect her to the community. She works with nonprofit organizations, prison systems, and lower-income communities in DC, NYC, Baltimore and across the United States, making her practice of yoga and mindfulness meditation accessible and also learning from her pupils.
“A teacher is always a student,” she says. “I love learning from the people I teach, as knowledge is infinite. Also, service to others is a euphoric feeling in itself.”
One way she is currently reaching as many people as possible is through festivals.
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, Dreamville Records brought Hassan on board to teach yoga and mindfulness meditation sessions with Olu, a member of the hip hop duo EARTHGANG, creating what they’ve coined as “Namaste at Home.” The two held hour-long Live sessions through Instagram, and this led to their complete circle execution of bringing their vision to life at the Dreamville Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina this past April. Adam Roy, Dreamville partner and festival president, Felton Brown, vice president of creative services, and Hassan worked endlessly around the clock to create a wellness experience rooted in love and collective joy for attendees. It was beautifully delivered and the perfect way to ground and center the two-day festival, which included 80,000 guests.
“My goal in doing activations is to show the festival attendees, staff, and music industry that self-care, healing, and wellness can be a part of daily life,” she says.
Hassan now utilizes her resources and connections with renowned labels and artists such as Dreamville and Olu to create a blueprint for changing the narrative of wellness in Black spaces, specifically at festivals. This creates a conducive environment where participants merge their music passions with learning and developing a new wellness skill they can take home. Hassan says, “If your favorite artist meditates and does yoga, you will likely follow suit.” She also elevates her activations by partnering with Black-owned or women-owned yoga studios instead of large brands to borrow equipment, mat blocks, blankets, and straps. Therefore making yoga more accessible.
“It gives the specific city I’m in access to a similar experience of how yoga might be at [that studio’s] session,” she says.
What Hassan is doing is depicting an alternate form of movement, like yoga and being mindful, that can help us physically and mentally. “Music is a form of expressionism and enhances the experience I portray while teaching my sessions. It depends on the audience, but I am well-known for having elite playlists with many genres. Music sets the tone of how the flow will be, and if you’re dedicating 60 minutes of your time to me, I’ll make sure it will be a memorable one,” Hassan says.
You can catch Zaineb Hassan alongside her publicist Tatiana Motion at this year’s ESSENCE Festival, performing an activation.