Wakanda Yoga takes 'Black Panther' inspiration to the mat

A yoga teacher in Virginia leaves the Marvel movie so buzzed he decides to infuse his classes with the spirit of Afrofuturism.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
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Leslie Katz
2 min read

Artis Smith started teaching Wakanda Yoga after seeing "Black Panther," which he says "shook off the limits I had put on myself." 

Artis Smith

There's always been Warrior 1 pose and Warrior 2 pose. Now there's Wakanda Warrior pose. Well, sort of.

Inspired by the movie "Black Panther," a yoga teacher in Norfolk, Virginia, has started teaching "Wakanda Yoga," named for the fictional kingdom featured in the Marvel superhero blockbuster. 

Artis Smith hasn't created any poses specific to the classes (he might consider adding an arm-crossing Wakanda Forever salute), but he calls them Afrofuturistic, pacing them with African drumming and incorporating poses influenced by ancient Egyptian Kemetic yoga. Afrofuturism refers to a movement in literature, art and music that reclaims and reinvigorates depictions of the black experience. 


Triangle pose ... with a beat. 

Artis Smith

The film starring Chadwick Boseman as King T'Challa had a powerful impact on Smith, the son of a minister.

"As a boy I loved Superman but couldn't identify with him because I'm black," he said. "I didn't realize how strong an effect that had on me, until the same little boy who saw Superman all those years ago watched 'Black Panther.' A switch turned on in me that I didn't know was off."

After leaving the theater, Smith dove into African music and had a visceral response.

"I came across a recording of Zulu warrior voices, and I cried, because I was ashamed of being ashamed of who I am. I didn't know what the voices were saying, but it felt like they were saying, 'It's OK, it's OK.'"

That's when Wakanda Yoga came to Smith, who's been teaching yoga for five years and focuses on ashtanga, a vigorous style often practiced in a heated room.

Smith teaches Wakanda Yoga classes five days a week, for all levels of practitioners.

"I was excited to experience what he described as a style of practice that resonated with him and called upon his African roots in a way the ashtanga practice did not," says Moriah Shumpert, one of Smith's students. "And as a person of African descent, I was also interested to see how it resonated with me." 

Shumpert says she appreciates trying the new sequences, as well as the dynamic African drumming and Kemetic chants. 

That response reflects the enthusiastic reception to Wakanda Yoga, Smith says. Now, he plans to take it on the road as part of what he's calling The Woke Tour. 

"One of the messages of the movie was to step into your power," he said. "Yoga is something that can help us to do that."

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