Kecia Brooks-Smith Lowe ’88 and Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe ’08 are the mother-and-daughter team behind Spice Harmony Yoga Studio,the first and only yoga studio on the Caribbean island of Grenada that caters to locals, not tourists. It opened in January 2011, after Lowe, an internist and pediatrician, completed a 500-hour teacher-training program in purna yoga in Seattle, and Brooks-Smith-Lowe, a grad student at the University of the West Indies, completed a 200-hour program in vinyasa yoga in New York City. The studio is located on the top floor of a building that also houses the family’s living quarters and Lowe’s private practice, the Brooks-Smith Lowe Institute. It’s a lovely space, with purple walls, bamboo floors, island breezes, and views of fruit trees and a valley below. Skyping from Grenada and Trinidad, respectively, Lowe and Brooks-Smith-Lowe described the process of bringing yoga to their homeland.
What inspired you to start teaching yoga?
Lowe: I really wanted to do something that could help people. Being a doctor in a third-world country is a lot of overwork and a lot of underfunding and a lot of not having things you need, and it can be quite frustrating. After seven years I started getting burned out, so I decided to try to start on the other end of health. Instead of being at the end when the people are coming to the hospital over and over for diabetes and hypertension and all these things, I decided to help from the beginning, with preventive stuff. That’s when I decided to think about becoming a yoga teacher.
An MD who is also a certified yoga instructor would seem to be an anomaly.
Lowe: That’s true, which is unfortunate, because medicine is a holistic thing. Medicine is the whole body, and the mind has so much to do with health and healing. A lot of illness and sickness has to do with stress and loneliness and not taking care of ourselves, and the message of yoga is to love yourself, to listen to your body, to be present in the moment, and to feel joy. Traditional medicine—Western medicine—gets so far away from that, which is very sad. I think there’s a way to bridge the gap.
Yoga is so popular in the States. Why did it take so long to catch on in Grenada?
Brooks-Smith-Lowe: Somewhere along the line certain things get labeled as luxuries that should be accessible and affordable to everyone. Finding the space to take care of ourselves gets lost in the day-to-day hustle. When you’re just trying to make enough money to have groceries and transport your kids, it becomes hard to imagine how you could make the space and time and money for something like yoga or massage. It’s unfortunate these things get labeled as luxuries, because then it’s harder for people to justify it to themselves. That’s part of why I’m passionate about affordable or free yoga.
Is that something Spice Harmony offers?
Brooks-Smith-Lowe: One of the things I was doing over the summer was having free yoga classes by the beach. Every week I had those classes, and it was so amazing. They were at 5 o’clock, so we had the class and then we were in the water by 6, so we got to take this perfect sunset dip. It was also nice because it brought yoga out to people. Even if people weren’t taking the class, they were walking by, they were seeing it, and they were seeing it not just as something that was for foreigners.
Were there any other obstacles to introducing yoga to Grenadians?
Brooks-Smith-Lowe: Some people were concerned yoga was a religion, or yoga went against their religion. So that was a lot of the discussion we were having, talking about the way it can complement any spiritual practice and addressing some of the fears people had voiced.
How has yoga benefited you personally?
Lowe: I think I’m a good example to take because I’ve lost about twenty-three pounds since January, and my husband and I run as well. So when patients see me, they realize I’m trying to live my yoga. Yoga is not just on the mat. Yoga is something you do all the time—trying to be present, to be in tune with yourself, to listen to your body, to care for yourself. I’m trying to embody that by living in a positive way.