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Five Points yoga studio breaking barriers for people of color

Urban Sanctuary opened as a welcoming space for Colorado's BIPOC community. She's hoping to purchase the building to keep the studio in the Five Points neighborhood.

DENVER — In Denver's Historic Cultural Five Points district, Ali Duncan wants to break barriers in yoga for people of color. The Fort Collins native moved to Denver and began searching for a yoga studio but had trouble finding one that had people who looked like her.

"I always felt like I stood out. So, Urban Sanctuary literally created itself," she said. 

Duncan said her oldest daughter also inspired her to open her own studio. "She is Black and queer, and if she had a safe space to go to where it was like a healing space, that feels so good." 

She opened Urban Sanctuary in 2016. 

To break financial barriers, Duncan offers free classes for BIPOC communities. These classes are intended for specific communities to create a safe space in a supported environment.

"All of our teachers except for two are people of color, and so the teachers look like you. It just, it allows you to soften and to come into those doors; it’s a totally different experience."

Duncan is currently fundraising to purchase the building that houses Urban Sanctuary. By next summer, the building will see a rent increase, making it unaffordable to stay in the area, according to Duncan. 

She hopes to purchase the building in order to keep her business in Five Points. If she is unable to raise enough to buy the building, Duncan said those funds will go toward buying a different space in another area. 

In the GoFundMe page, Duncan wrote she wants to keep the building within the Black community to be used for health and wellness. 

"We will use these funds not only to buy the building we are currently housed in and restore a piece of Black history, this will allow us to dedicate all of our time and resources implementing our mission far beyond our local neighborhood," Duncan wrote.

Just this summer, Duncan began teaching a newly discovered kind of yoga she hopes provided the Black community with a sense of pride and connection to the practice – Kemetic yoga. 

Kemetic yoga is from Egypt, and it was thousands of years before it made its way to India, Duncan said. 

"Kemetic yoga has its own god and goddesses, just like Indian yoga has their own. So you’re pulling from that knowledge, and you’re also pulling from shapes like pyramid pose, so a lot of energy in shapes." 

Still new to the specific practice herself, Duncan said she is excited to share this form of yoga with the community. 

"To be fair, I’ve heard it so many times, you know, 'That’s not real; that’s not true – it’s from India and basically who cares.' So I get a lot of it, but for me just to share it is awesome, and for those who want to be a part of it, that's awesome too." 

Duncan's deep passion for yoga has been around for years. Her Zen and peaceful studio is quite different from her day to day changing "office" before becoming the owner of Urban Sanctuary. 

"I was a police officer for 10 years, and within the first nine years, I wanted to deepen my yoga practice. So I decided to go to India, because why not?" 

Her sergeant at the time gave her the entire summer off to travel to India, where Duncan got certified as a yoga instructor. 

"The first time that I went, I came back and within six months – I quit my job as a police officer and then we came down to Denver." 

You can learn more about Urban Sanctuary on its website.

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