Dana Dennard wears many hats. The owner of the acclaimed Nefetari’s restaurant is equally well known as a teacher and psychologist.
He is also a yoga instructor. "Meditation is like sitting in the lap of God," Dennard, also known as “soul healer” or “Baba,” said.
"There is so much that has to be known but you can't stay comfortable in your frame of reference. I want to give to the world an approach to life that will bring fulfillment and peace. I want to teach people that are ready to receive that and they can teach each generation afterwards."
The name Baba was given to Dennard by graduate students at Florida State who attended his teachings in the ’90s. In the African or Indian language, Baba means father of the community.
Dennard graduated from Florida State University with a degree in clinical psychology and he has been practicing since 1980 as a licensed psychologist.
As a young man Dennard went through drug treatment. Soon after he began counseling at the age of 18. For a year and a half Dennard counseled every day all day and that is what caught his attention.
Dennard lived a double life learning formal education and his own education, which included anthropology, philosophy and religion. He became intrigued with different types of sciences.
During graduate school Dennard encountered Na'im Akbar, who told Dennard that he had to earn two degrees. One degree would be his Ph.D. and the other degree would be in African history and culture. Akbar told Dennard this degree would be more important than the Ph.D. Dennard’s level of expertise shifted toward a cultural understanding of psychology.
Most importantly in the midst of it all Dennard was on a journey of spiritual awakening. He experienced an outer body energetic experience for the first time while cooking in his kitchen. That experience and meeting his "guru," which is a spiritual teacher, showed him that there was more to yoga than he thought.
Dennard taught a center for participant education class at Florida State University for three and a half years. Dennard was ready to teach yoga but students were only interested in postures and the physical aspect so he discontinued teaching that class. He also taught classes in sociology and psychology.
Dennard owns a bookstore in Nefetari's. In 1992, a young men walked in and wanted to learn more about meditation. Dennard decided to teach him on Sundays for about six months. The word got out and more people were asking for a class. Dennard was hesitant because he did not want to repeat the situation at FSU. Dennard wanted serious, committed students.
The following year in 1993 Dennard decided to hold his first class, which 32 people attended. The students were interested in the spiritual aspect and not the exercise, which encouraged him to continue. This became an extension of how he deals with his community and how he works as a psychologist. Dennard said that his work has always been about decolonization and more information.
"It was very intriguing just to come into a class where it was a totally different take on yoga itself. Over the years I was in and out of class but every time I came, I learned something new. I was able to apply it to my everyday life. It was life transformational. Doing yoga is a prayer for me, praying with my body. Yoga is a healing tool for a lot of people and it makes you look at life in different perspectives. Yoga is more than just a movement," said dancer Giltrecia Head.
With Dennard's classes came another activity. One of his graduate students wanted an African centered wedding and asked Dennard to marry them in his building. Dennard agreed and with that experience came 35 more couples requesting his service. Most of the couples met in Dennard’s yoga class.
For Dennard yoga classes are the only time he has to sit down and share what he knows. Now it all turns into something he has accepted in his lineage and it serves his purpose. Dennard takes pride in developing serious and dedicated students such as Jay English, who is now a certified meditation Instructor, acupressure therapist, Kundalini energy healer and founder of HonorsYoga.
He also provides advanced yoga classes, which require a minimum of nine months training with sets of instructions. In the end the group goes to a mountain to experience many activities. These groups include individuals that get to live through what yoga is really about.
Many people are in his yoga classes to be teachers or gurus. Some people are just trying to start somewhere looking for more information, which is the human truth that we started with.
"What initially made me start yoga was me just wanting to be a better person in all aspects and I heard about it one night at Black On Black Rhyme show. I sat and talked with Baba and someone who was going to his classes came over and told me about the yoga class he does.
”I feel his class is very therapeutic, so I love it. The difference I’ve noticed since I've been going is my attention to my energy, what I pay attention to, who I allow into my circle and also a clearer head space as to who I am and what I’m here to do. I take yoga very seriously so I wouldn’t invite just anyone to come and to those I do invite baba gives you a very straightforward answer to all the questions you ask. Also it's like he’s speaking to the inner you that hides behind the mask we all have on," said J’Quaris Poindexter.
Dennard’s yoga classes are every Sunday starting at 7 p.m. at Nefetari's restaurant, 812 S. Macomb St. He also works with Jay English conducting many retreats. For more information visit their Facebook page at Dana Dennard or Jay English.