Africa Yoga Project Blog
"When they graduate from that 3 year program, they go into a 2 year enterprise development program where they learn how to create business and enterprises that are based off or inspired by the wellness industry." - Paige Elenson Here Paige, co-founder of Africa Yoga Project and an Ashola Fellow explains the organisation emopowers, educates, elevates and employs the youth! Here is the whole interview!
I think I did visit the Africa Yoga Project website more than 1000 times. I was keyed up of the scholarship I had been awarded. A 200hour yoga teacher training opportunity! I am asocial media guru. You can guess my next moves. I looked for, liked, and followed AYP on all the social media platforms I’m aware of. It does give me satisfaction when I become part of causes or projects I see are changing lives. Take a tour of the AYP site and you’ll gain an insight into how yoga is changing lives in Africa.
One year ago, while serving a humanitarian mission on Rusinga Island, Denise Magee-Gray had not left her yoga cards behind. I did know little about yoga. An opportunity to start the journey into my own spiritual alignment was brewing somewhere around the corner. Denise and I called the children we were working with into a circle-the usual way to start an outdoor play with kids in Kenya. Ten minutes later we were all airplanes; I mean the airplane poses. Together with the children I had attended my first yoga activity.
Today I am a certified Yoga teacher instructor. I will rewind the timeline back to the moment I was picked up by the taxi at the bus stop in Nairobi. I did not know where the Shine Centre was located. The driver knew. But I kept on checking my google map. I was that eager to get there.
With an African theme and an amazing lighting, the Shine center was beaming with energy and enthusiasm as I rolled down my yoga mat. The instructor was so refined in his words. Cue after cue I felt the words resonate within my inner self, evoking the untamed energy that I had brought along with me. Well, I was already in fifth gear. “How comes?” I asked myself, “It’s not even day one of the 200hour training!”
Now this is amusing! I had so much zeal to learn Sanskrit language- the original language of ancient yogis. On the walls of Shine center hang canvases of Power yoga teaching methodologies. I did read these words, ‘Baron Baptiste’. And for a few hours I thought they were Sanskrit until when I heard the facilitator talk about a Baron Baptiste who had created the power yoga sequence. I cracked up, making sure no one noticed lest they asked me why!
Never before in my life had I been exposed to human diversity as it did happen to me at AYP. Twenty three plus countries, and all the continents represented in one place. Can you feel the power of yoga? I was astounded just the way you are now! I used to dream to be in place like that, with people like that. And now I was. I felt the world as one. There was no more colour, race, or culture barrier. We all shared our hearts out. We all had the same challenges and success stories in life. Right now we were on the same path of harmonizing our bodies and minds. A path of true seekers.
I fell in love with my matt, just like everyone else did with theirs. I vowed to flood it with sweat every hour of the 200 hours of the training. A real yogi has to connect with their matt. Power yoga insists on grounding oneself for core development. It’s only through this that a true-north alignment is achieved. This makes one concentrate on refining their personalities, gaining mastery of their body, and developing an energetic awareness of oneself.
Did I tell you the theme of the teacher training? No, not yet! A journey through the Great Rift Valley with scenic views is normally called a Safari. Prefix it with the Sanskrit word ‘Seva’ and you come up with Seva Safari-a selfless service journey. Amidst the tranquil and serene nature of Lake Naivasha, we indulged ourselves into sensory transcendence. For the first time in my life I managed to draw my awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. Previously during the training I kept on having emotional breakdowns. I had just buried my beloved grandmother days before travelling to the training. Grief was still taking toll on me. Fortunately, now I was presented with an opportunity to take a step and look at myself. I realised this was the opportunity to leap forward and move on. I started to cultivate detachment from my senses and directed my attention internally. My breath was the most powerful tool I had. It was the bridge between my mind, body and emotions.
I felt connected, not only with myself, but also with my fellow yogis. We all opened up to one another and shared our hearts out. We created love. Nothing beats the pleasure of knowing that you are loved from Honk Kong to South Africa to New York.
I am back at home in the community. While in Nairobi we did visit many outreach programmes in the slums ran by Africa Yoga Project. Yoga is changing lives of the youth in the slums. One on one interaction with these youths was a true eye opener to possibilities, opportunities and benefits yoga has for young people. I want to fully share my experience at AYP with my community. I know yoga is going to change lives here too.
I honour the place in you in which the entire universe dwells, I honour the place in you which is of love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace. Let the light that shines in me shine in you.-Namaste!
This blog post is about the wheel pose, one of the yoga poses that has given me grief for a long time. If you follow the steps- place your knees hip distance wide on the mat, plant your hands beside your ears and UP YOU GO, it should be as easy as pie, right? Wrong! Well at least it has been wrong for me.
Until one Saturday class this February when I sat next to one of my favoritest teachers and he said, ‘No Brendah, you can do this. UP YOU GO!’ and what do you know, UP I went. For the longest time, my upper body just felt so heavy. It was not cooperating, it was hard and I would look around in envy from the corner of my bridge-position eye (because I mean there is no such thing as watch pose, and you would rather try to do something than nothing) and marvel and ooh and aah and OMG as everyone else went up. And then there are those ones who can do a wheel from their hands going down…do not get me started!
I decided that this was going to be my year of wheels. And it is now as I have grown with excitement and anticipation going up. I am so proud of myself that I immediately text my mother and best friend to update them on the progress I keep making every Saturday. The texts go something like ‘3 wheels today 5 breaths eachJJ ‘
Inspired by a conversation with my friend after the class who asked whether yoga is a question of the mind over the body, I think so because in doing the wheel I feel like my body and mind are actually in sync and all agree that wheel is good for both of them and they cooperate. UP now has a new meaning for me, because it represents breakthrough, faith and moving forward. It is a ‘yes I can and yes I will and yes I am’ moment, an UP I GO revelation.
Some people would find wheels super easy to do but I guess for me I have come to respect my body and look at its amazing prowess in awe. That’s one of the great graces of yoga- the understanding of who you are, and if you take time to listen and notice, you will be surprised at what your body is trying to tell you. Challenge yourself to go up, and see what that opens up for you…it is your practice after all!
And as we do that, here are a few interesting facts about the wheel pose:
- It is also known as the ‘upward bow’ pose or Urdhva Dhanurasana
- It increases the elasticity and flexibility of the spine by creating space in the spine to keep young and healthy and stand tall
- Increases core strength and therefore toned muscles
- Opens the chest and strengthens the lungs
- Loosens tight hips
- It is a heart opening backbend that allows you to shine your heart and light to the world
- You get energized physically and mentally just from practicing the wheel!
How is that for coolness and motivation to wheel it?
Our 72 yoga teachers in training collect at the Shine Centre for the famous Saturday morning community yoga class. Senior Baptiste Instructors Kiersten Mooney and Tami Schneider lead the class into a vigorous Power Vinyasa Flow. Setting the pace for the week, Kiersten elaborates on the similarities between us as humans, unifying the class through their bodies and hearts.
As more outreach projects are reached, the group travels to Naivasha for yoga study, practice and discussion.
As one of the most ethnically diverse teach trainings in the world right now, there are a lot of topics to be covered. Funny enough, the simplicity of the group is broken down immediately into large belly laughs, hugs and sharing of personal experiences. Yoga does not discriminate between race, religion, tribe or language, it only differentiates between bodies, and this training has many to be strengthened and stretched!
The group extends their hearts, bodies and minds into outreach classes, travelling in small groups to various parts of the city to see the over 3,000 yogis benefiting from AYP’s initiatives. Many of the classes are for children, a safe place for them to play and connect. Some of the AYP teachers in training are reaching beyond their comfort zone and expanding their minds with new experiences as they travel for their first time into the various slums of Nairobi.
Escaping the city to Naivasha, the training becomes much more focussed in asana and yoga philosophy. Personal journalling is encouraged, sharing with the group is very important and attendance is mandatory. The yogis break down the 8 limbs of yoga and the Baptiste Journey into Power sequence with a variety of supported teachings. Throughout the day the group has free time which includes break-work and more personal study. Morning walk meditations and afternoon swims relax the yogis from the intense training. Some of the intensity of the training comes from the daily yoga practice, the rest comes from the deep topics reached in evening group discussions.
Elaborating on the deepest fears of the past, the group alleviates long-held belief systems that no longer serve their present moment. Through stories of abuse and wrong-doing, they explore ways to peacefully release their troubles, identifying outcomes that push them into a space of leadership and empowerment.
“If you’re fighting with your brothers, holding resentment towards your sisters, and hating your neighbour in your mind then you will not see peace in this world.” Kiersten Mooney teaches.
The yoga glow in the group is contagious as the teachers in training sleep heavy, eat well, and explore their new leadership as the week progresses. Tears and laughs abound on a daily basis as they sweat and memorize, breathe and exercise their minds, bodies and souls meeting at the halfway point of the 200 hour experience.
Over 100 participants have arrived in Nairobi over the past few days open and ready to obtain Africa Yoga Project teacher certification! The goal of this teacher training is to create yoga instructors who provide leadership and empowerment in their communities. Some of the participants are the very first few in their country to teach yoga. Bringing in students from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, UK, Canada, US, Israel, Hong Kong, Brazil and Ghana; the group is diverse and ready to travel into the teachings of Baron Baptiste’s “Journey into Power” sequence and become AYP teachers of service.
Billy Sadia, Catherine Njeri and Walter Mugwe are the first Kenyan born yoga instructors to lead a teacher training in Kenya. All three are certified Baptiste instructors and are lead teachers of the Africa Yoga Project. Baron Baptiste trainings are renown worldwide as life-changing experiences. The past few years, Baptiste trainings have established the Africa Yoga Project’s lineage. Now, on their second annual 200hr teacher training, these three Kenyans are leading the future of yoga in Africa.
“Five years ago I started my first yoga class, now look at where I am. Look at what is possible” Walter states as he brings the group through a powerful flow yoga class on the first night. Getting on their mats and into the first steps of this week’s training, the class is taught between the three teachers. Each bringing their own element of empowerment, Catherine states “You are meant to be here.” encouraging the group to release any doubts as they unpack their travelled bodies and embark on their Journey into Power.
This year’s teacher training has the most internationally diverse group yet. It is exciting to see so many people come together from so many different countries. There is an interesting calm to the group that sets apart from most others teacher trainings. Each of the participants are here for a reason. Whether they were brought in on scholarship, as a local African or an international participant, they are all here to improve their yoga practice and to become teachers. But what is different is the immense support in fundraising received. Most of the international participants had to fundraise at least $4000 for AYP in advance of their teacher training fees. There is a real commitment involved in taking this training and it truly opens up AYP’s mission and purpose. In combination with the teacher training, the group gets into outreach on the first few days, helping to build desks for Red Rose Primary school, they learn how much greater an impact they can create as leaders and teachers by giving back to their community.
“The difference in you attending this training over any other trainings in the world is because you are willing to teach yoga to everyone. It doesn’t matter what yoga looks like on the outside, but what it does to the inside.” Founder, Paige Elenson, states on the very first night. It is true, the group is intertwined with AYP’s mission to give back and to provide a service to their community wherever any AYP teacher may land.
Tackling questions of “What can you let go of?” and “What are you open to?”. Participants are Journeying into Power as leaders of change. The biggest question so far encountered however is “What is being of service?”. Something unique to the AYP experience is teaching yoga as a form of service to others, reaching to communities that may not normally receive yoga and helping them to become stronger, inspiring change from within to create change on the outside.
“There’s a reason you’re here” Billy Sadia leads the final three Om’s of the first yoga class “in One-ness”. We are very lucky, very grateful, and very excited for the week to come. Stay connected on the AYP blog, facebook page and instagram for recent updates of our experiences.
Written by Chelsea Love
"Nairobi, Kenya - Yoga has grown increasingly popular among the poorest neighbourhoods in the capital thanks to Paige Elenson and her partner Baron Baptiste, two American yoga teachers who established the not-for-profit organisation Africa Yoga Project in 2007." -
We are greatful to Aljazeera in bringing out the work we do in the best way possible! Thanks to Jacob Balzani for these strong images.
Q-There are many who might question offering yoga in communities in which even basic necessities like food, water and medical care are scarce. What are your thoughts?
A - From my understanding yoga started in those types of scenarios.
The above, is an extract from Mission TV's interview with Leo Rising. Leo shared himself with the Africa Yoga Project here in Kenya. This is a man with a great soul and heart opening insights. Read the whole interview here.