I was on a family vacation in Africa in 2005. AcroYoga had sparked a
major love for handstands and going upside down in general, and while on
Kenya on Safari, we drove by a group of young Kenyan men doing
handstands. We were in the middle of the bush, so my Dad warned me not
to get out of the car – but I jumped out and started doing handstands
with these young men. As it happens, they were a group of professional
acrobats that were practicing for a show at a tourist hotel. They were
enthralled with my flexibility and wanted to learn yoga. We had a real
connection, one that exceeded race and nationality. They e-mailed me
months later and invited me back to stay with them. Little did I know we
would be staying in the slums of Nairobi, not at a chic tourist resort.
I spent a month teaching yoga in the slums, hand in hand with an
acrobatic program they called “Sarakasi.” We reached hundreds of young
people, who without basics like food and shelter, were coming in droves
to take our yoga classes. It sparked a passion to see yoga outside of
the studio walls and to share it with people who were hungry and ready
For me, yoga has made me a better
person, now I am transformed and transforming those around me. Now I know that
it doesn’t matter what tribe you’re from because we are all one family.
Without my practice maybe I would be
pregnant, with children, and not living a healthy life. Before I started yoga I
had a very bad behavior, I would even steal money from my own mother and I was
not true to my friends. That has changed, now I have a job and don’t steal. It
is important for people in the slums to practice yoga because life in the slums
is very unhealthy. Yoga brings health; there is no smoking, no drugs, and no
alcohol during yoga.
When you go outside, the person who is
misbehaving, share with them. Tell him/her your own stories and try and change
their life. It is about sharing; we have to give what we receive. Yoga has
inspired me to serve my community by teaching my classes every week and provide
happiness and knowledge to the community and students. Through teaching Yoga, I
love to empower students and make them feel better.
Children are innocent and pure. Whatever they are given, they receive. Not because they want to, but because they are already open. Give the child love, he will love it and send it back your way. Imagine a world that is constantly receiving love from the most pure humans. Pure love!
Teacher training involves getting to know a deeper awareness of yourself, a generous listening for the light in me and the light in each and every other that surrounds me. Marybeth Donahoe, a 200hr participant, shares her experience of diving deep into training during an exercise of silence and listening.
"Last night's exercise was amazing, full of positivity and encouragement. We started by sitting with our eyes closed and listening to Lisa Taylor. She told us to think of a time when we were a happy child, with nothing to fear and surrounded by love. She had us envision that the child self was in the same room as us. Then she asked us to give our child self a hug and tell them the one thing that our adult self would share with the child self, by saying 'You are...'.
We then sat in silence with our eyes closed. Each person then got out of their seat, walked around the entire circle and gently whispered their saying into everyone's ear. I sat there, listening intently, allowing my entire being to absorb the wonderful expressions: "You are a gift, you are worthy, you are happiness, you are unity and peace.." and the kind words kept coming and coming. It felt liberating to whisper such kind words to the group, "You are destined for greatness!" knowing that it was truly how I felt for myself and for others.
After everyone had their chance to share their whisper, we took a vow of silence. If you know me, you would think that it would be one of the hardest things for me to do, to be silent and to just observe. Surprisingly, I found this vow of noble silence enlightening. It opened my eyes to the world around me and gave me a sense of how powerful listening is and brightened my awareness for the words I do use.
My goal is to speak from the true positivity that I feel at the core of my being."
Linci is one of our 200 hr scholarship students who heard about the opportunity through Facebook. She has been teaching yoga to little children in challenging environments. She came to learn and develop new skills for teaching yoga. She wants to reach more people, more ages and more communities.
What did you learn during your practice teaching?
"It was very inspiring to see how different people from different parts of the world can come together through practicing yoga. A 'language' that is so universal and requires nothing but a willing heart. I've learnt that I can be a teacher and a student at the same time."
What is an experience that inspired you?
"Being able to only teach with my body, no words, in acknowledgement to the deaf students with us, gave me the wisdom to understand that my body in itself is very powerful."
Yoftahe Manyazewal, Ethiopia
Meet Yaftahe, or as we know him, Yof. He came to Kenya from Ethiopia to fill up his mind, body and spirit as much as he possibly could with the knowledge of this 200 hour teacher training program. Each and every day Yaf shows up with a brightness in his eyes and a willingness in his being to grow and learn.
In Ethiopia he has already started an organization that speaks to people's innate greatness. He is the founder of Shega Fest for Greatness. Shega is a word in his language that means a state beyond awesomeness. Yaf explains, "Shega Fest is a Greatness platform with the vision of letting people explore greatness and spread greatness on their way."
Yesterday participants had the chance to teach an outreach class. Groups visited orphanages, schools and prisons to share yoga. Each teacher taught a portion of the Baptiste Power Yoga flow and had the chance to connect with the students. Below Lauren Lewey and Courtney Griffin, both Seva Safari 500 hour teacher training participants, share their experiences of the day.
"AYP teacher training has been an experience like nothing else. This experience has made so clear that through all of the different cultures, languages, sign language and translators we are all the same. The connection is indescribable. When we are in the moment with each other, background and knowledge make no difference because that moment together is a miracle.
Today at an outreach in Kangemi we practiced with kids and adults, some who were practicing for the first time. It was also some of the teachers first time to teach. It was so much fun! Some poses even lead to dancing! Taking all seriousness that sometimes gets associated with yoga away, there is so much fun! No doing it the "perfect" way, just being with people. So freeing!
Africa has a heartbeat! A life to it that I felt the moment I
landed here. I cannot get enough! It has and continues to empower me to
create this in my own community. It has helped me to see clearly what is
most important in life: love and community!"
- Lauren Lewey
"Incredible day with Africa Yoga Project working with the outreach programs. My group visited the women's prison and taught yoga to the children who live there alongside their mothers as they serve time. The experience was fun and amazing like most of this program has been.
I feel connected and joyful. It seems crazy to visit a slum or a prison and leave with love and joy and to actually laugh and celebrate, but that has been exactly what has happened. I have laughed and shared and connected in so many new ways with so many different people. This world is good even when it seems bad."
"Amahe is part of my practice teaching
group. English is his second language and he doesn't have any experience
teaching Power Yoga. Regardless, each time we get together as a group
to practice, he stands up and gives it his all. The language barrier and
the lack of experience teaching can be excuses for him to say no, but he chooses each time to
say yes. I am truly inspired by his determination, his strength and his
compassion. His way of being is a constant reminder to me that I can
also choose yes when I would rather succumb to my fears and say no. Amah shines and has inspired me to do the same." - Kelly Holzscheiter
What have you learned through teacher training so far?
I have learned to be courageous. I am able to focus fully. I have learned to share with others.
What or who has inspired you?
What has inspired me most is the teachers and the group.
What will you do with this training once you return to your community in Ethiopia?
I want to open a yoga studio and I will help children through Imagine 1 Day. I want to teach my community yoga for free.
Yoga practice is going well for me and everything is fine. Now I am
learning more about yoga and I promise when I go back I will teach the
community. I thank you for giving me this opportunity to learn yoga.
Full days of are ahead of us now with teacher training in full swing. Stephanie Hartwick, a 200 hour participant from Milton, Ontario shares her experience...
"My first day of training was an amazing experience. The 13 hour day was jam-packed with meditation, asana practice, group discussion and our first teacher training sessions! Here is how it went.
The day started at 6:30 with breakfast and then a vigorous 3 hour yoga practice. I was really worried about making it through the whole practice as I have never done 3 hours straight through. I was pleasantly surprised that it was broken up with partner work and quick demonstrations. It was also motivating to know that there were 149 others from around the world working their hardest to participate and show up fully. If they could do it, then of course I had to push myself and do it too! Finishing strong was such a rewarding feeling. I felt empowered and like I was ready to take on the rest of the training with confidence.
Our afternoon held large group discussions and also partner work. What I really loved was that every time we have partner discussion, we choose someone new to work with. These experiences have allowed me to learn so much about my fellow participants from countries around the world. It has been amazing to know that people here in Kenya have many of the same wants and needs that I do in North America. This training has put us all on an equal playing field.
After our much needed break we jumped into teacher training! We broke into small groups of 6 and took turns teaching the basics to each other. The amount of people and limited space proved to be challenging. We had to really project just to be heard in our small groups. Everyone worked really hard and it showed that we all really wanted this training so much.
For me this day was so amazing because I got to see how this training was positively affecting the Kenyans and students from around the world. By the end of the day many people who were quiet in the beginning were now speaking up and sharing their experiences and how they would bring their new found knowledge out into their communities. It was powerful to know that myself and all the other Seva Safari participants had made a difference that touched many lives and hopefully will continue to do so.
I am very excited to see what else this week will bring!"
Each day of our teacher training program, we wake up to a theme that is thread throughout the day's activities. Yesterday, Sunday, we woke up to 'being of service' and we were willing and ready.
We were ready to make the Gracious Kideo Primary school a beautiful, bright place to spend the day learning. We had orange paint for the walls, brown paint for the trim, blackboard paint for the chalkboards, sandpaper and varnish for the desks and little brushes for decorating the walls.
It was an incredible sight to see see over 150 people working together on 1 project, which was much simpler than all the painting, the sanding, the moving and cutting. It was simply being of service to each other in the moment, willing to show up with love and acceptance in our hearts.
Being of service can ignite big feelings in us, and Marybeth Donahoe, a Seva Safari participant from Boston, shares her feelings on the day...
"Today was an emotional roller coaster for me. I felt anger, guilt, sympathy, selfishness and undeserving when we first arrived at the primary school for our Seva Safari project. It wasn't until later in the evening at our group meeting, when I heard the story of Billy's life that I realized the happiness and joy I had received. We went to a school for the deaf where one of the Africa Yoga Project staff teaches deaf children yoga.
We participated in a yoga class with them and had so much fun allowing the children to crawl underneath our downward dogs. I would grab at their legs and make them laugh. It was so amazing to just look into their eyes and smile with them. Even though we had a language barrier, it made me so extatic to know that we were providing happiness without any use of words. Just by being there, experiencing the moment was enough to erase any disconnection. We are all just people trying to be happy."
Welcome to the Seva Safari Teacher Training blog. We will be posting daily from the hearts and minds of the people involved so please come along on our journey with us.
Today began our 12 day intensive teacher training program with a monumental opening community yoga class at the SHINE center. First, it is important to note that it wasn't until Friday night very late that construction of the brand new SHINE center was finished, mostly that is. But no matter, over 250 people literally from all over the world showed up to celebrate the commencement of Africa Yoga Projects new global headquarters.
Just before Paige landed us in child's pose, she invited people to stand and declare their country's presence, and we covered quite a few countries - Columbia, England, Palestine, Israel, Sierra Leon, Uganda, Finland, France, Netherlands, Canada, Congo, Ghana, Tanzania, United States, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Kenya! With each announcement, we looked around, clapped and celebrated the simple truth that we are a united community.
As Nita Patel described, "I felt oneness in that moment as our hands and feet touched the same ground. I realized that no matter which country we come from, we are all one. We all spoke the same language as we exhaled, and as we chanted our individual OM's , we found unity through the vibration of the entire universe."
Today was a powerful day of connection to one another and to the possibility of global unity and for all of those who have contributed to make the SHINE Center what it is, thank you for creating a place on this earth that shouts peace, love and unity.