Africa Yoga Project Blog
The screen saver on my computer shows two Maasai warriors touching fingers in extended side angle. People ask me to read the message on the top of the page which are words accredited to both Picasso and also to David Viscott. “The meaning of your life is to find your gift, the purpose is to give it away.”
“That’s an amazing screen saver,” some say.
And I know it is. It is a message that has transformed my life from a deeply rooted childhood curiosity to a life that feels more purposeful than it ever has before.
This year I am teaching third grade at the American School in Mexico City. Our primary years program is based on a curriculum that encourages children to develop their inquiry and natural curiosities. The central idea for our last Unit of Inquiry was: Native and modern cultures influence each other.
This was an opportunity for my kids to delve into a culture unbeknown to them. An opportunity for them to make discoveries, ignite curiosities, and for them to learn how alike, we all really are. I chose Maasai for our class.
As they began their research, each group focused on three lines of inquiry. They studied, the way of life, how their culture compares to others and how the culture has changed over time.
Thanks to modern technology, and the logistical work of Angie Wilkins, we were able to call Kenya and talk to Jacob via Skype.
I can’t tell you how excited (and even nervous) my kids were. Each group had selected one of their questions to ask. Our first call sent us to Kenyan music and we received a message saying it was busy. But during our second call, Jacob picked up.
My kids faces lit up with delight (as is mine right now reminiscing).
I haven’t met him yet, but sharing the Skype call with Jacob was proof that a person’s soul can bounce through timeless waves. My kids asked questions about houses, the colourful Maasai jewellery and what specific colors mean. They asked about clothing, arts and song, and then they asked about giving birth (yep – third graders). Their curiosity was met with enthusiasm and when our time was almost up, one of my girls shared a request. She asked if Jacob could sing us a song.
So, he did.
I can not recall what the words are in Maa (the language of the Maasai) but I can tell you the beautiful translation.
We are one under the sun,
We are one under the moon.
And with that, my children were left inspired. They created skits, games, posters and Google documents to share what they learned, and are in the process now of writing their first ever essays. They are inspired, they feel connected; they are intrigued.
This, is education.
Community is a word that was relevant years between the 70’s and back where social support in families helped people overcome hard times and situations. A place to offload, share, mingle and have absolute fun in the midst of all this. Communities were safety nets that held people in checks as they had a place to fall back to when things got tough. Today however people are not as close and available as they were back then and the entries of social media and networks that eat into people’s personal space and time have not made things any easier. If things go unchecked we are heading towards a psychological anarchy, some kind of jungle society where everyone is territorial and operates from the animalistic instincts as opposed to sense or logic. This is where the Saturday community class becomes relevant.
The Saturday community class at the Shine center is designed to bring the people together and restores back the honor and glamour of a community and especially in this current generation that is faced with numerous challenges and struggles. This is a platform to unwind after a week long stretch of hard work at a desk, counter, road, pitch or wherever and whatever you have spend your week doing. If you are wondering what kind of people I am talking about the answer is; everybody comes in; from the lowest to the highest class individuals (whatever that means), come to this class.
The Shine center which is based solely on the transformative powers of yoga allows anybody and everybody in, to its full capacity of between 250- 300 persons every Saturday. This class has new entrants counting up to a minimum of 20-30 individuals every other time. The benefits of this class are so individualized and therefore varied. You are invited to come and witness your personal transformation into the enlightened self by simply accepting to be part of the community. The numbers make the essence and the coming together brings fulfillment and a sense of belonging. It is refreshing to feel easy, safe and comfortable in a group of strangers coming from all walks of life, some of them with unbelievable background stories, some from the rich and well educated and some with no educational background. Some are experienced practitioners of yoga and some who are totally new to this experience of mind and body training. You flash your eyes around to see if anybody is looking at you, maybe sensing your insecurities but nobody is looking. Somehow everybody seems to be self absorbed, preparing to sink into this individual world among a forest of people in sweatshirts, shorts and body tights; strange right! It is amazing how so many people would come together to share a commonality in practice and way of life. It inspires unity, peace, love, harmony and connection among the people.
Bonds are created and friendships are forged through sharing and partnering in these yoga sessions. There is absolute fun if you come with open minded and open hearted because open is the key word; open the doors to your potential, open possibilities in your life, open space for someone else, open mind for new challenges and therefore growth. Come and meet the qualified and certified Baptiste African yoga teachers who will take you through Vinyasa power yoga full of life, vibrant and energetic variations. A sure way to make you sweat and enjoy a serious workout that will leave you feeling invigorated, cleansed and good as new. Are you curious yet? You should be…Welcome on board flight AYP shine center Saturday class. Take off time 10am East African time landing after 2 hours of juicy fun guaranteed. Enjoy your flight.
The definition as we know it, is the creativity and professionalism involved in helping another person in a given circumstance. The focus of this sharing is to highlight what assisting means to me as a yogi.
The art of assistance to me is like playing a parent, mentor, role model, tour guide etc. My ultimate goal during assistance is to leave the person I am assisting in their greatest by simply encouraging them and empowering them to reach their utmost in their individual levels. As a parent, I wish to teach them independence which means leaving room for them to go the extra yard with as little as a smile and or a pat on the shoulder to light up their path. As a mentor, I wish to inspire and leave them in their higher self esteem and confidence. As a role model, I wish to be a reminder of the importance of linking breath to movement and that we can always rely and anchor on our breath especially in the most challenging physical poses which also translates to challenging situations in our life. As a tour guide, I wish to guide them into an adventurous self, lead them to explore whatever is possible for them in every pose and situation, lead them to new discoveries and still leave room for astonishment.
The art of assisting is a humbling experience for me. It is a constant reminder for me to push aside my ego and be of service. Lay a low profile enough to feel myself in others that I assist. It teaches me humility, love and compassion. Without these ingredients assisting can be quite an uphill task I tell you. This is a two way traffic relationship between the assistant and the assisted. They love and respect you enough to allow you to touch and guide them just as much you love and respect them enough to want to help them into their greatest.
The basics of a good assist as shared by mentors Billy and Maggie of AYP are that you always start from the foundation. The assisting itself is a foundation in its own sense. Let me elaborate; the foundation is being in touch with yourself, sorting your own issues before you assist. Being authentic, staying in the present moment, one assist to another, they are all unique, beautiful and wonderfully made persons. The foundation means relaxing with what is. The foundation is keen observation and identifying facts minus the story of how a certain pose is supposed to be or look like. If we lay well the foundation/floor tiles/slabs we can walk on them the entire time. Start assisting from your authentic self and you will enjoy uplifting others to their greatest. Use the basics of a good assist and make a direct application in life, and you will forever feel fulfilled in your deeds.
This is how close the art of assisting is to my heart; raise your right hand up if this resonates with you.
Everybody has a story, I had one too and it had for a long time been eating me up, until I was lead to know that I am not suffering because of the facts in my experience but because of the story that I make out of it, does it make sense?
I had one little incident that happened to me when I was a young boy of about 11 years old. This experience over the years remained to be a painful reminder every time I took a walk down memory lane. As it is, I had lived with this pain through the lenses of an 11 year old boy for ages. What I mean, is the interpretation, definition, meaning, description and or explanation of what happened was of an eleven year old boy. Things have changed but I stuck to my story for a long time and in fact narrated it exactly the way I have always done for 11 years. I said it one too many times I came to believe it is true…. And it was; only it was the truth according to me. I know what happened and I wasn’t happy that it happened.
“Does it still hurt? Yes it does”….. So I read it again to my friend and I underlined only the facts this time, which were like 3 of them. So when I read the story again, it didn’t hurt anymore; why? Because I am a grown up now and it’s been years, wouldn’t you say? Hold on a second here…. do you mean to say as a grown up I am looking at it from a different angle and that’s why the pain is not there? Yes ….a pregnant yes to be exact!
The truth is, the only reason I am not feeling pain is because after separating the facts from my story I am able to remain rational. I can live with the facts and actually find them acceptable. The mixing of the facts and story is what clogs the vision, compounds the whole situation and literally complicates and compromises the healing process. It is more like driving a car in the rain without wipers. Groping in the darkness without a light! Walking with your eyes shut or blindfolded! The thing is, we have always created stories around certain events in our lives. It is the description, definition, interpretations and meaning that we give to the events that makes the suffering and hardly the facts! There is a need for us to learn to separate the facts from our stories and remain only with what happened. The stories are just that, Stories. They are not necessarily the truth. The story is not important, and therefore not worth relating to. The focus should remain on the facts and nothing else. This leaves room for possibilities, empowerment, creation, declaration and conversation. In yoga I believed I couldn’t take a wheel pose from a flip dog! I listened to teachers Paige and Kiersten. I now “flip dog” and take “wheels” back and forth with ease. In this case I separated the lies, the stories I told myself and remained only with what is! From this point on I was able to work the rest of the equation and I was good with it…such is my growth in yoga.
“Complaint” is a good word to describe those circumstances in our lives that we wish were different, whether our discontentment is of small stuff or more important stuff. There is need to become aware of our complaints to help us recognize how they add stress and dissatisfaction to our lives and to begin to see what it would feel like to let go of them. Yoga gives us the tools to discover how it would feel like to let go.
One of the major sources of stress and dissatisfaction in our lives has been our never ending desire to control what happens to us …. To get what we want and get rid of what we don't want. This is referred to as the state of “want/don’t-want.”
We may complain differently by sex, but we certainly do it a lot. The Bible even talks of the incessant grumbling by the Jews who were led out of Egypt. They complained about drinks, the leadership, and the desert. They complained that the miracle substance that sustained them, manna, didn’t taste like real meat. They’re taken out as slaves from Egypt and they’re making noise about everything.
During our 200 hour teacher training we were all told to write down a list of our complaints about anything and everything to do with or without the training and immediately after were advised to make a declaration to give up the complaints… Complaining without action makes us feel victimized, powerless and helpless…that was the key point of the facilitators in the training. When we get a complaint successfully resolved, we feel we have accomplished something, empowered and, hopefully, made a positive alteration.
Somebody once told me, “Don’t just sit there and admire the problem. Complain in a manner to move toward a solution.” To complain effectively, we need to override the initial negative attitude most of us have — that inner voice that says, “Why bother? There’s no point.” “I will never be able to reach that level of flexibility anyway,”…..It hurts too much to stay in this pose; I can’t do it….And so on and forth.
We need to be aware of what we want to achieve by complaining. Is it to resolve a problem? Is it to let someone know about the problem so it won’t happen again? Or is it to excuse one’s own failings?
Sometimes we use complaints to push others to carry some of our negative feelings. You bring up an argument that has no room for safe exit (solution) and so unload your frustrations onto others. Say you are practicing next to a guy who is always lamenting on how the teacher is making you hold poses longer. This negativity eventually rubs on to you or to someone else next to you if you are the complainant. Individuals who grumble about everything evade accountability for their lives, and tend to have many excuses why they are not yet at their pick point/objective. Unknowingly, they're channeling energy and concentration on unwanted things and almost certainly fail to become conscious of how much complaining they are doing. Paige the co- founder and director of AYP once told us “It’s a depressing sight to look on when a person releases their power and use complaining as a form of control at the exact same time.”
When you are complaining, mostly in your thoughts and therefore your vision are blurred and blocks you from seeing other windows, avenues, possibilities open to you. You cannot move beyond what you see. The brighter you see the faster you move, if that is your intention.
The complaining attitude could have started as a child and carried up into adulthood. Having come from an abused background, lack of attention at home or school, complainers haven’t learnt to love themselves. This makes it a job of everyone else to listen and to give the support the complainer never had. That won’t work. Friends will disappear one by one and complainers will lose their audiences. If you happen not to like something make a change of it. If you can’t change it, then change your attitude. Don’t complain too much.
There is still a chance for people who complain ceaselessly. All you need is some action, and proper attitude. A complainer’s collective outlook of themselves and the world around them can be shifted when they have willingness to view situations in a different angle. If they learnt not to fight when faced with troubling situations like difficulty in a pose; Instead of trying hard yoga teaches us to try easy. “You neither have to run nor stand to fight but you can simply stay and let it happen” as Baron Baptiste puts it. “There is a power in the universe bigger than all of us and all you need to access it is relax, breathe and surrender” which is likened to dropping your complaints. Dropping what you must and relaxing with what is. It is in reality a lot more beneficial to refrain from complaining both emotionally and physically. If you are willing to become instrumental in bringing positive difference for yourself and others then it can be okay. Otherwise you are in danger of remaining entangled in an unending cycle of complaining and are not able to live to your full potential.
Root down and raise up mountain pose.
Lift your hands above your head. Point your fingers towards the heavens, palms facing each other with an internal extension. Spread your fingers like the tentacles they are and shine. Gaze up in between your hands and smile to the universe as you invite in all that is good and also in anticipation of the good flow of positive energy and connection. Stretch an inch higher elongating your spine graciously and in deep gratitude. Standing in your true north alignment; tadasana.
It is that moment in time to fully make empty my cup. A full cup has no room, mine is empty and hungry for a refill. The raising up and growing tall is a reminder for me to reach up to a higher energy source in the universe that we so take for granted and yet it is without pay. There is for sure a greater force within our universe, and the evidence is all around us. Only problem is, it is so commonplace we take it for granted. We all have this opportunity to use this creative Force to accomplish our goals, but only few use it. This force has been handed to us on a silver platter, completely free. But the imperfect nature of human beings which is inherent in me and in all of us, we value material things like homes, cars, tv sets, boats, and place little value in things unpaid for e.g. body, mind, families, friends, good health, love and natural laws of the universe. The truth is that the material things that we value so much are actually very cheap and can be replaced. But when free things get lost – they are gone forever. “Best things in life are free.” They are available for the taking. They are responsible for bringing happiness in our life. I am taking advantage of these natural laws to guide me into happiness and success as I reach up to grab and use that which is naturally given to me for free. Yoga is my train; the asanas do the shaping of the rail path.
Ground down like earth, both feet together facing 12 o’clock. Ground down the four corners of your feet; spread your toes out on the mat. Inner angles back, outer angles down, outer shins in and now from the skin to the muscle to the bone hug in.
Keep your pelvis neutral, lift the front of your pelvis as the tail bone descends. Build an inner fire, pull the pit of your belly in and up as you draw the front of the ribs together and expand the mid back. Expand from the inside out.
Soften like air, thoracic spine draws in, upper arm bones back, shoulder blades move towards the spine and press into the body. Create space for something new. Draw in to create a full expression out. Taking it all in as it was mine and yours right from the start.