We are all on the same ground.

The most interesting experience I have had teaching and practicing yoga is when I traveled to Mexico for Level 2 with Baron Baptiste. It is there that I realized that I want to focus my teaching on women in my community. 

Everybody should practice yoga because it helps the body maintain fitness and relieve stress. 

I came to yoga while I was practicing acrobatics and getting a lot of injuries in my body. Yoga was healing me instead of hurting me. There are other benefits also, as a yoga instructor I have learned more about who I am. Now I am able to stand in front of a crowd and teach. I am 
much more confident, than even when I was performing in front of crowds. 

The slums are financially tough, but by bringing in yoga, we have brought in activity and unity. Various tribes have come together and are getting along.

I feel connected to everyone in the world who practices yoga. I feel we are all standing on the same ground.


Catherine Njeri

Written by Billy Sadia — June 13, 2013

The Power Of Love

It is officially a year since I started practicing yoga: and honestly am in love with yoga.  Am in love with the person I have become so far. Yoga has brought out in me all I ever would have thought of, it has taught me, it has inspired me and it always grounds me.  The best part of it all is how it has brought up my femininity. I am in and with my body always. I can feel emotions rise and go away, I feel my body movement with every step and when sick I can literally observe the pain and discomfort without cursing. Yoga has brought out my sense of humor.  I can laugh at myself, cry out and let me be without judgments or expectations. I can watch the movie staged in my mind by my thoughts. I love the mental clarity I have nowadays, the ability to choose what to think about, and the ability to choose what I want to do and fully concentrate in it. I am blissful and peaceful. I am fit and flexible. Yoga makes me intelligent. Yoga makes me wealthy. Yoga builds my relationships. This love affair is bound to last for a lifetime!!!


Winnie Murugi

Written by Billy Sadia — June 07, 2013

The Power Of Love

It is officially a year since I started practicing yoga: and honestly am in love with yoga.  Am in love with the person I have become so far. Yoga has brought out in me all I ever would have thought of, it has taught me, it has inspired me and it always grounds me.  The best part of it all is how it has brought up my femininity. I am in and with my body always. I can feel emotions rise and go away, I feel my body movement with every step and when sick I can literally observe the pain and discomfort without cursing. Yoga has brought out my sense of humor.  I can laugh at myself, cry out and let me be without judgments or expectations. I can watch the movie staged in my mind by my thoughts. I love the mental clarity I have nowadays, the ability to choose what to think about, and the ability to choose what I want to do and fully concentrate in it. I am blissful and peaceful. I am fit and flexible. Yoga makes me intelligent. Yoga makes me wealthy. Yoga builds my relationships. This love affair is bound to last for a lifetime!!!


Winnie Murugi

Exactly What All Children Need

I remember a few years back calling my then 5 year old niece Payton in California on the phone and asking her what she was going to do today. After a thoughtful pause, she announced loudly, “PLAY!!...and then I think I'll have a popsicle, a grape one.” I remember smiling, thinking this was a pretty solid plan for the day. I hung up the phone and left for work. Funny, I cant remember a single thing I did that day, but I can remember her little voice, saying those words, and the smile that came instantly.

I see my niece Payton here in Kenya, in all the sticky hands of the 5-year olds, placing their hands into mine, pulling me forward to play. I feel my niece Payton here in the big brown eyes that have me saying yes to things like sprinting down dirt roads, laughing and gasping for air. I hear my niece Payton here in the announcement of grand plans, of small voices with big big dreams.

There’s a little girl named Evelyn who goes to school in the Huruma, one of the areas reached by AYP. I’ve met her a few times, and boy is she beautiful. You can feel her in the room, even before you see her, she’s big like that. Yesterday she came over to me in her little purple pants, and motioned for me to bend down, “I’m going to be somebody,” she said, and looked me in the eyes with a smile. Her small voice barely containing her big dreams. “Yes you are,” I replied loudly, “you already are.”

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I have seen, felt and heard here in Kenya. And this is what I know. A child is a child. No matter where they live. A child is a child. Here at Africa Yoga Project hundreds of kids are being reached each week in the slums. Kids just like Evelyn, who look up to these teachers as role models, and superhero’s, bringing the power of play and movement each week. These AYP teachers grew up in these neighborhoods and they embody hope to these kids. Through yoga, I promise you, change is happening on a deep level. On dirt floors, with cracked walls, and broken windows, children are becoming EMPOWERED. This could happen anywhere in the world. I have been given the privilege of observing, and what has been shown to me by these amazing teachers is what children need.

1)  Love them: open your arms, if a child walks towards you, open your arms. Open them BIG and wrap your arms around their world, hold on a few seconds longer than you think you should.  
2)  Show them: take their picture, then show them their smiles. Tell them how you see them. Tell them they are beautiful.
3)  Believe them: believe IN them. This makes all the difference, and we all know it. Be that one person.
4)  Be honest with them: do not say or promise things you cannot fulfill. Help inspire trust.
5)  Play with them: get dusty. get dirty. get sticky. If a lollipop ends up in your hair, you did a good job.  

You don't need a cape to be a superhero. The teachers here show me that everyday. Believe that you are powerful: and you are. Believe you have something to give: and you do. Believe in the power of play: and PLAY. How?? Just begin.

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Lyndsey Fryer

Written by africayogaproject — October 27, 2012

How To Teach Without Talking

On Friday, I traveled with the amazing Irene to an outreach called Kambui School For the Deaf. It’s set back in the country-side of Kenya surrounded by lots of green, and many many dirt roads that both surround and lead to the campus. When you walk through the metal gates and arrive onto the campus, you are met with this beautiful silence. As you walk further down the path, it’s the same silence, and you begin to see students emerge, talking with their hands, sign language, the same facial expressions that any person using words out loud would have. Image

The class was beautiful. Laughter, it’s the same sound too. And when breaking free from a child is perhaps the sweetest, clearest sound in the world. We practiced on a cold dusty red floor that quickly warmed from our movement. We grounded down with our feet, we reached high with our hands, we flew back, we got sweaty, we crossed over.

I watched Irene work her magic in awe. The way she effortlessly engaged with each student. The way she flew her shoes across the room to join in the fun. The way she made certain that each child in that room knew this: ‘you belong here.’ Here are 5 things I learned from our beautiful teacher Irene teaching 50 deaf students on a sunny, beautiful friday afternoon in Kenya. Image

1) Smile, alot! -- it’s the universal sign of connection. I noticed whenever a child would get frustrated Irene would point at the corners of her lips and demonstrate that connection. A smile like that is always met with another.

2) Listen, really listen. Listen in a way where there are no words, but there are open hands. And eye contact. So much of what we have to say is not based in words anyway, look around at your students, what are they trying to say to you.

3) Get on the floor! Roll around, get dirty. -- in other words, when teaching kids yoga, become a kid again. Have no fear about ‘looking good’ the kids just want to be with you too.

4) Don't be afraid to challange. -- We often times approach special populations with fragile hands and worried glances. Stop. Everyone wants to feel the limitlessness of their bodies. Show them.

5) When you say you’ll come back, mean it. --These kids know that Irene will come every single friday, on-time, ready to go, ready to give, ready to share her truth.

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Truth landed in a peaceful savasana, giggles that were held captive by hands over mouths, ultimately escaping into the space before us. And for a moment I was sad that Irene and I were the only ones who could hear this sound. But I was missing it. To feel is divine. And in the class like this, with 50 deaf students, and a teacher that says not one single word, you get to feel it all.

Lyndsey Fryer

Written by africayogaproject — October 27, 2012

It Is Always There

I woke up this morning in my own bed after 20 days of being in a foreign land. As is the case after most long journeys to places far away I feel a sense of being different now than when I started. It is strange how this feeling always comes about, and then always seems to fade as old routines restart, old attachments reform, old friends are reunited and old desires resurface. During my last days in Africa I was excited to go home, excited to feel again that sense of being among the familiar, yet different somehow. As I woke up this morning I sensed that difference already fading---but is it??

 

I had the itch to travel this year. I made it known several times throughout the course of 2011: “I’m feeling restless, something’s stirring, I need to move.” And so I did. I’ve spent more time in the air these past 7 months than I’ve had in my entire life combined. First to Thailand, then to New Orleans, then to Florida, on to Kenya, and finally back home to New York. My last trip was the longest. Nearly three weeks in Africa to spend time volunteering with an organization whose name had a girl like me hooked from the beginning: The Africa Yoga Project(AYP). Their mission is to use the energy and spirit of yoga to create a transformative community of force, empowering all that choose to embrace it to change their lives and change their world. Mission accomplished! At least for the 52 Nairobi AYP yoga instructors and the thousands of people they touch every day in and around their homes in Nairobi, not to mention the rest of the world! It was a magical experience. I felt the force that was created. I was empowered. I could change my life and change the world. I already have. But now Africa is over for me, 24 hours of arduous travel away, a lifetime…but is it?

 

As I sit here now and reflect on my entire experience a few things come to mind; moments and people and feelings that stand out in my memory; things that I hope I will always remember and cherish. Perhaps in a previous version of myself this would generate a bittersweet taste in my mind; a knowing of what I had alongside of a knowing of what would gradually fade away. But this morning, I am a new me, and what I know is something else. Everything I did, all the sights I saw, the feelings I experienced, the people I met, the force that I felt, the changes that I underwent’ they will never fade away. They can’t, for they will always be there. It’s not a romantic notion. In fact, its physics.

 

Let me share with you some pictures, some of my experiences that I’ve tried to capture in film so that they would never fade away:

 Ahhhh joy…or rather, sunset over Amboselli National Park after three days of a camping safari adventure. A moment I want to never forget. A feeling of utter tranquility, and connectedness that I wish I could hold onto forever. A moment that I realize now I never have to. The reality is, the sun rises and sets every single day. The sunset, is always there!

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Perfect peace…Mount Kilamanjaro at dawn. A sight that I only got to experience for a few moments during my entire trip, before the clouds came in and the mountain was gone for me forever. But the reality is that the clouds don’t make the mountain go away. Even though clouds may move in front of it, obstructing the view temporarily, there is no doubt, Mount Kilamajaro is always there!

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 Shining light. Child of a Nairobi slum, shining his light from the dust that refuses to settle on the patch of dirt that is their yoga studio, school, and playground. If only I could bottle the joy of that moment and the fact that while teaching them yoga I was shining too! But children will always be there, the contagiousness of their joy will always be there! The opportunity to teach someone, to reflect the shine of someone else is always there!

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Beautiful love: A glowing pregnant woman serving her sentence in a maximum security prison in Nairobi. Alongside of her is an AYP teacher, Irene Auma, who appears to me to live out the true meaning of love: realizing that in serving others, we serve the greater universe- the only true self we have. The love of these two previous strangers is beyond inspiring. If only I could bottle up that inspiration, the smiles that comes from unconditional love through serving our fellow man…but in reality this is always available to me! Despite no longer being among the convicted of Nairobi, people in need of love and care are always there!

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 The sunset is always there, I merely have to choose to look at it. A mountain is always there, I simply have to choose to acknowledge its existence.  Children are always there. It is up to me to give of my time to teach them. People of need are always there, I only have to lend them a helping hand.

 In the end I take away this lesson: My experiences the last 20 days do not need to be remembered, held onto, captured in a picture, or relived through my memory, for the truth is that those realities, experiences, are always there. They are there ready to be experienced again, and again, and again, as often as I choose. Joy in connectedness, Peace in stillness, Light in sharing, Love in serving - these are things that are always there!! In my heart, in my community, and always….in Africa!! Thank You AYP!!

Written by africayogaproject — October 27, 2012

Permission to Shine!

When I arrived in Kenya 5 days ago, my intention was simple: be open, and take everything as it comes. I had known for weeks that the journey I had just arrived to embark on would bring emotions, challenges, and transformation. I just didn't know when, or how. 

I woke up the first morning fully jet-lagged, but with no time to even notice. We hit the ground running with orientation, and headed to our first outreach center where I witnessed the beauty of yoga being taught by a deaf teacher to her deaf students. Talk about inspiration! Their connection and energy is indescribable, I just couldn't stop smiling. That afternoon we headed out to Kibera, the second largest slum in Africa, and the largest in Nairobi. I had created pictures of the slums in my mind, but there's just nothing like seeing it in person. Looking around, I couldn't believe its magnitude...it went on for miles in each direction, and with what felt like no way out. We eventually arrived to the Kibera School for Girls where we saw the roof-top playground recently built by Seva Safari participants, and later taught a yoga class to the girls. The playground is built of mostly tires and recycled rubber, and one of the painted tires had the word SHINE written on it. I quickly photographed it, not knowing the impact and connection it would have to rest of my week.

The last 3 days I have had the opportunity to visit the dozens of places that AYP teachers are reaching: schools, slums, community centers, other non profits; and all through the power of yoga and service to others. Yesterday I attended a large class at Nairobi's Arboretum. In the middle of crescent warrior, thighs burning, sun in my eyes, the teacher loudly proclaimed, "You don't need permission to shine, so shine!".

The connection was so simple, yet so huge. A recycled tire, painted, and on a playground, reminding dozens of children daily to shine. I reflected on my first four days, and stumbled upon so many other instances where people were just shining, no permission needed. The children in the slums, barefoot, sharing mats, practicing in dirt, yet smiling, shining. The women in the prison, away from their families and incarcerated for years, still choosing to practice, create a community, and shine together. The deaf artists, limitless, practicing yoga through observation and connection. 

After my first visit to the slums, I couldn't understand why I hadn't had a bigger emotional reaction. And although the emotional breakdown did come a few days later, I realized it was because in the midst of so much anguish, poverty, and limitations, these people are still choosing to SHINE. 

I invite you to ask yourself if you're waiting on someone's permission. The truth is, you don't need it. So, go on. Shine. Shine big!

Cristina

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Written by africayogaproject — October 27, 2012

Seeing the AYP Teachers' service firsthand, part 3.

Below is the final installment from the third outreach site the Seva Safari team visited. This one to one of the largest slums in Africa, Kibera.
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On the last Sunday of the trip, we split up into 3 outreach groups and I was very excited to be part of the team that went to Kibera. Friends of mine from Power Yoga Canada had built a playground there on the March Seva Safari and I had heard many stories about it.

Coming out of our van in Kibera, the ten of us were greeted by two men, who would accompany us as security. Walking through the slums, I was both intrigued and on high alert. It was truly an experience for all senses, with the hustle, the noise and surprisingly good food smells. In fact, it seemed like every second place was selling food. The kids on the streets greeted us with big smiles and by saying "How are you?". They seemed comfortable with foreigners walking by and we were happy to see that they looked quite healthy.

Walking on in Kibera, we came across a tense crowd. Ducking down a different street, shortly we arrived at The Kibera School For Girls. Right away, this school stood out too me. It was a well built structure and painted lively colors. I could tell that great care had been put into it and sensed that it was a warm place. When we entered the school, the girls greeted us with kind smiles. After introductions, we did a yoga class, danced, sang songs and laughed a lot. Time flew by (always seemed to in Kenya) and before we knew it, it was time to go.

Before leaving the school, I quickly went up to the roof to appreciate the work of the March Seva group. Their playground was awesome and I wished that we had more time to play up there with the kids. The roof offered an eye opening view of just how many people are living in the Kibera slums. I was sad to leave the school, but also excited to continue to explore Kibera and to visit our good friend Benta.

Benta is one of the amazing AYP teachers that we had come to know very well. She had spent the week building the school with us in Amboseli and was so much fun to be around. When we arrived at her place, she welcomed us with open arms. We were introduced to her sister Lucy and another good friend. All of us hung out, shared some refreshments and chatted about Benta’s life and her passion for fashion.

Now, all of us knew that Benta liked to sew, because she had made beautiful yoga bags that we had purchased. Little did we know that she was a fashionista, making dresses, wraps, skirts, tops, you name it. Her fabrics were proudly displayed on the walls, as were photos of all of the things she could make. Benta sat confidently behind her Singer sewing machine and we asked questions about the business. She had saved for a long time to buy the machine and also regularly sent part of her income to family.

I learned that it was common for the AYP teachers to support their parents, siblings and friends. So different from North America, where most people save for a rainy day and try to accumulate wealth. Here we were sitting with an 18 year old woman, who was a yoga teacher and entrepreneur, and with little savings supporting a family. Her dedication and maturity was so inspiring to me and I felt really fortunate to have her as a friend.

Having returned home now, every day I think about the AYP teachers that I met in Kenya. They truly touched my heart and I am completely humbled by all of them and their passion for positive change.

- Jen Chapman, Seva Safari participant

Written by africayogaproject — October 27, 2012