By Claire Roth
Posted in Africa Yoga Project Blog, on November 18, 2016
NAIROBI— On a University internship, Claire Roth caught up with AYP teacher, Isaac, and captured his stories to share with all of us! Read more stories here #YogisofNairobi
“When in search of stability I often turn to the saying ‘nobody is too busy, it is only a matter of priority’ helping me to stay steady.” - Isaac Mukwaya
Meet Isaac. Born and raised in Nairobi, he always dreamt of one day becoming a professional footballer. However, he knew early on that he didn’t stand a chance in comparison to his comrades who had a better build for the sport. After high school he began teaching Social Studies at Gracious Kideo School. Through Gracious, he found the Africa Yoga Project (AYP) and his journey with yoga began. I had a chance to chat with him and was blown away by his dreams and vision.
Sitting on the colorful kitange-covered cushions, I look around the Shine Center’s community space. The delicately-constructed, multi-colored hanging lamp shades woven like birds’ nests emit a warmth that matches the levels found amongst the welcoming community nestled within these walls. It’s mid-afternoon, just before the habitual tea time, when I catch Isaac on a quick break from his weekly AYP Academy session. Grabbing his attention as he walks by, I ask if he has some time to chat. He smiles in his slow and glowing manner, and settles in beside me crossing his legs to mirror mine. We casually converse about how the academy class on body language and personal branding is unfolding and he asks me about my time interning for AYP thus far. Having worked with Isaac before on his professional bio, I knew that there was more to yoga for him than just teaching classes and attending mandatory meetings. However, I would have never been able to imagine what I uncovered next!
“What has yoga brought to your life?” I ask him broadly, eagerly awaiting his response. I notice as he cocks his head upwards, glances to one of the glowing-nest lights, and deliberately ponders the question posed. I wait for a few breaths for him to calculate his words - choosing them purposefully to paint an accurate picture of the meaning of his practice.
“It has brought awareness and peace of mind,” he says contemplatively. “It has helped me in my relations with my fellow human beings, those who are around me - to understand people more and know where they’re coming from.” He pauses and we linger in the sweet juice of the sentiment. “It’s not all about me anymore, it’s all about we,” he softly finishes filling the air with contentment. I can’t help but sit back and relish in the richness of his words, struck by his easy sincerity. Nearly leaving me speechless, I turn to my prepared questions for guidance.
“What are your career aspirations within the wellbeing industry?” I ask from my prompts.
Isaac’s eyes immediately flash with delight and an energy of hopefulness fills our shared space. “My aspiration,” he begins in his measured and deliberate manner, “is to one day open up this big place that would be a resource center for kids to come in and share their talents and through these talents be able to change their lives and change the world.”
As an intern coming from the U.S. I couldn’t help but feel humbled by these dreams. When thinking about the wellness industry, my mind immediately turns to the corporate component of the fit-leisure field from which so many companies have gained success. Hearing from someone with the potential to build a lucrative, burgeoning business, that his ultimate dream revolves around uplifting and empowering others brought lightness and hope to my heart. So where did this dream spark?
“It came about with me looking at my community,” he starts gradually gaining animation with the more words he speaks. “Seeing how everyday we are losing young people to death, to the involvement with crime activities. Some of these men were really talented [footballers], and these talents were going to waste. Looking at it that way, I saw these talents could make a difference with people very far away and a difference within our society,” he states plainly and truly. “It’s not only soccer, that was just a view to how many people we were losing to criminal activities. I want to stand in that gap and show the world; art is real, art is life, art can actually bring food on the table. Through art we can express ourselves,” he completes.
His expression of yoga as an artform is something I have never considered. Although through the simplicity hearing it, I realize that is exactly what yoga is. A practice of intentionality, inspiration, and growth. “What is your inspiration within yoga,” I ask no longer needing to glance at my prepared notes.
“It has cultivated patience within me” he responds. “In yoga, knowing one pose is not the end of it. There is always something bigger in that pose. If I know how to flip my dog, I know that I can push and go into wheel, then I should. I’m reminded that in life, yes there is struggle, but if I keep my patience and my breath through the difficulty, then I can come to be greater than I am. There is always something new that comes up, there is always something greater.”
With the close of these words, I realized the kitange-cushions, nest-like lampshades, wooden tables, and the surroundings of the Shine Center community space had dissolved away. The energy behind his words brought me into a state of full engagement in which our conversation was the only thing tangible within those string of moments.
The magic of Isaac’s mission lays in the conviction of his words. Peaceful yet cultivated, they fuel energy into a room. I’ve experienced this same energy as a student in one of his yoga classes, taught in a wealthy expat setting. Within each queue, he steadily propels his students through a journey of sequencing; maintain an ease of tonality and of heart. Isaac balances effort and ease, sthira and sukha, within his teaching and his life. Grounding down within his community, he flourishes and grows - holding steadfast to his balance and beautiful belief in his dreams.