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Yoga All Around the World

Did you know one of our old yoga teachers, Amy Andrews, is involved with an organization called Africa Yoga Project? Africa Yoga Project is based in Nairobi, Kenya and started as one woman teaching yoga in the slums of Kenya hoping to make a change. 10 years later, this nonprofit is spreading yoga in a powerful way all across the African Continent.

Amy had the chance to help assist a teacher training taking place in Nairobi and shares her story here:

"Teacher training in Nairobi is called a Seva Safari. AYP does these nearly every month. Seva means service in Sanskrit. Seva Safari's (at least as I understand them) are a way to give back what we have, to connect with others, and to be of service for other people to create greater change in the world. So, the first few days of teacher training involved seeing and then being service in action. First, we went to outreach. Outreaches are community classes taught all over Nairobi by our AYP teachers. As part of their commitment to AYP, they teach 3 classes to people in need for free. It's a way for them to connect with community, and also to provide yoga to those who might not have the opportunity to learn it otherwise. The participants (and assistants!) piled on buses to see different classes and then spend some time at the teachers home to ask questions. Our bus went with Mary. We drove to Kibera (I believe this was the name), the largest slum in Kenya. We drove in on a dusty, uneven dirt road. Trash filled the "streets" and there were multiple places with piles of trash where there were simultaneously burn pits and also kids running around playing in it. The dump in Tijuana, Mexico, where I spent 4 spring breaks building houses in high school, immediately came to mind. So much poverty, and yet so many happy faces on the kids. I never felt unsafe at any point, more out of place. In Mexico, they are sort of accustomed to seeing white faces. In Kenya, some have never seen that color of skin before. The stares happened before we even got off the bus. 

We arrived at Mary's class, a large one room school house with a part cement, part dirt floor. There were probably 50 or more kids waiting for her and as soon as she arrived they started cheering and yelling as loud as they could! They knew the "yoga lady" had arrived. We watched as Mary laid out 4 large pieces of rubber (the yoga mat surface) for the kids, and they all filed in in their school clothes. Mary led them through a Power Vinyasa class (no easy task!) up through balancing, and then broke out into song, dance and games. The kids had so much fun, so many smiles, so much excitement was evident in the room. 

I watched the participants as this all happened- shy at first, not sure what to do or think. So, my team leader Laura and I jumped in. We assisted some kids in poses and then we practiced with them. The participants slowly joined in, and by the end, we were all playing games with the kid in a circle. One of them even led the kids in a game, and it was so fun to see him open up and lead.  I had my first thought of "that guy is going to be an amazing yoga teacher!" After games, we all sat on the floor in a circle. I remember being sandwiched between two kids, making faces and smiling. Mary had us all close our eyes, reach forward, and try to grab someone else's toes. Everyone giggled. We did it until we all had a hold of feet beside our own and then Mary said, "Ok, now we are family." My heart burst at those words- looking around this circle of varying skin color, all sharing yoga and community and laughter. We lay down next to the kids for savasana, final rest, and I remember laying there, on a dirty mat, my head on a dirty dirt floor, holding dirty kids hands, and feeling so much peace. So content to lay right there and just BE with these kids. It was a magic moment.

After outreach, we went to Mary's old house, a two room cement building, no electricity, very dark. We talked about how often, the last thing someone in Kenya will do is spend money to buy a bigger place. They are content with small space and don't need more. Such a distinction from the frame of mind the United States. Mary was gracious and kind to all of us. We stepped outside when it got too hot and that is when the stares really began. I had probably 25 kids in front of me open mouth staring at my face and my tattoos. I asked my friend Irene how to say what's your name and tried engage the kids. They wouldn't even answer, they just stared. It took a good ten minute before I got anyone to interact with me. That too, was a strange feeling. I got a true taste of what being a minority feels like. 

Watching Mary that day, I thought about the 75 other trained AYP teachers who are out in their communities, their homes, doing the same kind of work. Allowing people who might never have a chance to experience the healing power of yoga to experience it. Allowing people to see how yoga builds strength in mind and body, cultivates inner peace, and builds community. This is the REAL and AMAZING work that AYP is up to, and it was truly an honor to experience and be a part of. 

The following day, the whole team went to a school for children who had gotten into trouble in their lives and had left their families to stay and rehabilitate. We painted the schoolhouse and built and stained desks for the kids. The amazing part of this day was the connections. As soon as we started working, every student in the place came out and wanted to help, wanted to work alongside us, was happy to do so. We spent most of our day connecting with and being a part of the community being built amongst troubled kids."

Being of service all comes back to connection. We can work hard. Sweat. Teach yoga. Paint school walls. Build desks. Volunteer. Give back in the community. Pick up trash. All of it centers back around connection to others. Around simply giving our full attention to  the people and the things in our lives. There's a raw, intimate feeling that comes from service based in connection. A sharing of hearts, no matter the age or the skin color. We humans are really all much more alike than we think... and as I connect with people and allow my walls to drop, I see it. I see I am not alone- I see I can let people in, I can let people see me, I can live authentically into who I am- and doing this allows others to do the same. 


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