Project Helps to Spread Yoga to African Communities

In an inspiring
illustration of the power that one selfless act has to change the
world, one woman’s African vacation started a chain of events that
is changing the lives of schoolchildren, incarcerated
, orphans, women
entrepreneurs, and others living in poverty in Kenya. In 2006, former
NYC yoga teacher, Paige Elenson, was on safari with her family when
she saw a group of kids doing handstands from her vehicle. She hopped
out of the car and joined in with her yoga practice. This simple act
of being playful and present in the moment eventually led to the
creation of the Africa
Yoga Project,
mission is “to
use the transformative benefits of yoga to empower vulnerable
communities in Kenya.”

After Elenson returned to New York, the group of kids contacted her and asked her
to return and teach them yoga, which led to her training some of them
to be teachers. “There
was this gap, and I wanted to fill it," Elenson said, "I
realized, if not me, then who? With the abundance we have in the yoga
community, we need to be activists, sharing yoga in places that are
hungry for it."
Those initial teachers brought yoga even deeper into the community
and eventually into the slums of Nairobi. It had an instant appeal
for many of them, as nothing external is required; all you need is
the intention to practice and your own body. One of Elenson’s first
students, Moses Mbajah, joined her as the co-director of AYP and
wants to continue to train other young people like himself to improve
their lives through yoga. "Yoga
has taught me about taking a stand for myself, my family, my country
and my world," he says.

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many youth in the area, crime and gangs are a means of survival, and
the Africa
Yoga Project aims to transform the lives

of their communities by providing teacher training and financial
support to those who want to teach yoga and offering free yoga
classes to many others. There
are now at least 43
young teachers leading more than 100 class per week with roughly
3,000 students each month in the women’s prison and other
impoverished areas in Nairobi and nearby villages.
They are able to support themselves by offering private fee-based
classes for the middle class and expats in Nairobi.

Those who receive
the yoga classes appreciate the sense of peace and calmness the
practice can bring. Many who are teachers claim that the employment
has indeed changed not only their lives, but also those of their
students. One young teacher who lost his parents as a kid said he
would have been a thief without yoga. Others report improved overall
health, including less stress and better eating and hygiene habits.

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This is the goal
for Elenson, she wants the project to do more than just teach people
yoga. “What’s going to change the
continent is to create jobs and give people an opportunity,” she
says. “The
scope of yoga is so much bigger than teaching asanas. It’s service
and connection to the self and others. You [can be] a means of
community transformation."

you have any experience in sharing yoga with the global community? 

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