photo by Robin O’Neill
It’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “yoga changed my life,” referencing the practice’s stress-relieving, mind-quieting, health-promoting benefits. For a group of yoga teachers in Nairobi, Kenya, yoga has also provided them with the means to support themselves, thanks to the non-profit organization, Africa Yoga Project.
A profile on NPR’s Morning Edition describes Nairobi’s “burgeoning yoga scene,” depicting a noontime rooftop yoga class where honking horns rise up from the traffic below and women stepping around the yoga mats to hang their laundry. The teacher, Sophia Njoki, teaches five classes per week. Training to become a yoga teacher, she told NPR, was exactly what she needed to deal with the stress of living in the city and to help her stop using drugs and alcohol.
Since it was founded in 2007, Africa Yoga Project (AYP) has trained more than 70 local yoga teachers and offers 350 free classes a week. It gives local teachers like 25-year-old Francis Mburu a viable career option. “I’m from the slum, but I go to teach in someone’s mansion,” Mburu told The Guardian in a recent article.
AYP, which was co-founded by Baron Baptiste and Baptiste Yoga teacher Paige Elenson, is funded by donors, volunteers, and yogis in the West. Forty more teachers will go through the training in an 8,000 square foot facility in Nairobi this year.
While yoga is not yet as popular in Africa as it is in the U.S., the teachers there share some of the same challenges that teachers here face. Christian students have shown skepticism toward chanting and other spiritual parts of the practice. “To us, this was devil worship or someone trying to convert us,” Billy Sadia, who attended one of AYP’s first trainings told The Guardian.
While the classes emphasize the physical over the spiritual aspects of yoga, they offer many so much more than physical exercise. “What yoga did was give me a choice,” Mburu said.