Friday I was feeling pretty down for some reason. Some days are good here and some days I get terribly homesick for friends and family and the comforts of NYC. I don’t know why, but Friday evening caught me in a downward spiral and I couldn’t get out of it. There were many tears shed and I just forced myself to go to bed super early.
The next morning, I got myself up to check out a yoga class for the first time. I had heard a lot about Africa Yoga Project’s free Saturday community class but had never gone since the last couple weeks we had been doing a lot of errand running for the apartment. The class is from 10-12pm at the Shine Center in Diamond Plaza in the Parklands neighborhood. Part of my hesitation in going is also driving our stick-shift car there alone. I’m not too comfortable with the manual car yet and Nairobi is not a fun place to drive. Tons of potholes, crazy matatu drivers, and crowded roundabouts. But Saturday I forced myself out and knew I would feel better afterwards. I only stalled once in the parking lot. ;P
I got there and had no idea where the Shine Center was, but saw some other mzungu (white) girls and asked them if they were going to yoga. Yep, was right, so they let me follow them — turns out I had gone up the stairs of the wrong section of Diamond Plaza. As we climbed the stairs, you could hear the loud commotion as we got close to the studio. What was happening?! Turns out this was the last day of a week-long teacher training session they were doing. So there were people there from all over the world, US, Canada, other African countries, and all over Kenya. 220 people!!! A rowdy bunch. It was pretty intimidating and the mats were lined up wall to wall with only about 2 inches between mats. The only free spot was in the middle of the room near the front, so there I plopped myself.
I had no idea what to expect from class. I figured since it was a free community class, it would be a beginner level class. Boy was I wrong!!! Holy crap, this was one of the hardest classes I’ve ever been to. My whole body hurts today. This was probably unique that day due to the teacher training, but the teachers rotated leading the class while everyone else came around and did adjustments. There was probably someone giving you an adjustment every 5 min which was really nice. The class was such an amazing mix of people. I would say 50/50 male/female which is pretty rare for yoga classes. Tons of men in this one. There was a big group of deaf Kenyans in the class and they were all signing before class. During class they just watch everyone around them for cues. I was in between two deaf guys and they were super friendly. Because you are so close to each other in the crowded room, a lot of the poses you end up on your neighbor’s mat or they tell you to hold up your neighbor’s leg. The guy to my right had striking blue eyes, which was such a crazy contrast to his dark skin. In front of me was a Masai guy, complete with beaded bracelets and anklets and weights through his huge ear holes. It was probably 80% local and 20% ex-pat which is also rare for yoga classes. So cool. I’d never been to a class with so much energy and whooping and hollering. Every time there was a particularly difficult sequence (plank, low push up, back up to plank, repeat x5), people would yell out “YEAHHH, whooooooo!” It just put a smile on your face.
Afterwards, the people upstairs came down (yes, there were two floors of classes going on since there were so many people) and they had 4 people stand up and tell everyone how they enjoyed class and how they felt. Then everyone who was there for the first time had to stand up and say their name, where they’re from, and how they felt. It was such an awesome class and actually I got pretty emotional a couple of times during class. It was just such a release and the rock in your throat isn’t from good or bad feelings, it’s just the release of emotions. After a tough week, it just felt good to leave it all on the mat. I definitely will be going back regularly.
Africa Yoga Project has an interesting model. They train yoga teachers locally and these teachers go out into the neighborhoods to spread and teach yoga. They go to orphanages, the slums, prisons, rehab centers, schools, etc. It’s very admirable and I have no doubt they bring a certain calm to people in otherwise dire situations. But I wonder how much the yoga is helpful to them rather than other things that help alleviate poverty. Like do I really care about yoga if I don’t have enough to eat every day? But nevertheless, it’s better than not being there. It will be interesting to see how they evolve.