Maria (Director of The Action Foundation) invited me to join her to attend the Africa Yoga Project at the Shine Centre in Nairobi on Saturday; despite her pre warning me that on her first visit to the class she had ached, and lay unmovable for the following 24 hours I was eager to join her (Why am I putting myself through all this physical exertion lately?).
The concept of the Africa Yoga Project is an interesting one. Despite their website, falling into the trap of photographic cultural cliches, groups of Maasai surrounded by savannah doing upward facing dog, I was still really fascinated by the idea, and also astounded by the amount of funding and support they must be receiving. In addition, KiberaTV had previously done a short film about them, so I had some concept of what to expect.
However, the experience was completely unique and something I urge anyone in Kenya to do. There were over a hundred people for the 10am-12 free community class, which comes with a free lunch. The demographics were hugely diverse, young children, people with disabilities, Mzungos, Nairobi natives, yoga experts and complete newbies. Since Maria and I arrived a little late, we had to join the group upstairs. Here we listened to the audio and clambered to the window so we could hear the main instructor who was running around both the floors energetically shouting motivational things and insisting that we 'Release the resentment we feel towards her making us do this pose'. I found myself on a somewhat moist Yoga mat, next to a handsome, tall, bearded American who was completely dripping with sweat. Genuinely every time he moved liquid dripped to the floor. But he was not alone in this. After about 4 minutes of trying to do a handstand, or jumping into downward facing dog, my grey t-shirt was now, unfortunately and unattractively black.
The two hour session was not necessarily about technique or precision, despite the fact there were about 10 or 15 people moving around, pulling our bodies into the right places and rubbing our stretched, painful limbs to ease the movements. Initially I felt awkward in the place, no personal space, strangers touching you here, there and everywhere, and not actually being able to see your instructor. However, by the end I was loving it. I think the Community Class' emphasis on working together, 'hugging' (cringe), and unashamedly prodding and assisting your neighbour so they can master their pose was fun, relaxed and easy. People behind you would raise your leg and help your pose as they mastered it themselves, no word of thanks was said, it was simply expected. My embarrassment about my uselessness, my inability to do any activity which involved keeping my heels on the ground and my constant attempt to keep my eyes away from the enormous, muscular bodies of the men around me faded away and I threw myself into the class (quite literally at some points).
Unfortunately, Maria and I had to run off to meet her friend for lunch on the other side of town so we weren't able to stick around for the free lunch, but I am told it is a simple meal of beans, pulses and rice. I left the Shine Centre regretting not having brought along a change of clothes, but feeling energised, euphoric and part of a not-so-secret, somewhat cringey, but altogether fantastically fun and diverse group.