Yoga in Ongata Rongai, Kenya

Darly Corniel, one of Asana Alpabet’s most celebrated teachers, takes her yoga classes further by offering bi-lingual Spanish/English yoga classes in NYC and by helping others in Africa.  Here are her words:

Last Summer I decided to pack my suitcase and travel to Ongata Rongai, one of the biggest slums in Nairobi, Kenya. The reason for my trip was to fulfill, on my own terms, the karma yoga portion of my 200 hours Vinyasa Teacher Training at Prana Mandir yoga studio. This was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had in my life and it came full circle when I decided to volunteer at the Christian Women Works of Charity, a non-profit organization that serves very poor families from the slum and the children who have become orphans due to the rampant wave of HIV infection, which riches 50% in the area. The kids’ age at the center range from 2 years old to 17 years old. There they are feed one meal everyday and for many of the kids this is the only meal they will have. Besides being feed at the center, the kids stay busy playing with each other and with the volunteers who visit the center from all over the world, reading, and the summer of 2009, doing yoga. At the center I mentioned that I teach yoga to kids. This was the very first time that any of them have ever heard of yoga. “Yoga? What is that?” I found myself in the midst of a beautiful dilemma: how do I explain yoga to one hundred kids who have never ever heard of it? The next day I decided to dig into my Asana Alphabet lessons and teach a class. It was an open invitation to any kid who wanted to participate. A few minutes later we were in the less dusty classroom, sitting in a majestic circle in which I learned from the kids that for them slouching is a sign of pride and proper of a king!!! My face, and theirs, dropped when I was asking them to sit up straight “like kings and queens” to open our class with a long and enthusiastic OM. I ended up having so many kids in the class that I had to divide it into two classes, one for the older kids and one for the younger ones. Both classes were just gorgeous. Many of the kids didn’t speak English and I definitely don’t speak Swahili beyond “jambo,” “Habari jako” (which I’m sure I’m misspelling), and “asante.” I though this would make teaching very difficult. But the language of yoga is universal. The sense of community and togetherness that practicing yoga bring is present in every language and in every culture. That need to expand and open up our body, and to explore what we can do is just universal. And that is exactly what the kids at the Ongata Rongai Center did. They follow me with their body, with their smiles and with the openness to try to use their body as they have never used it before. It was a gift to me to see their faces, the sense of wonder that each pose brought to them from the moment of chanting Om until resting in Sivasana. Their grace, their trust in a stranger telling them stories to make up a pose with their incredible beautiful body took me over and over so many times. On the side there were kids translating into Swahili. I have to admit that in spite of this being the two biggest classes I have ever taught, I have never captured my students’ attention as I did this time. I think that what made the difference this time around was that curiosity and sense of wonder that yoga raise on us: can I do that with my body? How is it possible? While at the same time it helps us to connect to our body on a way that is somehow inexplicable. I think that every human being love to experience this and the kids were so eager to see, explore, and try while telling themselves: “I can’t do that” to then move to “look at me I’m doing it!!!” . My very improvised yoga class at the center left me with a sense of openness that, honestly, I have not felt before. I learned as much from the kids as they learned from me and, to me, that’s what makes yoga so special.

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