Friday, March 4, 2011

Sending good Vibes from Bloomington to Nairobi

Last year, my husband Todd and I spent six months living and working in Kenya. During our time there we began practicing yoga and working with the Africa Yoga Project (AYP). Over the last five years AYP has trained more than 40 Kenyans as yoga instructors. AYP’s mission is to use the transformative power of yoga to empower communities and change lives. Their programs foster peace, improve physical, emotional, and mental well being, facilitate self-sufficiency and create opportunities to learn and contribute across the communities of East Africa.

As we came to know the teachers and visited their classes in the slums of Nairobi we were truly inspired by their dedication and service to others. Here in Bloomington we are fortunate enough to have a wonderful studio space at Vibe. We never have to doubt that the space will be clean and comfortable, the floor will be level, and we will all have mats to practice on. That’s not the case in Kenya, where students show up day after day to practice on an uneven dirt floor, often without mats or yoga clothes.

Many of us have experienced first hand the many benefits of a yoga practice in helping us build strength and find clam and balance in your lives. However, in the U.S most of us practice in calm, comfortable well accessorized studios. That’s not to say that we are not challenged and given the opportunity to be inspired by each other and so many wonderful teachers, but our time with the Africa Yoga Project showed us how powerful yoga can be for everyone – anywhere. In Kenya we found a gritty, enduring, and dedicated group of young people bringing yoga to their communities in the face of tremendous challenges – challenges that are hard for us, coming from a place of such relative wealth, to even fathom.

The teachers of the Africa Yoga Project have been empowered by their yoga training and are now bringing that empowerment to their communities – the urban slums of Nairobi and the rural Maasai villages of Amboseli. The urban slums are chaotic patchworks of homes and livelihoods, lacking nearly all public services that we take for granted – clean drinking water running from multiple taps in our home, consistent electricity, in-door plumbing and city-wide sewage treatment, garbage collection, paved streets, sidewalks and more. When we walked through these communities, yoga, finding peace, or taking a deep breath were the last things that came to our minds.

The teachers of AYP showed us that compassionate service to others brings hope, joy, and love to people who are facing what seem to be unconquerable odds. Through their on-going dedication to their communities, the AYP teachers bring smiles and a sense of accomplishment to children of all ages; they bring a sense of solidarity to those who feel isolated by their HIV status; they bring empowerment to single mothers, and renewed hope for the future to recovering addicts. You can see portraits of these teachers in the display case at Vibe and look for a book of them coming out later this year.

We witnessed the AYP teachers’ unwavering perseverance and peace in the midst of chaos, fear, and poverty, as well as the positive impact they are having in their communities. In addition to the benefits yoga has brought to the teachers and their communities AYP has built two classrooms and refurbished 5 others, they partner with a women’s micro-finance group to provide sustainable livelihoods, and they brought yoga classes to the refugee camps after the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya as a way to promote peace and reconciliation.

This is why we have continued to work with AYP and this summer my husband and I will be leading a group of yogis from around the world on a 12-day “Seva Safari”. Vibe yoga instructor Jennie Anderson will be joining us on this service trip. We will be building a new community center in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum. The community center will provide a space for AYP teachers to teach free community yoga classes, as well as a meeting place for one of AYP’s partner organizations, Shining Hope for Communities, which runs a local girl’s primary school and health clinic. We will work alongside the AYP yoga teachers and students to build the community center. This is a great opportunity for the Vibe yoga community to participate in the practice of seva, the yogic idea of service, at the global level.

If you are interested in learning more about AYP’s Seva Safari trip go to:

Spots remain if you wish to join us on the trip!

To read more about AYP’s work go to:

You can also be involved in this powerful opportunity right here from Bloomington by helping support these efforts. On an average day what will you spend $2 on? Maybe a mat rental, a bottle of water or a coffee? In Kenya 40% of the population lives on less than $2 per day. Any contribution that you can make to help support this project will go a long way. Your donations will go towards helping construct the community center and ensuring AYP’s long-term positive impact in the communities in Kenya. Contributions can be placed in the donation jar on the display case at Vibe.

Additionally, Vibe is selling AYP “namaste” t-shirts, with the proceeds going to support this project in particular. You can also contribute by attending the upcoming DJ donation class on March 13th at Vibe. Bring a friend! Look for other upcoming events this spring for ways to get involved.

Videos: Here is a link to part of a documentary on AYP