Yoga in the Land of 1000 Hills
There is a country in Africa, a place with lush green rolling hills, a small nation with a steadily growing economy. The land is a patchwork quilt of crops, and the small cities have tree-lined streets. It’s quiet, organized, and on any given day it’s a beautiful place to be. This is Rwanda. Yes, Rwanda, where 20 years ago genocide tore apart the fabric of life, trust and prosperity. Rwandans re-envisioned their nation and have built, stone by stone, a unified national identity. They share values: self-reliance, honesty and compassion. Yoga in the Land of 1000 Hills.
There is not much tourism in Rwanda, but there are a number of expatriates making their homes and lives in Kigali, the capital city. Kigali is a gem of a small city in Africa, the hills lend to stunning views in all directions, there is very little traffic or pollution, and the city is full of green spaces.
I came to Rwanda in 2010, given the opportunity to use my experience in public health to start a project to improve water quality in medical clinics, and develop local capacity to do water quality testing. Having safe drinking water is a cornerstone for health and well-being. I immersed myself into my work and getting to know Rwanda.
Opening a yoga studio in Africa
On the weekends, I explored Kigali: I found the spot to have Italian pizza, I found a a place to run along side the golf course on shaded hills, I saw the mansions, and I saw the homes with dirt floors. I even found a Rwandan woman teaching hot yoga in a small room heated with a wood burning steam stove. When she left Kigali is where my yoga journey began. Out on a limb, I decided to keep the yoga going by leading the classes. I became more attentive to my personal practice, and carefully planned my yoga classes. I began to love sharing the practice of yoga as a teacher.
I trained with It’s Yoga in Thailand last April on a hot sweaty jungle island with a group of gorgeous human beings who I still think of daily, and talk to often. (Teacher training builds community and support, as well as your shoulders and knowledge of Sanskrit J) I came back to Rwanda and got organized with a good friend and yogini to have a yoga studio. We opened Yego Yoga Rwanda in September 2013. Yego means yes in Kinyarwanda, the local language. We kept teaching our classes, and opened our minds and hearts to new collaborations. We built a website and though emails and word of mouth we found like-minded people to attend, teach and enjoy our yoga classes. Three Rwandan newspapers have written about Yego Yoga, and we have new students attending every session. Our classes are held in that same small hot yoga studio above a bar, and also in an art gallery. We’ve has classes at a restaurant, and even a farm.
Most of the people who come to classes are Europeans and Americans, and there is a small but growing number of Rwandans who regularly attend. We’re building the yoga community in Rwanda. By having a website, we give visibility to Rwandans who are teaching yoga outside of Kigali and helping them establish a client base. Because of connections we’re made between Rwandan yogis in different parts of the country, a new practitioner developed the confidence to apply for an Africa Yoga Project scholarship. I found out yesterday that he was accepted! We work with Rwandan yogis in Kigali to assist in teaching classes and ultimately, I would like to have Yego Yoga Rwanda continue to be a viable business that can support local yogis to do what they love.
Training with It’s Yoga Nica
I sought out an opportunity to do more training in It’s Yoga style since I love the Rocket series so much, and I was so impressed by my accomplished yet humble teachers in Thailand. I found Catarina and Edwin and It’s Yoga Nica through It’s Yoga website and signed up for a December Rocket training.
As the months approached to December, the training was unfortunately cancelled by the guest teacher. I wrote to Catarina saying, “You don’t understand…I need this training, where I am I have no teacher, I am so ready to learn and I have already planned to come to Nica!” I was disappointed; I had this vision of sharing the practice, learning, and building community with new yogis. Catarina and I talked, and she said that “everything happens for a reason, and it will work out better because of it, just wait and see.” At that exact moment, it was really hard for me to hear that, but you know what? She was right.
We organized something different, maybe a little unorthodox, but it was fantastic. I went to stay with Catarina and Edwin in beautiful remote Ostional, and did 3 days intensive training and practice. Just me. I have to say I was eager, but also intimidated. I thought, “But what if they think I have a bad practice. Or that my understanding of yoga philosophy is poor…what if…what if…” I had to let that go. And as soon as I stepped onto their Yoga Rancho on the beach, every microgram of angst left me. I had the most deeply focused yoga practice – totally moving meditation. It was so good, there were things that I had learned through self-practice after my teacher training, and I was hungry for the simple gentle guidance through difficult poses that makes It’s Yoga system so great.
I had very valuable guidance from Catarina and Edwin on teaching, and on having a yoga studio. I am so grateful to know Catarina and Edwin and benefit from their knowledge and kind but persuasive teaching. I can’t help but smile as I write this thinking of Edwin’s endearing love for sharing fresh organic food an his infectious happiness, and of Catarina’s passion for unfettered honest yoga practice and her love of all the animals at the Yoga Rancho. Together they are a balanced pair, with experience, wisdom and a solid dose of humor.
And the place! It was soul nourishing to be on the untouched beach, and to dive into the ocean between yoga practices and theory. Ostional is rural coastal central America at its best. The beach, the town, and the hill-top farms are quiet and authentic. There is no hustle. It’s a little rugged, and dynamically beautiful. The nature is wild! I mean wild! There are sea turtles on the beach at night and bioluminescent plankton, there riots of birds and howler monkeys in the trees, put on a mask and you will be shocked by the neon fish, and as you find yourself in the shade and greenery, there are psychedelic-colored insects chirping and humming all round.
My experience with Catarina and Ediwn did something for my personal practice, it helped me to unblock some ways I was using my body and mind to push too hard, or to push away from the core of the practice. I also learned to break down the Rocket 2 series, and find a foundation for my personal practice there. Also for teaching, working with Catarina and Edwin, and learning from their experience made me realize the importance of motivating students to build a self practice.
Back in the land of 1000 hills
I am back in Rwanda now, and the group of teachers at Yego Yoga has grown to 6. We have had so many more students than expected! More than 15 people in most of our sessions, and people tell me all the time how happy they are that they can make yoga a part of their life here. Some people even tell me that they googled ‘yoga and kigali’ before coming here, and packed their mat in preparation for coming to class! Even more fun than that is teaching people their first yoga class EVER. I say yoga and they are like “yoghurt?” I teach them a class and afterwards they are full to the brim with ecstatic yoga energy and say things like, “I feel like a teenager” “what WAS that? I feel great” and most importantly “when is the next class?” and “can you teach me again?”
I’m so happy to have found It’s Yoga, and have had two amazing experiences of learning, practice and support. I think I read the other day that someone said, “To give freely of yourself is to truly live” that’s how I feel about yoga. Being in Thailand and in Nicaragua were vacations from the adventure that is life in Rwanda, and I couldn’t be happier with the experiences I’ve had.