Growing up in an environment plagued with negativity and toxicity, Aline Mazimpaka struggled mentally, often feeling like she didn’t belong, with an inferiority complex to make it worse. She first heard about yoga after graduating from college but didn’t understand the spiritual and relaxation discipline until she started practicing it. Born and raised in Rwanda, Mazimpaka says yoga helped her overcome negative thoughts, so much that she is now a yoga instructor and manager of the Kigali-based yoga studio Ituze Mindfulness Center. “Yoga helped me to overcome feelings of not belonging in society. I thought that I was incapable of succeeding,” Mazimpaka says. The social work college graduate met her first therapist in 2019, and when she completed her first therapy session, she was encouraged to try meditation, which is a part of yoga. Aboard the yoga train Yoga is a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation. “Yoga helped me self-reflect, I realised that I needed help from therapists and psychologists, as well as going to church. The low self-esteem was stimulated by the negative thoughts I had in my mind at the time, like you’re not enough, you don’t deserve this,” she says. The instructor says that yoga teachers encouraged her to work on her mind. “I got a chance to travel to Thailand and we would go through meditation sessions from morning to evening. “During the sessions, we were not allowed to wear fancy apparel, make-up, or even use perfume, but would wear casual clothes with the aim of helping us connect with ourselves, and it is something that has helped me a lot,” she says. And from there, she adds, she learnt that whatever she wanted was already within her, that is peace, strength, and also financial independence. Mazimpaka says that as a way to make some money, she started hosting yoga classes, but she also yearned to know more about the discipline, and would use the money earned from hosting the classes to attend yoga teacher trainings. As she went on, she learnt another meditation technique called ‘loving-kindness meditation’ that helped in her own transformation—this involves mentally sending goodwill, kindness, and warmth towards yourself and others by silently repeating a series of mantras. “I grew to forgive myself and others unconditionally, and I would use affirmations like ‘Aline you’re beautiful, you’re worthy’, and the more I repeated that every morning after I finished my breathing exercise, the more I started to spread positive feelings to the people around me,” she adds. Yoga, she says, has changed a lot of things in her life because, for instance, she used to be angry and everyone around her would be scared. “But all of a sudden, I don’t know what happened, I no longer get angry like before, and when I do I can control it,” she says. “I’m no longer an identity problem person,” she continues, “I now feel at home. I feel Rwandan, and when you struggle with the problem of identity you can’t succeed, you can’t be happy, instead you keep changing lovers, countries, among other things.” When asked if yoga can help heal mental health disorders, she says it’s advisable to first seek help from health experts and then practice yoga because they go hand-in-hand in healing people. “After all, yoga is one of the recommendations given to some mental health patients,” she adds. Though Mazimpaka was able to benefit from the practice, she says she also encountered some challenges, like financial distress. Another challenge was the notion around yoga as an evil worshipping practice which she says scared her to death, but is not the case. “The more I practiced it and witnessed how much it transformed me, I started to trust it. And when I went to India in 2018 I met my trainer who is a Catholic and she told me there was no problem with it. “My trainer added that yoga will never be an obstacle to your prayers but it will pull you closer to God,” she says. Another challenge back then, she continues, was finding people in Rwanda to train, not everyone was interested in attending yoga classes, but it is now changing, people do and they now have about 12 classes. Moments to remember One of Mazimpaka’s most memorable moments was when she was able to do the headstand posture, that is, putting her head down and lifting her legs up. “I was pleased to be able to do this kind of posture, and by the end of this year I want to place my palms down and lift my legs, this time without leaning against a wall, and be able to do the wide-legged sitting posture,” she adds. Another good moment was when she finally felt a sense of belonging. “I struggled with thoughts of lack of identity which was one of the hardest times I experienced in my life. My first flight for yoga classes in Thailand is also one of the good moments during my career,” she says. “It’s an awesome feeling when people come up to me and tell me how they now feel better, for instance, if they first came suffering from poor mental health and are now doing well,” she says. For instance, there was a lady who came to her; her first child died during birth and she was very sad, but after attending some yoga classes when she was pregnant, she managed to give birth to her second child. Mazimpaka goes on to say that when she sees some of the youngsters she trains in self-empowerment, speaking and boldly expressing their dreams and visions, it pleases her. “Back in 2015 one of my students came to me and told me that he was just waiting for death, but through the yoga classes he attended, he gained hope and zeal to continue with life.” The same student now owns a plot of land, which is a good sign of hope to continue living and prospering, Mazimpaka says. Although she is proud of the progress her students make, she is also grateful for her own gradual progress.