Achieving the hardest sometimes comes the easy way. Like taking your rigid and unfit body, taking off your shoes and socks and following one of the simplest exercise regiment known to man. Get yourself relaxed, exercise, breath and meditate. That's the beginning of the tranquility of yoga. Yoga, a system of exercises previously practiced as part of the Hindu discipline to promote control of the body and mind, is no longer limited to Hindu, nor is it basically a tenet of spiritualism.
Yoga is now seen as a simple process of reversing the ordinary outward flow of energy and consciousness so that the mind becomes a dynamic centre of direct perception no longer dependent upon the fallible senses but able to experience 'inner truth'.
Two yoga teachers in Kigali, Allie Huttinger, and Mary Patton Davis, say that there are many health benefits in yoga.
These two teachers are part of a team of four instuctors at the newly established Yego Yoga Rwanda, offering weekly yoga classes around Kigali. Allie says that she started practicing yoga 12 years ago as a girl living in California, and she has never looked back. “The most significant benefit one gets from practicing yoga is mental and physical therapy. Even the aging process can be slowed down by practicing yoga.”
A regular practice of yoga including pranayama (focused breath), asanas (physical poses) and meditation can help to limit ailments like chronic pain, high blood pressure, digestive disorders, anxiety, arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, and even asthma. Allie shares,“a leader in the teching of yoga as therapy said that yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured, and endure what cannot be cured.”
She continues,“Yoga has a vital positive effect on quality of life. For example, a person suffering from arthritis can enjoy yoga more as compared to traditional form of exercise.” She herself feels the difference in yoga, having experienced constant pain in her knee joints prior to starting yoga.
Mary Patton says yoga has many emotional benefits that will inevitably improve one’s health. She mentions mood improvement, stress and anxiety reduction, relief from depression and positive outlook of life among others as emotional areas in which practicing yoga can be helpful.
“Yoga acts as both preventive and curative therapy. Its essence lies in attaining mental peace, relaxed state of living, improved concentration power, and harmony in your relationships with other people.”
She adds, “Overall well-being improves with yoga practice. The combination of creating a strong mind-body connection, creating a healthy body, and focusing inward can all lead to improvement in your mood.”
In yoga, the body is treated with care and respect for it is the primary instrument in a person’s work and growth. Yoga improve scirculation, stimulate sthe abdominal organs, and puts gentle pressure on the glandular system of the body, which can generally result to better health. The Indian ‘gurus’ or teachers of yoga discovered these purifying qualities and began to teach them widely.
Allie and Mary Patton offer classes in ‘vinyasa flow’ one of the styles of yoga , ‘hot yoga’ (in a room that is heat to intensify the detoxification process of sweating) and Pilates (exercises for spinal health and injury recovery) at Yego Yoga. The classes are offered in various locations in Kigali, including Inema Art Center in Kayiru, Mamba Club in Kimihurura and Serena Hotel in Kiyovu.
“We want to attract as many Rwandans as possible, that’s why we have multiple locations for our yoga classes every week, as opposed to one central location. Besides, it also helps us to cut on costs, thus making our classes as affordable as possible,” says Allie. Yego Yoga classes cost about 3000 Francs per session, which is much more affordable than an average of 18 dollars per class in USA.
“Yoga is 99 per cent practice and 1 per cent theory,” says Allie. “A lot of pleasure can be derived by simply being focused and attentive when practicing yoga. Even the word ‘vinyasa’ which describes the style of yoga that we teach at Yego Yoga means ‘to place carefully’.
“You don’t have to be an expert in yoga or have any knowlede of yoga philosophy to enjoy the physical and mental benefits, just show up and give it a try.” Mary Patton adds, “Yoga brings a sense of ease and calm to those who practice it. When you’re feeling stressed, practice yoga and the stress will go away. You also have a good sleep after doing yoga.”
Other benefits that a regular practice of yoga (at least twice a week is recommended for beginners to feel the benefits) are managing high blood pressure and chronic pain. The relaxation and exercise components of yoga practice play a major role in both treatment and prevention of high blood pressure, or hypertension.
The enhanacement of flexibility and strength that yoga brings, while also being a low-impact exericse, are extremely beneficial for achievining healthy joints and spinal alignment. Allie shares “yoga is theraputic exercise, its like a massage from the inside out. You will feel wonderful after a yoga class.”
Yoga, spirituality and controversies
“I’ve seen that in many places, including Rwanda, people believe that yoga is a religious practice” Allie remarks. “On the contrary, yoga does not have a religious connotation. It can be a deeply spiritual practice, and that can help people connect with a universal sense of the divine.”
Yoga is an ancient Indian body of knowledge that dates back more than 500 years ago to Inida. The word ‘yoga’ is from the Sanskrit term for ‘union’. Yoga then is about the unity of a person's own consciousness and the universal consciousness.
A yogi endeavours to discover the higher consciousness and how the body, mind, and emotional nature can be truly fulfilled through unifying their purposes — rather than living in constant interior civil war. The yogi strives to open the gift of life and discover the fullest possibilities.
Ancient yogis had a belief that in order for a person to be in harmony with themselves and their environment, that one has to integrate the body, the mind, and the spirit. For these three to be integrated, emotion, action, and intelligence must be in balance. The yogis formulated a way to achieve and maintain this balance through living according to a set of principles called ‘Yamas’ which are nonviolence, truthfullness, not hoarding, and moderation. The yogic philosophy also includes a path of self-observation with attention to ‘Niyamas’: inner and outer cleanliness, positivity, gratitude and contentment, equanimity, self-awareness, devotion and action.”
The yoga that is practiced today, which is by and large the physical yoga of ‘asanas’ or yoga poses, is not part of the ancient yoga recorded in historic texts. In fact, the there is only one yoga pose that is found in the ancient sanskrit texts, and that is the seated pose for meditation, ‘lotus’ pose.
The ancient yoga, that some revere as sacred, is the practice of yogic philosophy, pranayama (breath) and meditation all towards reaching a state of realizing universal consciousness.
Allie says “The popularised modern yoga is really a 20th century practice that is still evolving and changing. You don’t have to believe in an ancient philosophy to feel the benefits yoga, but the philosophy is quite straightforward and helpful in daily life: it’s essentailly to be good to oneself and be a good person. The postures, breath exercises and meditation are tools to help get you there.”
Yoga is not a religion, it is a practice or rather a set of techniques for wellness and spirituality. In fact, Yoga is being practiced by a lot of people from different religions like Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims.
The connection between yoga and meditation
‘Yoga is the practice of quieting the mind’ or so said Patanjali, one of the great yoga gurus. Yoga develops the body since a weak body is a hindrance to spiritual growth. Yoga practice allows one to develop an awareness, even a strength in mental and spiritual aspects as well as the physical ones.
The yoga breathing techniques were developed based on the concept that breath is the source of life. In yoga, students gain control of the breath, and by concentrating on their breathing, they prepare their minds for the next step - Meditation.
Mary Patton describes yoga as having several psychological benefits, “regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness, increases body awareness, and relieves chronic stress patterns by relaxing the body and the mind.” She adds that “after practicing yoga, you feel that you’re very aware and calm, and in total control of yourself. There’s a deep inner peace that is achieved.”
This concentration and mental clarity provided by the practice of yoga and pranayama allow for meditation to beomce accessible to anyone willing to try. “The art of meditation” says Allie, “is in using concentration to stop thinking, and to start being. To be an observer of the self and to stay present in each and every moment. To feel through and above emotions and ideas to a space of unattached bliss.”
Yoga in Rwanda
Eric Ntazinda, an employee of American Embassy in Kigali, has begun taking yoga classes. He says, “I do other sports, but this one is different because I feel really good while I am doing the actions that make me strong, and I also feel peaceful afterwards.”
"There are a number of places that one can practice Yoga in Kigali. Yoga and City Arts offer many classes per week. There instructors are in Kigali who offer private classes as well, including Obed Rugovera a cyclist with Team Rwanda. Allie adds: "Just try a class and see how you feel, if you like it and want to start feeling great, try to come at least two times a week. You can also contact us through our website if you are interested in a group yoga activity for sports Friday or another special event."