“Let me start with how I started to practice yoga, I was a student at the National University of Rwanda in second year (Social Work) and we were studying relaxation techniques when the lecturer, an American woman mentioned yoga among the relaxation techniques. It was the first time I understood what yoga is all about,” explains Mazimpaka Aline, one of the few certified yoga instructors in the country.
Most people view yoga in terms of light physical exercises where people stretch out, twist, turn, sit still and breathe deeply in and out, but the discipline encompasses so much more. It is not just a physical activity, but mental and spiritual as well. Yoga is an exercise in exploring the limitless potential of body, mind and soul.
Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word, yuj, which means a union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness or spirit.
Mazimpaka is not only a yoga teacher, she is also a mindfulness and meditation coach.
After hearing about yoga from the American lecturer, she decided to learn more about it;
“By chance I found a group of students at the university who practiced yoga and then I joined them. The key reason which pushed me to join them is that I like my profession as a social worker and the aim of a social worker is to enhance the well being of people and I find that yoga can enhance the well being of people.”
In 2014 she participated in Africa Yoga Project 200 Hrs, a yoga teacher training program in Nairobi Kenya.
“I learned about the training from a friend of mine we studied together at the National University of Rwanda and he knows how I’m passionate about yoga. He had participated in the same training the previous year, so he encouraged me to attend and I applied online.”
She was shortlisted and in April 2014 headed to Nairobi for the training, and “that’s how I got to know yoga,” Mazimpaka explains.
In 2015, she travelled to Thailand for another training in meditation under the program World Peace Initiative.
Yoga for all
Today, Mazimpaka teaches private yoga classes in people’s homes, as well group yoga sessions with Yego Yoga Rwanda.
Yego Yoga Rwanda is a pop-up yoga studio that offers yoga classes at different locations across town. Currently some of the venues include City Arts in Kimihurura, Soho Fitness and the Inema Art Center in Kacyiru. Soon, a new venue will be launched at the CHIC building in Downtown Kigali.
“I work with different NGOs (Indigo Africa), Schools (Agahozo Shalom) and One Dollar Hostel under AZAHAR Foundation where I teach and AZAHAR Foundation pays me.
I teach four classes for free every week because not everyone can afford to pay yoga classes (Gikondo ku ba Guide, Mashirika, Ferwafa) under Africa Yoga Project to pay back.”
Mazimpaka explains that practicing yoga comes with innumerable benefits, be it spiritual, psychological or social;
“There is that inner peace I felt from each yoga practice, that kind of satisfaction that I cannot really explain. When I was starting out, I told myself if this works for me it can work for others as I was in a community that has people of the same problems as the ones I was struggling with. I decided to share this amazing practice with my community and it works for real.”
“During teacher training I met with different people from all over the world, awesome people and thanks to their sharing, I found out that I am not alone, I found a family where I belong, where I feel protected, understood, supported and encouraged. Yoga teacher training opened up new doors of opportunity for me (job opportunities, travelling, friendship). It helped me to stop making assumptions in my life. When I need something I ask.”
Because of the social connections she has cultivated, new doors and windows of opportunity always pry open for her:
“I remember last year I needed a visa to Thailand and I had to go to Kenya because we don’t have Thai Embassy in Rwanda and a friend that we met in teacher training did the visa application for me. She did not ask me to pay anything. For me yoga means possibilities, connections, opportunities, community, love and wonders because yoga brought and continues to bring all of these into my daily life.”
Mazimpaka’s dream is to see more Rwandans embrace the art of yoga. She laments the fact that, at the moment, her clientele is comprised mostly of expatriates;
It’s for this reason that she devotes most of her time to offering free yoga classes under the Africa Yoga Project’s corporate social responsibility.
She conducts a free community yoga class at Ferwafa building every Saturday morning from 10:00 am, besides the pop up yoga sessions organized by Yego Yoga Rwanda at different locations in the city.
Yoga is an ancient Indian tradition that is believed to date back over 5,000 years. Although twisting of bodies in presumably painful poses is what most people have come to associate with yoga, there is much more to it.
Yoga is classified under eight different classes; yama, which deals with social ethics, niyama (social ethics), asana (postures), pranayama (life force), pratyahara (turning the senses inwards), dharana (one-pointed focus), dyana (meditation), and samadhi (merging with the self).
Yoga further comprises of various schools of philosophy including; bhakti yoga, gyan yoga, karma yoga, raj yoga, shiva yoga and mantra yoga, to mention a few.
That said, the different types of yoga work in tandem, like spokes in a wheel, and are all important in the holistic development of an individual.
In modern times, yoga has come to be associated largely with physical postures and exercises, but the central teaching of yoga is concerned with maintaining of a unanimous state of mind.
Recently there have been some positive developments that have seen yoga gain wider international acceptance. Once misunderstood, or out rightly looked down upon, it is being hailed as one of the best natural remedies across nations, races and social classes.