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Yoga is not for the elite, it is for everyone. Groups of dedicated South Africans are bringing this practice to the poor and underprivileged communities in our townships so that they too may be empowered and at peace.
As passionate yogis we know the benefits that yoga, meditation and positive living can bring to one’s life. We know that yoga calms us, strengthens us, empowers us, and assists in living a happier life through connecting more to ourselves as well as to the people around us and environment in which we live. We know all of this because of the books that we have read, the celebrities that we follow, the exposure we have had, the personal experience we have acquired with yoga.
However, what if you were never exposed to the wonders and healing of yoga? What if you had never heard of it and if the environment that you lived in was one of poverty, hardship, fear, survival, suffering and extreme stress – where yoga is not just a luxury but is completely unheard of and non-existent in your world? How can yoga then help the townships of South Africa where the effects of crime, gangsterism, sexual violence, teenage pregnancy, unemployment and HIV/AIDS run high, if the people of the community have never had the privilege to experience yoga for themselves?
TAKING IT TO THE TOWNSHIPSI feel that yoga is not a privilege. Yoga is not just for the elite, or for the people that can afford to go to classes, buy DVDs or stream YouTube videos. Yoga is not just for the haves or the have-nots. Yoga is for EVERYONE!
Yoga in the townships is a growing demand and thankfully there are dedicated yogis and NGOs that are spreading the power of yoga through our mass poverty and disease-ridden communities.
The Earthchild Project has been teaching yoga, healthy living and the power of positive thinking to township children in more than eight schools throughout the Western Cape for more than nine years now. Janna Kretzmar, Director of The Earthchild Project, says that the impact of the project has been profound. ‘They do yoga every day at home, they have gotten their families to eat more vegetables, they are drinking more water, they are eating less sugar, and their teachers are telling us that they are feeling different, concentrating better, have more confidence and they are getting higher marks.’
BRINGING CHANGEThe programme is changing not only the children’s lives but also that of their immediate families and communities for the better.After more than five years of teaching yoga to the children in Khayelitsha through The Earthchild Project, I have seen and have been exposed to the incredible life-changing and positive ripple effect that yoga can have on these children. Soso is one of them…
Sonwabise Sifo, or Soso as she is affectionately known, was one of the very first earthchildren. Now many years later and at 19 years old, she has become part of the Earthchild team, doing a gap year internship with The Earthchild Project. She is also a yoga teacher in her own right and has been teaching yoga and meditation in under-resourced primary schools as well as creating an after-school girls’ club to promote strong female leadership and connection in her community.
Soso says, ‘I started doing yoga in grade 4 at school. At first it was kind of awkward because I had never done yoga before, I had never heard of yoga and I didn’t know I could communicate with my body. So I started doing yoga classes because I wanted to try something new. I loved it and it soon became a habit and I introduced it to my little sister. Actually, I thank yoga and The Earthchild Project, because if I wasn’t doing yoga, maybe I would have been pregnant, because all of my friends have children and I am the odd one out. Yoga taught me about my body, how to respect it and how to take care of it.
Also, I come from a very dirty environment, where no one cares about clean living. I try to change things a little bit by teaching a small group of kids in our neighbourhood about yoga and how to care for the environment. Yoga makes me feel full and gives me hope that I can accomplish anything.’
INCREASING DEMANDThere is such a big demand from the children and the teachers wanting more yoga and life-skills classes that this year The Earthchild Project have over 2 000 children who are doing yoga – through their ‘Share the Love of Yoga Campaign’ each child is sponsored to do yoga every week for a year.
This is not just happening in Cape Town. In Durban, and now recently expanded to Johannesburg, The Township Yogi Project is teaching yoga throughout many townships. The Township Yogi Project is not only providing weekly yoga to men, women, children and gogo grandmothers but is also empowering local people living in the community – who all have their own stories of suffering – and training them as yoga teachers so they are now running their own yoga classes.
FROM DESPERATION TO HOPEFor Elle Matthews, a film producer with Green Shoot Films and brainchild of The Township Yogi Project, yoga has become a way to assist people suffering from HIV/Aids and the victims of crime. After following her own passion Elle found how the practice of yoga can help boost immune system function, reduce stress, improve muscle tone and maybe even slow the progression of the disease.
‘Our goal is not to change townships, but rather to change individuals who live in those townships — and then the spirit of the townships will change. We want to change hopelessness and desperation to peace and hope, ill health and suffering to strong, empowered people who can face their ill health and difficulties with true strength of spirit . . . that’s the kind of change we’re seeing because of the power of yoga.
‘The practice teaches people to breathe correctly, as well as strengthening the immune system, thus reducing stress. Yoga promotes strength, flexibility, relief from pressure on the abdominal organs, and enhances circulation, and can be hugely beneficial to the millions of people we have living with illnesses such as TB and HIV,’ says Elle.
Kwazi Manzi, 47, has qualified as one of their teachers. He describes how it has given him ‘confidence, perseverance and understanding’. ‘I feel physically and mentally connected – it brings peace, and tones your muscles.’ He says, too, that it has changed his life – he now looks at things more optimistically, and can ‘inspire others to do good.’
CONCLUSIONPeople in the townships of South Africa, who were once feeling disempowered, are now saying that yoga coming to their neighbourhood has changed their mindset, given them health and hope, taken away the hatred and makes them believe in themselves. It has already changed them, as they hope it will continue to do.
This is how we change a nation, this is how we inspire health and happiness in our country, this is how we not only keep the joy and wonders of yoga for ourselves, but share the love, share the knowledge, share the power and share the healing.
Yoga is for everybody!
For more information on Earthchild Project’s ‘Share the Love of Yoga’ the campaign or to sponsor a child visit www.earthchildproject.orgTo see the difference that the Township Yogi Project is making watch their documentary: www.townshipyogimovie.com
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