The Africa Yoga Project: Inspiring Social Change with Yoga

The language of yoga, with its beautiful, poetic expressions of the body is universal. But images of an African man doing yoga in a field with zebras, orphans in Nairobi demonstrating downward dog poses, or inmates at the Langata Women’s Prison combining dancing and yoga without a doubt are among the most inspiring and heart melting expressions of yoga.

From Africa to the Middle East and even war-torn countries, yoga is becoming an instrument of inspiring social change. A leading non-profit organization in this trend is the Africa Yoga Project, based in Nairobi, Kenya.

While images from inner cities in Africa often depict terrible suffering, the tranquility and celebration of human beings reaching their full potential comes to life in a powerful way through the Africa Yoga Project.

Yoga Africa Project

The Africa Yoga Project is a non-profit organization established in 2007 with a mission to use the transformative power of yoga to empower communities and change lives.

According to an article in Conscious Life, the program got its start when former Wall Street Journal consultant Paige Elenson was on safari with her family in Kenya and spotted some locals practicing acrobatics in a rural area. A keen yoga enthusiast, she joined them and began to teach them some yoga moves. That’s where the idea to bring yoga into the neighborhoods and informal settlements of Nairobi was born. Elenson teamed up with yoga guru Baron Baptiste and the Africa Yoga Project was born.  

Today over 6,000 Kenyans participate in more than 350 weekly community yoga classes in 80 locations, including community centers, orphanages, prisons and schools. In addition to teaching yoga, the program provides educational scholarships, job training, food stipends, temporary housing and health services to people in need. More than 72 teachers are employed, giving them an opportunity to take care of themselves and their families.

For Eliam Sandra Wanjiku, one of the young women trained to teach yoga, the project has been transformative.

“[M]y life was a mess. I was a rude girl who would fight with anyone. I used to live in a mud house with no water or toilet. I thought yoga was a cult for the rich,” Wanjiku says of her life before she became involved with the Africa Yoga Project. The first time she tried yoga, however, she felt a tremendous shift.  “During my first yoga class, I felt like a big burden had been lifted from my back and I suddenly felt like a new, full person.

For Wanjiku, that first class became the beginning of a new life. “The Africa Project has changed my life in many ways;” she says. “I am now a responsible mother. I’m more polite, and I live in a good house with water and plumbing.”

Her story speaks volumes about the impact of the Africa Yoga Project and its impact throughout Kenya.

The nucleus of the project is housed in the Shrine Center in the heart of Nairobi. There, hundreds of young people come to be trained as yoga instructors. It’s also where yogis from throughout the world come to volunteer through the organization’s various charities. Scholarship participants from Ethopia, South Africa, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Israel and Palestine also took part in a 200-your training course, with the hope that they will bring Africa Yoga Project back to their communities, reports Elenson in the Conscious Life article.

Join the Africa Yoga Project’s Seva Safari 

Are you looking for an opportunity to serve? The Africa Yoga Project’s Seva Safari, July 17 through 26, 2014, is an opportunity for families and friends to travel together, to experience a new culture and connect as a family on a Kenyan adventure that you will share forever. 

Through the Seva Safari, families will participate in yoga practice, meditation, self-exploration through inquiry, performing arts as a vehicle for empowerment, health education (HIV/AIDS), relationship building, and community activism. The programs are designed to increase physical, emotional and mental wellbeing on the individual level while also building healthy and empowered communities. 

This adventure will be led by Dana Robinson, a registered yoga teacher, registered children’s yoga teacher, and mother to three, who has spent eight years teaching yoga to families and young children. She and her husband served as Africa Yoga Project Ambassadors last June, and now they are leading the adventure next summer. 

Robinson will be co-facilitating with Billy Sadia, Development Director for Africa Yoga Project, a certified Baptiste Teacher and father. Together they have created a heartfelt itinerary designed for families to connect deeply to the environment, to new Kenyan friends and to one another.

Families will work side by side with other Africa Yoga Project families to build lasting friendships, all while opening the door to new cultures, people and ideas. The trip will include a visit to the Abedare Mountains to work with the Flying Kites Orphanage. For more information, see The Seva Safari.

Photos used with permission from Robert Sturman.

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