Health and Fitness

Yoga in Africa. Yes, Africa.

I just stood there in front of my DVD player and television, spellbound.  Dressed for practice, and short on time, I nonetheless had to pause for a minute to take it all in, DVD case still dangling in hand.

Through the years I’ve used scores of yoga DVDs at home to supplement my in-class practices, but never one where nearly all the practitioners were black.  And certainly not one with such a compelling global backdrop, by way of an African village.

Baptist Live in Africa. A great 90-minute Power Vinyasa Flow yoga routine, and so much more.

As an extension of the Africa Yoga Project (did you even know there was such a thing?), Baptiste Live in Africa features a live 90-minute Power Vinyasa yoga practice overflowing with young people from Kenya, 6 chalk talks where specific poses are broken down with clear tools for alignment and flow, and a 5-minute guided meditation sequence, featuring a regally-adorned Masai warrior, also a student of yoga.  That the meditation is filmed at sunrise, at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, only adds to the majestic beauty and serenity of the sequence.  Every aspect of the production is a sight to behold.

But what the DVD really offers is a lesson in the power of imagery.  If you ask the average person on the street, especially a person of color, to show you their idea of the “typical person who does yoga,” chances are they will point to the first lithe, 20-something Caucasion girl they see, clad head-to-toe in Lululemon gear, her blonde ponytail swaying in the breeze as she jaunts down the street with her yoga mat slung across her back.

Certainly not the young male or female with the beautiful dark skin and micro-braids, sporting old, worn t-shirts and, occasionally, traditional Masai jewelry around the neck.  I mean, who’s ever walked into a yoga studio and seen that, right?

Most days, I can count the number of black females in my yoga class on one finger (me).  In my 200-hr Yoga Teacher Training program, which I’m pursuing part-time on the weekends and will complete this May, the number doubles to two.  (Me, and one other black chick, out of a class of around 30).  But I’m encouraged, because even there I see definite signs of the discipline reaching non-traditional audiences.  Several women and men over 45, of all body types, along with a sprinkling of other students from varying cultures, backgrounds and walks of life.  Which is why reading about these young people in Kenya empowering themselves similarly, so that they can take yoga directly to the people in their community, further thrills me in a way I can’t describe.

In our quest for fit body and mind, it’s very important for us to continually rid ourselves of self-limiting and ridiculous notions around who something is for.  Such as, “only tree-hugging granola types practice meditation” or “yoga is for old bearded Indian spiritual gurus, or skinny hipster white girls who can twist their bodies into pretzels.”  Yoga is a 5,000-year-old practice with modern-day applications, offering physical and mental benefits too numerous to list here.  (We’ll save that for future posts.)  With this project, Baron Baptiste took yoga out of its upscale suburban or “Sex and the City” domain, and placed it squarely in the most unexpected of global environments, among those who could care less about the latest trends in studio wear.  They just want to flow.  And feel good.  It’s a powerful visual, and the message is clear.

Yoga is for everyone, and anyone.

Even if you live in a remote village in Kenya, practicing under the open sky with a donated mat and t-shirt among your few worldly possessions.


Learn more about the Africa Yoga Project.  The DVD can be purchased  here, and profits benefit the Africa Yoga Project.

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