In the calming music, a group of yoga students breathe in unison, concentrating on the nuances of a single step, sweat pouring down their faces. The teacher is modeling a set of dynamic poses, correcting false poses, and urging students to completely focus on the exercise.
This scene is taking place not in a luxury yoga studio with fluffy mats and air conditioning, but in a small concrete orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. Yoga has not been common in Kenya in the past, but the African Yoga Project has changed that reality. The project helped train 80 instructors, opened 350 free classes a week, mostly in slums, and attracted thousands of trainees to Kenya.
African Yoga is sponsored by philanthropists and yoga students in many western countries. This is the initiative of Ms. Paige Elenson, an American, which dates back to 2007, when she taught international yoga in the capital of Nairobi and trained with a group of local young athletes in the Kibera Slums. Seeing job growth opportunities for Kenyan teens, Ms. Elenson created a $10,000 budgeted non-profit agency and initially trained 40 Kenyan yoga teachers.
Participating in African Yoga, each teacher – teaching yoga to children and adults free of charge – earned a payment of £82 per month. Gitonga, a yoga teacher who teaches 150 students a week at Eastleigh Orphanage, said yoga helped him not only pay all of his living costs, but also support his parents financially. Yoga is the second most common activity after football for the orphans in Eastleigh.
A 743,000 square meter center with a heated gym was developed in Nairobi as part of the African Yoga programme.
Francis Mburu, 25, is a yoga instructor living in the slums of Kangemi. “I taught some rich people living in the mansions yoga, and they started looking at me with different eyes,” he said.