News / Africa

    Yoga Provides Empowerment, Hope for Nairobi Slums

    Jill Craig
    NAIROBI - Daily life in the slums of Nairobi is a constant struggle - with people trying to scrape together money for food, rent, and school fees. And the slums were most affected by the 2007 Kenyan post-election violence. Yoga wouldn’t appear to be the most obvious solution to helping these residents, but the Africa Yoga Project is trying to do just that.


    Project

    Paige Elenson has been teaching yoga for 15 years. The former Wall Street consultant came to Kenya in 2007 to live and volunteer in the Nairobi slum of Kibera. She co-founded the Africa Yoga Project.

    “It was actually a huge opportunity to start the project right around the post-election violence. It was a time where people were feeling very separate from each other, where different tribes were starting to fight just because of their tribe, and to introduce a practice that’s around peace and unity, where you don’t have to talk, but you just do and you physically are united," said Elenson. "People started to really come together in a way that exceeded their tribe.”

    For 26 year-old yoga instructor Joyce Murugi, who experienced the violence in the Nairobi slum of Mathare firsthand, yoga provides an outlet for dealing with the trauma. “It was just now like, when I go and train yoga, it’s me and my mat. I only train, no stress," she explained. "When I get outside the mat, it’s like I’ve been reborn from the way I entered the class is not the way that I’ve left the class.”

    The Africa Yoga Project has trained over 50 instructors like Murugi, all from the Nairobi slums, who teach more than 200 free classes per week in the same areas. They make additional income by teaching private classes at gyms, spas, hotels, and even the United Nations.

    “Yoga, is something that typically, in the West, we see as for the upper class. Here in Kenya, we’ve reversed it. We’ve put all the yoga, pretty much, in the slums. And it’s now the people from the slums that are teaching the upper class. This is a great way, to really reverse how we think of people, and what yoga is,” Elenson stated.

    Escape

    Thanks to the free classes, 48 year-old Alice Njathi can temporarily escape from the stresses of life in the slums. “It’s just like a medicine. After you have done it, you’ll feel different. You’ll feel different from your body and your mind. So you relax and concentrate," she noted. "You relax, so you feel that you are now different. And I’m feeling it. And it’s helping me.”

    Although a new concept for many Kenyans living in the slums, Elenson says that yoga is universal.

    “What impresses me is that someone who takes classes in New York City could go to a place that looks completely different, you could be in Kibera, and in the middle of a slum and get on your yoga mat and all of a sudden, you’re just on your yoga mat,” Elenson said.

    So in Kenya, it appears that yoga is here to "namaste" (a pun using a common yoga greeting to explain that it appears yoga is here to stay).

    You May Like

    Russia Sees Brexit Impact Widespread but Temporary

    Officials, citizens react to Britain’s vote to exit European Union with mix of pleasure, understanding and concern

    Obama Encourages Entrepreneurs to Seek Global Interconnection

    President tells entrepreneurs at global summit at Stanford University to find mentors, push ahead with new ideas on day after Britain voters decide to exit EU

    Video Some US Gun Owners Support Gun Control

    Defying the stereotype, Dave Makings says he'd give up his assault rifle for a comprehensive program to reduce gun violence

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora