A therapeutic, relaxing discipline, yoga conquers Rwandan hearts

Friday February 7 2014

A yoga class at Cinema Art Center, Kigali. Photo/Cyril Ndegeya

A yoga class at Cinema Art Center, Kigali. Photo/Cyril Ndegeya 

By Jean-Pierre Afadhali Special Correspondent

Despite being an ancient practice, yoga is new in Rwanda, and it is fast becoming popular.

The discipline is now practised in various parts of Kigali and in towns outside the city, where weekly classes help practitioners of the therapeutic practice to live a relaxed, healthy life and keep fit.

The word “yoga” is from the Sanskrit term for union; hence, yoga is about the unity of a person’s own consciousness and the universal consciousness.

In Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, the word yoga means “spiritual discipline.” It is an activity that has been practiced for thousands of years, something that has evolved over time. Different factions of yoga have developed since its conception.

Yego Yoga Rwanda is an organisation that offers yoga classes in various locations of Kigali. Allie, one of its instructors who started teaching yoga in September 2012, says there have been a lot of people coming to classes.

“I met some other people who teach yoga, so we decided to offer more classes together and to have Yego Yoga as a way to build the yoga community,” she told Rwanda Today.

Yego Yoga, which was founded by American yoga instructors Allie Huttinger and Mary Patto, claims that its experienced teachers help people to embrace the yoga lifestyle by transforming their body, clearing their mind and enlightening their spirit.

Calmness of happiness

Ms Huttinger says yoga helps to create flexibility and tone the muscles to give good posture. So, it is a kind of therapy.

“Because we focus so much with the concentration and the breath, it is like meditation,” she adds, saying yoga brings a sense of calmness of happiness through participation.

Modern yoga is based on five basic principles: Proper relaxation, proper exercise, proper breathing, proper diet and positive thinking and meditation.

Eric Ntazinda attends yoga classes at Mamba Club in Kimihurura. He says that yoga is respecting oneself, being gentle to oneself, relaxing and doing what one’s body is able to do.

“I first heard about it a long time ago but I didn’t get a chance to have an instructor until Allie came to Rwanda,” he said.

However, Ms Huttinger says most yoga students in Kigali are expatriates but she is looking for more people to teach yoga in Kinyarwanda “so we can do some community classes.”

“Whether young like me or old, there is no age limit to yoga; whether you are fat or thin, whether you have done sport or not, there is always somewhere to begin,” Mr Ntazinda noted.

Yoga is also practiced in towns such as Huye in Southern Province and Musanze in Northern Province.

Power Yoga Rwanda is a yoga club based in Butare at the University of Rwanda, Huye Campus. Joseph Dushimimana is a certified yoga instructor. He says classes are open to all, adding: "Yoga helps relaxation and promotes good health.”

Promote the sport

In addition to word of mouth, the club plans to promote yoga through activities such as registration of a non-profit organisation and send instructors to Africa Yoga Project Teacher Training in Nairobi, where Mr Dushimimana received some training.

“I have also trained 10 instructors, who are now helping me to put yoga at the reach of Rwandans,” said Mr Dushimimana.

Power Yoga Rwanda also has an outreach programme whereby its teachers offer free yoga training and workshops to communities such as high schools, orphanages, youth camps, gyms, universities and sports clubs.

Ubushobozi Co-operative, a non-profit, vacation training organisation based in Musanze, also offers yoga classes. Their student, Christine Byukusenge, said that after yoga exercises she feels relaxed and fit.

She added: “Yoga eliminates stress and promotes good health”.

In Musanze, one-hour weekly classes started two years ago.

“The benefits of yoga to our body and mind are innumerable,” said Mr Dushimimana. “After doing yoga, my students experience changes and improvements of body, mind and social relationships.”