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Yoga finding fans in slums

Kariobangi

For most people, yoga is seen as an event for the elite but a wave of enthusiasm for the practice is slowly sweeping across the slums and other under-privileged neighbourhoods of the city.

Every Tuesday and Friday morning, a group of about 12 women walk to Kariobangi Social Hall for an hour of yoga session. For them, this hour is dedicated for their physical and mental wellbeing.

“For yoga, you have to experience it on the mat and talk about it later,” says Catherine Njeri who teaches free classes at Kariobangi, emphasising that yoga is a very personal experience that is hard to describe fully.

Different people have physical, mental or spiritual goals when they practice it, but according to Billy Sadia, development director at Africa Yoga project, they concentrate on the physical aspect.

“We use our bodies as an entry point to our other self. You get mentally fit once you understand your physical state is,” he says.

In a typical session, participants will start with a few minutes of meditation to avoid distractions and noises.

This is followed by a range of postures (asanas) which act as a form of exercise. The last stage, the savasana is a pose of total relaxation.

According to Sadia, most people get surprised when they are told that yoga will help them get good sleep.

The deep breathing and stretching works wonders for the body, he said, adding that it’s a good tool for keeping fit as some of the postures are intense.

“It makes for healthy practice for Kenyan’s who do not have an extra Sh1,000 for a gym subscription,” he says.

Yoga has been practised for centuries with numerous entries in medical journals affirming its health benefits.

It has also been combined with medicine for its therapeutic qualities and is usually employed to treat cases of depression, stress and back pain.

“I dedicate at least three hours of yoga every week. Whenever, I leave the mat, I feel renewed. I’m also able to concentrate better,” says Mary Wambui, a Kibera resident.

Njeri who also teaches at the Africa Yoga Project.