I have been practicing yoga for 10 years, but by no means do I consider myself a yogi. Usually I’ll fall into a yoga routine when I’m recovering from an injury, feeling really stressed, or have just watched “Eat, Pray, Love” again. But there’s no denying the physical and mental benefits of regular yoga practice (please remind me I said this when I’m sitting on the couch back home in Toronto!).
Last Friday, the Girl Impact squad on African Impact's Cape Town Projects introduced the girls and boys of the Buyelekhaya Dance Group and Support Group to yoga in the most fun yoga session I’ve ever been a part of!
For those of you unfamiliar with “Dance Group”, it takes place in Khalelitsha and gives the participants, their siblings and their friends a safe and positive place to go after school, and to practice for their dance competitions. Seriously, these kids have moves! You should see the trophies decking the walls.
We show up every Friday afternoon with healthy snacks, positive attitudes, and some fun, engaging ideas for activities to do with the children. With the focus last week on the importance of physical activity, we decided on making yoga the main activity for the day.
But how do you make yoga, an ancient spiritual practice originated in India almost 5000 years ago, relevant to a bunch of spunky, dynamic youths in a South African urban community? Furthermore, how do you hold the attention of a bunch of 8-15 year olds on a Friday afternoon??
Well, what I love most about Dance Group is their attitude. They approach every day, every opportunity, with tons of enthusiasm and they really appreciate the work that African Impact does in their community. A lot of this is thanks to Vuyo, the incredible woman that opened her home to Dance Group and allows us to run our program there every week. They approached the yoga practice with that same enthusiasm, and suddenly I found myself as the resident yoga guru.
We began by having the kids write down how they were feeling when they arrived that day. Were they tired? Worried about something? Sad? Happy? Excited? We thought it would be helpful for the group to compare how they felt before and after yoga to see how it affected them.
It was really fun to see the kids embrace yoga, and to realize how much I had really picked up over the years of casual practice. Starting with simple Sun Salutations to get the kids familiar with the movements (and to get some of the volunteers familiar with the movements too!), I led the kids through the basic moves. It became clear pretty quickly that all of them were naturals - they are dancers, after all! We progressed from Downward Dog to Eagle and Dancer faster than you can say “Shavasana”.
One of the best parts of my AI activities is when the kids get a chance to show off their skills and teach us something too. Each child picked a yoga card out of a deck and had to learn the position, then teach it to the rest of the group. I must say, the kids were showing me moves I had never seen before, even in my most advanced yoga classes. It was so fun seeing each child proudly showing off their pose and helping each other perfect more difficult ones.
After lots of laughs with these budding yoga gurus, it was time for some meditation. I had never attempted meditation with a group of kids, but I figured if anyone could handle it, it was this crew. We played some relaxing music and a guided meditation interspersed with some helpful tips from myself and the other volunteers.
It was a really beautiful experience - you could feel a blanket of relaxation fall over the whole room as we all sat (or lay down) in silence, focusing on our breathing and emptying our minds. I had never heard a room full of children be so silent!
After a relaxing few minutes, we brought the group slowly back to the present, with lots of yawns, stretching and smiles. Each kid then wrote down how they felt after yoga and meditation, and I absolutely loved seeing the transformation of many of the kids from “tired”, “worried” or “sad” to “happy”, “relaxed” or “comfortable”. It was so rewarding to see such immediate results!
We closed the practice by challenging the kids to try yoga or meditation at least once between that session and when we see them this week… so stay tuned! Hopefully they have seen some more benefits from keeping in touch with their bodies and minds.
About the author and this project:
Kat Bitove, from Canada, joined our Girl Empowerment Project in Cape Town this August '17. Combining it with our Sports Development Project, Kat was able to share her passion of yoga and meditation with this awesome group of young people!
If you're interested in learning more about this initiative, visit the project page for our Girl Empowerment Program in Cape Town!