Nairobi Celebrates the International Day of Yoga

Good morning! If you are in Nairobi and haven’t made plans for this Sunday, here’s a suggestion. Today there are special yoga events in the city. Even if you are late out of bed, you still have plenty of time for going to the free yoga in City Park.

Today is actually a celebration in lieu of this coming Thursday, 21 June, which is the UN-designated International Day of Yoga. They have many International Days, the UN, don’t they? I have just counted 155. Some, I reckon, are rather strange. How about the International Day of Happiness? Sounds good, but how do you get into it? Then there’s the World Toilet Day. How do you celebrate that? The International Day of Jazz sounds fun. And there’s even one for me – the International Day of Older Persons.

But, joking aside, many of these days do bring important issues to people’s attention, right across the world. A number of them are proposed by a Member State. The International Day of Yoga was proposed by India, where yoga first flourished, and the Day was established four years ago.

My own introduction to yoga was rather bizarre – and somewhat off-putting. It was in one of my other lives when I was back in the UK and teaching at Southampton University. There was an advert announcing the start of a course that was going to meet at the campus every Wednesday evening.

I went along, thinking it would be an interesting way to get some exercise since I had just stopped playing regular football and cricket. There must have been over twenty of us who enrolled – and I was the only man. The instructor was herself a good advert for yoga; she must have been over sixty but she was as supple as most people half her age.

I was enjoying the bending and the stretching until, rather near the end of the evening, the instructor said, even though she seemed to be looking in my direction, ‘Now ladies, your husbands and boyfriends are going to love this last exercise – it makes very sexy bottoms!’

I didn’t go back.

But my wife is now a yoga instructor, so I have learnt that yoga is much more than a way to keep supple and fit. I would say, above everything, it is a way of achieving balance – in your body system and in your mind. It is a holistic way to maintain health. It helps to control your weight, to fight diabetes, to increase attention span and focus, to calm your mind and get better sleep.

This is an extract from the speech by the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, at the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly on 27 September 2014, leading to the first International Day of Yoga:

‘Yoga is an invaluable gift of ancient Indian tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature and a holistic approach to health and well-being.’

For this fourth holding of the International Day, the Indian High Commission is organising a session from 8.30 to 10.00 am at the Premier Club on Forest Road – free and open to all.

The afternoon event in City Park is an initiative of Yoga Kenya. These free sessions – from 3 to 5 pm – will go on every Sunday afternoon. Each Sunday will feature one of five yoga approaches: Ashtanga, Hatha, Power, Kundalini and Raja.

The emphasis of the first three of these is on the physical aspects of yoga. As its name suggests the stress of Power Yoga is on fitness. It builds internal heat, increases stamina, strength, and flexibility – as well as reducing stress. A website on Ashtanga Yoga says it produces ‘intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs’. Hatha means ‘force’. However, whereas Power emphasises movement, a kind of aerobics, Hatha puts more stress on getting postures right.

There are a number of Power, Hatha and Ashtanga Yoga places in Nairobi: among them Acacia Studios in Viking House, Waiyaki Way; the Africa Yoga Project in the Diamond Plaza Annex; Bikram Yoga in Lavington Green – in a heated room.

Raja Yoga focuses very much on meditation, and it can be found at the building shaped like a lotus flower in Westlands near Unga House, promoted by the Brahma Kumaris organisation. Kundalini Yoga combines both physical and meditative practices. It is taught mainly by a number of independent teachers across the city. The studios and teachers for the different types of yoga, and the classes on offer, can be found through Facebook.

Since I’m beginning to be challenged by the effects of aging and I’m coming to appreciate the health aspects of yoga, I reckon I will give it another go. And you, if you have missed the Premier Club session, why not get your tracksuit and go along this afternoon to the City Park?

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation