In 2002 I was exposed to a book by Swami Sivananda and started to practise yoga daily to relieve the stress of working as a commercial trader between Southeast Asia, Europe and South America. This initial exposure led me to many other Bihar School of Yoga books, mainly those written by Swami Niranjanananda. Inspired by the stories of his guru, Sri Swamiji, and what he had accomplished in Rikhia based on Swami Sivananda's mandate to 'Serve Love Give', the seed to create an organization to share the ancient yoga practices with people was planted in my mind. In 2012 when I was completely burnt out from my various businesses, I met a benefactor from Tanzania, by Guru's grace, who invited me to use his property to teach yoga. It was a sign. I decided to divest from my businesses and focused on spreading Satyananda Yoga.
In 2013 I came to Kikokwe, Tanzania, a little town of 700 people, to share simple yoga practices with the locals. Initially, most people did not have any concept of yoga. But from a 1980s National Geographic photograph of an indigenous Masai doing a headstand, we know that the locals have been exposed to asanas in the past. In a short period of time, the locals from diverse background such as Christians, Muslims, Rastas, Masais, and other indigenous tribes, realized the physical and mental benefits of yoga. After joining our class, the adults would eventually send their children to us to learn yoga. Today, Yoga Pura Vida (YPV) has trained eight native Tanzanian teachers, four of whom are Muslims, to lead yoga classes in the Satyananda Yoga tradition in their own language 'Swahili' throughout the country: in Arusha, Pangani, Dar Es Salaam, Bagamoyo and Zanzibar.
In 2015 YPV became a legal non-profit organization in Tanzania. Our mission is inspired by the life of Swami Sivananda and Swami Satyananda to 'Serve Love Give'. The focus of the organization is to spread yoga to people of different communities through classical yoga practices as well as holistic, artistic, professional, academic and environmental activities. By spreading yoga knowledge, we hope to strengthen the society by increasing the physical, mental and emotional well being of all people, especially those with little or no economic resources. YPV still has very little of its own resources; we have 15 yoga mats, one APMB book, two books on Yoga Education for Children and two laptops. We have no office or studio. We have no car, motorbike or bicycle, but we have a lot of heart. My capital is faith.
YPV connects with institutions, organizations, entrepreneurs, yoga teachers, holistic therapists, artists, professionals, academics and all who want to contribute in the exchange of knowledge, skills and materials with those who can benefit from their teachings. We support people by organizing yoga teachers' training and promoting different types of activities related to yoga lifestyle, including social and cultural events. From the beginning of the project, the children loved practising yoga. Sometimes on Sundays in Kikokwe over 80 children participate in different yoga activities, including music and dance. Their families enjoy seeing their kids having fun and doing healthy exercises as well as receiving positive teachings for their life.
In the Moivaro community of Arusha every week, the yoga teachers would walk around the neighbourhood to collect the kids from their homes, and after class they would bring them back. When we first started the project, we had about six children. After eighteen months, as many as 50 children would attend.
Given our limited resources, YPV focuses on a small number of communities allowing us to invest our efforts to build trust and recognition of our work inside and outside these communities. Our goal is to foster lasting relationships to ensure the future sustainability of our participation in each project. For example, on Zanzibar Island where the population is 90% Muslim, Ayda, a trained YPV teacher, is herself a Muslim. A few years ago, she reported encountering obstacles from local fanatics; but nowadays, most people understand the benefits of yoga and realize that yoga is not a religion! Ayda's courage to spread yoga in her community strengthens each day as her classes increase in size.
Some of our teachers have started teaching to foreign tourists in hotels, studios and other locations to earn a source of income in order to become financially independent from YPV. Earning a small stipend, three rotate teaching at an orphanage - the Ujamaa Children's Home in Arusha. Our teachers continue to look for more places to give free classes, whether it is at the beach, in the park or in an open public space.
We also support the residents of an alcohol and drug detox clinic. The teachers want to spread the benefits of yoga everywhere.
YPV has been focusing on introducing yoga into the school system. One of our teachers, Karim, successfully integrated yoga as part of the curriculum in the Marjal Wolf Primary School in Bagamoyo since the 2017 academic year. Karim is the only teacher at the school who does not use a stick to keep the children quiet. All the kids love him. When asked what they like about yoga, the children enthusiastically responded that they feel "peace and joy".
In addition to teaching yoga, YPV is empowering the yoga teachers with English courses and computer instruction. The training enables them to connect with people from other cultures. Each month, YPV teachers and volunteers from their respective local communities gather to clean up the streets. The young ones learn how to minimize the negative impact of plastic. Soon we will help them plant trees and learn other positive environmental activities, linking yoga and ecology.
During the 2017 International Day of Yoga in Tanzania, the Minister of Education announced that he would like to bring yoga to the schools. YPV is poised to participate in that effort.
The need in Tanzania is great. YPV is very small. The over-whelming majority of the work and finances depends on me. However, YPV is beginning to attract positive attention. In 2017 a sannyasin from England came to teach the first teachers' training course for children and teenagers. The Rotary Club of Arusha has tentatively agreed to fund a year-long project to teach yoga in an orphanage, a community centre, and a youth soccer club, while training one yoga teacher. In addition, funding will also be provided to study the effects of yoga on the mental, social and physical well beingof the participants. YPV is currently organizing the second TTC for children and teenagers in August-September 2018 with the help and support of Swamis Gangadhara and Aghorananda from Brazil. With Guru's grace, our activities will continue to grow and spread positively throughout Tanzania.
Just as in the example of Swamiji building an 'army of red shirts', the Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal, can we sustain the development of Satyananda Yoga in Tanzania. As we all know, instilling positive samskaras at an early age, the children, who will be future parents and leaders, will shine like the sun and the whole society will benefit from their awareness, knowledge, skills, and kindness. Just seeing the bright smiles of the children at play has encouraged me to continue with the work of YPV to bring peace, health and happiness. I am just glad that I can be a small part of that evolution.