Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Breath of life


Looking back at the story, I can now see how it unfolded like the petals of the lotus flower opening the heart. It started slowly, a gradual opening - revealing an incredible need to introduce the breath, a relaxing of the shoulders and a softening of the heart.


Bringing yoga to Kiboga began with the odd conversation, a late night discussion of the history of yoga under the mass of stars in the sky. We read passages from the books I had brought, stopping after each one to discuss their meaning and application to life. And so it began like this - the word 'yoga' was passed from one to another, sometimes with a laugh, sometimes with a question, always with big curious eyes. From here, I started to introduce asana. Very slowly, with one pose at a time. The women in the town watched the teachers and laughed as one or two made their way into downward dog, or attemped a balancing pose. I gave out a yoga dvd and a mat and watched as the recipient then taught a pose or two from what he had learned late at night in the privacy of his home. Sometimes we discussed the yogic life over dinner and spoke of how it would be introduced to the students once they made their way back from holidays.


The first yoga class in Kiboga was held for the teachers of Uganda Martyr's Highschool. The red earth was swept out the door of the office and the mats put down under the soft light that came into the room powered by the generator outside. We started with a discussion and then found the sitting pose that would soon open to a new realisation of tight hips, a hardness held in the body and the location of the breath. The teachers moved through the class flowing from one pose to the next - at one point the night guard came in curious as to the movement coming from the small building. Finally, there was stillness as the students brought their bodies into a laying position on the floor. Relaxation was a process - as was trying to 'let go on the mat' The teachers held their arms tight above the ground, not quite touching the mat. The neck muscles were engaged and the feet held firm. After quite some time, they began to find their bodies - slowly an arm would release, a foot would fall and they relaxed into the mat - as much as possible for the first time.

As they made their way out of relaxation and back up to sitting, there was a softening, a light had come into the room and right into the heart. We discussed 'the feeling in the body and mind' - It was beautiful.


Once the students came back from holidays, I was introduced to the classes and spoke briefly about why I was there, what yoga was and my excitement to be there. Many came up and asked me questions after their classes. One afternoon, the mats were collected and walked down to the field; students began to gather and a wave of conversation spread out over the crowd. The first class involved eight boys who one by one, placed themselves down on the mats. A wall of students began to build around our space, all curious to see what 'yoga' looked like. Again, we began with a discussion - first about sitting and the strength needed to sit in stillness. We moved into a meditation to bring awareness to the body - shoulders, long held up to the ears, began to release and the tightness in the face softened. There was laughter and a gentle sound that made its way over the field that day. The transition from tightness to the ability to witness the body was slow and curious - the odd arm would straighten, a heel would release. I have never been able to watch this process unfold as slow and gentle as it did with these children. At the end, we discussed the meaning of namaste and the idea of the light within. Slowly, they began to rise and the crowd stepped away to reveal a whole new group of children who came with questions and the desire to participate in the next class. Over the next week, girls and boys of all ages asked questions and wanted to join in.

My last class with the students in Kiboga was held in the early evening. The group consisted of a number of students who I had connected with over the previous weeks - most of them around 15 years old. It was a small class out in the field that night, in addition to the handful of local children who gathered around. The field was quiet as we spent the first while exploring the breath. They moved from one breathing excercise to the next and slowly each student began to find their breath. They went from moving their shoulders up and down to finding the beginning in the belly - Their small fingers falling up and down on the belly with each breath. I introduced the use of a focal point and watched them as they explored what happened when they lifted an arm and a leg - slowly, they began to find and accept their edge and come back up when they fell. I will never forget that last class in Kiboga - under the red setting sun with the mountains and great green trees behind us and handful of children finding their peace within. We took a moment to honour each other in stillness and the class came to an end.

One of my students explained the meaning behind the colours of the Ugandan flag. The red and yellow and black representing the unity of the Ugandan people - so similar to the universal connection that exists within us all - The rise and fall of the belly and the breath of life that unites us all.

1 comment:

Bryan Gooden said...

Hi Natalie from Bryan in Nanaimo! Thanks for the email update and link to your blog. Funny that I received 2 or 3 emails about Uganda today and also a letter from my sponsored child in Tororo District, Kwapa Village, Uganda. It makes me feel like I am meant to go to Uganda myself and when I hear your poetic recounting of your experiences I feel transported there. Blessings to you for being who you are and for bringing that to the people of Uganda. This morning I felt a yearning to go to Uganda to see everything you are describing for myself and to help out in any way I can. And then after work reading the letter from my sponsored child's village heightened that yearning...Yet for now my work must continue here...still, something has stirred inside...

I look forward to reading more about your experiences and the people of Uganda - you write beautifully by the way...take care, Namaste, Bryan