14 February 2013

Rwanda: A Breath Taking Experience of Yoga

Time check 7:00pm. I am at the entrance of the City Arts yoga studio in Kibagabaga, a Kigali city suburb.

The studio is a large rectangular room with a marble-tiled floor, green walls pinned with a huge mirror, and a neat wooden ceiling with two small chandeliers attached. The place is spotlessly clean and serene.

I am welcomed by Rachel Powell, the 26-year-old American yogi from Albuquerque, New Mexico (a 'Yogi' is the proper moniker for a yoga teacher or expert). In a soft tone, Powell instructs us (a female classmate and I) to roll the slim rubber mats on the floor so we can commence the hour-long class.

We start off sitting cross legged as she explains the various yoga moves and poses we are about to take on and their respective benefits.

We then start breathing exercises, where we are asked to take deep inhalations and slow exhalations our palms pressed together before our chests in a meditation posture. This is for relaxation and stress-reduction.

We transition from seated through a variety of postures that help to improve our general body flexibility. Next, we balance on one foot with our hands in front of chests in a prayer-like position for about a minute. This, according to Powell, enhances general body balance.

We make another transition on the floor, tummy down, lifting our head, chest and limbs. This improves strength along the entire back of the body. Meditation exercises and a period of relaxation, lying on our backs, follow shortly after and bring the class to a close.

However, despite Powell's demonstrations, I can hardly master any of the movements since they seem confusingly similar. Many times I catch myself absentmindedly redoing a previous move while the class has progressed to something else. However, Powell doesn't give up encouraging and helping me reposition myself.

By the end of the hour, I am panting like a fat kid after a sprint, my undershirt sweat-soaked and my thigh muscles aching like hell.

"Yoga is holistic. It tackles all human faculties - mind, body and spirit - unlike the gym for example, which deals with one's physical only," Rachel says.

Yoga isn't as easy as it looks. "Yoga is physically demanding. It takes practice and dedication," says Caroline Joan Peixoto, the Director of City Arts. "The classes are well received and hopefully those that are unfamiliar with it will be intrigued by their friends who are coming," she ends.

The yoga studio at the Kibagabaga-based City Arts opened in January this year. It's open all days execpt Sunday and Friday.

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