I remember the day I was dragged to a yoga class by friends. For weeks leading up to that unforgettable morning, they constantly argued for the benefits accrued from the Indian stretching exercise. They pleaded with me to give it a try. And the more they insisted, the more I resisted.
That’s why I was dragged forcibly. They knew the good that yoga would do me and did not take No for an answer. Three years later, I cannot thank them more for their insistence.
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Yoga and all alternative therapies have, with a vengeance, become a fad in the West over the past 10 years. This was no different in my home in Canada. All my friends were doing yoga, and therefore I decided I would not. Why be a sheep and follow the herd?
I was also quite the skeptic. I failed to understand how an hour of stretching could help me deal with stress, never mind build self-confidence and even address and cure physical pain and ailments.
And the breathing? In and out and in and out endlessly. I couldn’t fathom what good that might do.
All talk of finding your centre and becoming enlightened just seemed so cliched, out there and definitely not something I wanted to have any part in. Until I tried it.
Yoga, meditation and other forms of holistic healing haven’t become as much of a fashion trend in Kenya as they have in the West. But proponents say many of the do-it-yourself practices present physical and psychological benefits that are crucial to everyone’s well being – even the skeptics like me.
I didn’t feel too spiritual after that first class I attended. All I really felt was my sweat-drenched clothes and the pain from awkward postures. But something made me come back for another lesson. I needed to see what the hoopla was all about.
A few classes later, I realized.
Yoga teaches you correct breathing. Students learn the right breathing technique (slowly in and out while visualising the breath entering and exiting your lungs and nasal passage) in an upright seated posture. This relaxes you and puts you in a state of mind capable of enduring and holding the positioning.
You then apply that form of breathing to yogic postures. Whenever I felt pain in a certain posture, I would visualize my breath bringing oxygen to that joint or muscle or body part. That would make the pain fade far away.
After several classes, I learned how to translate that technique to other aspects of my life. If I had a stomach cramp, for instance, I would use the skills I learned in yoga and breathe in oxygen into the painful zone.
If I felt some sort of tension between family members and myself, I would look to another yoga technique for guidance. During yoga, you must distance yourself from any thought that creeps into your mind: I used this to step away from the situation and analyse it rationally and calmly.
And the best part is, I can do it all on my own now, in the comfort of my bedroom and whenever I feel like it.
The American Board of Holistic Medicine and the American Holistic Medical Association define holistic healing as “the art and science of healing that addresses the whole person – body, mind and spirit. ”
“The practice of holistic medicine integrates conventional and alternative therapies to prevent and treat disease, and most importantly, to promote optimal health.”
Holistic healing seeks to address the underlying causes of diseases rather than their symptoms.
There are countless healing practices with the goal of preventing sickness by ensuring one’s body is constantly healthy and feeling good.
Yoga is one way, but other common do-it-yourself means of ensuring you are breathing correctly and that your body, mind and spirit are fit are meditation, pranayama (an Indian practice that teaches how to bring oxygen into the right places) and reiki (a Japanese form of therapy based on the idea that humans have life-force energy; when that energy is low, the body reacts adversely).
Even practices like humour and art therapy have their own practitioners and organisations in the West.
And why should yoga and other holistic healing therapies be practised?
“As we grow old, we begin to suffer in new ways, says Sudharshan Acharya, a yoga instructor originally from Bangalore, India, and now based in Nairobi.
He explains that as we age, our blood pressure changes, we may develop heart problems, eyesight and memory loss, among other ailments. “To prevent that suffering, to become a better human being and to grow in spirituality,” he continues, “I think everyone has to taste the sweet of yoga.”
Acharya began practising yoga in 1995. He was working in the garment industry in India and, after inhaling the various chemicals from the factory, developed “unbearable migraines.”
“I was looking to get rid of that horrible pain. Someone told me that yoga would be the best way to do that.”
After some time, his migraines did ease. What’s more, he felt as though he was better able to deal with other more emotional stresses in his life, like his family relations.
Other holistic healing therapies, like pranayama, also contribute to emotional and physical well being.
Kumud Shah is a pranayama instructor in Nairobi. She says most people do not breathe correctly. This means that instead of breathing slowly and deeply into ones’ lungs, most people breathe short breaths into the stomach, thus not absorbing the full benefits oxygen provides.
And without proper oxygen, she says, various physical and psychological ailments can develop. Increased air pollution simply acts as another detriment.
Breathing correctly helps prevent these ailments, Ms Shah says. It also helps relax the mind and the body.
Ms Shah and other holistic healers say that a lack of awareness and skepticism are the greatest deterrent to benefiting from alternative healing practices.
I had to physically try yoga to accept that there were benefits to be gained from it. My skepticism clouded my better judgment, I guess.
“Holistic healing is very much about you,” says Sapna Chandaria, a holistic healer who runs the Soulful Living Co. in Nairobi.
“Until we’re ready to accept responsibility for what we’re doing to our body, there will still be a lot of skepticism.”
She says people are so used to conventional medicine, where one pill can cure sickness instantly, that they don’t believe they can prevent sickness with practices like yoga and meditation.
“It’s not just about taking a magic pill. It’s a way of life. It’s a commitment to yourself.”
Mr Acharya says in Kenya, there is a lack of awareness on various holistic healing practices that have caught on in the West. “If you don’t try food, you can’t know if it’s tasty or not,” he says. “Once you understand and give it a try you won’t have that same skepticism.”
He adds that nowadays, everyone wants a scientific explanation and since the effects of yoga and other practices cannot necessarily be explained in such a way, more skepticism arises. You feel it when you try it, he says.
In spite of the doubt, Mr Acharya and Ms Chandaria are optimistic that these different types of healing will catch on in Kenya. Mr Acharya says there are about 15 to 20 yoga instructors in Nairobi alone.
Furthermore, holistic health centres are popping up across the country. The Soulful Living Co. has offered reiki, massages and nail treatment (to feel good inside and out, Ms Chandaria insists) since July and, last year, a holistic health resort opened on Mombasa’s Diani Beach.
Shaanti Holistic Health Retreat offers yoga and meditation alongside a nutritious cuisine tailored to the guests’ diet – after all, says co-founder Irfan Keshavjee, diet plays an integral role in holistic healing.
Shaanti offers external health therapies, like massages, as well, but focuses on more mental and psychological therapies. Guests can choose to take various yoga and meditation classes that are taught on the shores of the Indian Ocean.
Mr Keshavjee is confident that alternative healing will become mainstream in Kenya, among those of all descents and colours. “We’re starting to get the international market and there is no limit to that growth. With the local market, I think it will grow.”
“Instead of saying I have a nice car, you can say I’m a happy person,” Keshavjee says. “If we can get 10 people to say that every year, I think that would be great. I think it will happen.”
Ms Chandaria agrees that it is only a matter of time before these Western fads become commonplace amongst Kenyans, as well.
The world is moving in that direction and there’s no reason why Kenya should be left behind. Just because it’s in the third world doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to be aware of these things. The Nation, AllAfrica.com