Uganda is Yoganda.
Though most of the population here has no idea what yoga is, they are greater practitioners of its basic principals than any I have yet come to know. I believe it comes down to living simply, only with the true realities of what life is. We are here in Iganga, Uganda visiting my two sisters Andrea and Leah, who have been living here for nearly 5 years. They have been helping to start and run Musana Community Development Organization and it is seriously… seriously… a miracle place, destined for great things. Our main objectives during this trip are to hang out, play, and love the kids while undertaking a gargantuan mosaic project in Musana’s church. We have been plenty busy, and with every day, more is revealed about the yogic nature of the people here.
Every morning my fiancé Ross and I get up with the sun and slowly make our way to our mats on the main pavilion with a hot cup of gritty coffee. We practice our asana, pranayama and dhyana here as the sky changes through the vibrant colors of orange, pink and red. Slowly the neighboring teachers walk by with their children as they head out into the day. They pass us and watch with wonder. Our first day here a few of them asked if we were ninjas. I had a small meeting with some of the school officials to discuss my plans for the project in the church and the conversation immediately turned to yoga as their curiosity by our morning routine had been peaked. What are we doing out there in the morning? What is yoga? Why do we practice it?
In response to these questions…sigh… really? Yoga is too big to be defined I realize. But an earnest attempt was needed none the less. How would I explain yoga to a group of middle-aged African men, who had never heard of it before? Breath, life, death, and spirit. Aren’t these the things that yoga is about? I explained that yoga was about rediscovering your breath or prana, your connection to life through breathing. I told them that yoga was about learning to see that our bodies are made of the earth and they simply house the spirit. ‘Duh’, their faces seemed to say. It was all inherently obvious to them and they acknowledged that they were happy I was learning such things.
It was clear that they already had a natural knowledge of these spiritual things and once I got to know some of the children here… I discovered the roots of this awareness. The children of Musana have been the greatest teachers I have ever encountered. The school is a miracle place. 280 students, 40 Ugandan staff members, and a community driven vision for self-sustainability, the project is revolutionary in terms of global service. A majority of the children in school here come from vulnerable families, the street, or have no families at all. The fact that they have made it here is the first miracle, and the fact that they are so optimistic and happy might be the second. I have become particularly close to young Irene.
A three year old who has only been at Musana for three months. She was found in a village living uncared for with jiggers (a small burrowing bug that feeds off of flesh) inhabiting every finger and toe. My sister Andrea saw her and singled her out (of hundreds of needy kids she sees everyday) as in desperate need of care. Her father had passed away and her mother had disappeared. Thus she came to Musana. She is all smiles, all the time. Andrea says that she wasn’t like this at first as she was recovering from having all the jiggers removed… She is learning how to do things like brush her teeth and play with other kids. We watched her first ever real movie together, Jurassic Park, which was totally priceless (and maybe not the best choice for a three year old). Haha… It was awesome.
They exhibit this every day. I have had the opportunity to spend time with them, to play yoga with them, and to just hold them. The lesson for me is that many of them are advanced yogis in disguise. At a young age they have had to start grappling with two of the biggest yogic principles. Abhyasa and Vairaghya. Daily practice and detachment. Every day they have things they need to do, get food, clean their clothes… all to survive. Detachment from worldly things happens as a natural result of death being an as seemingly common occurrence as the cold. It is amazing how much deeper the life style here, in the third world, drives one closer to these principles then living in the world of more… could ever do.
So why is it that the people here at Musana naturally have an understanding of santosha, abyasa, vairaghya, life, death, and breath? I believe it is because this is what makes up their daily lives. Purely and with out distraction of meaningless things. They eat to live and wear clothes to protect their skin. They sleep under roofs to shelter them from rain and pray to offer gratitude to God for the blessings they have been given. It makes me feel like we have things so backwards in the west. Though many of us are making valient efforts to become “aware” of our true natures… I wonder, it it ever really possible when we never go without? Is it possible when we come from a world so far detached from God and our natural roots that we have to go to yoga class or church in order to find them?
I wish I had more to say about Yoganda. At this point… I don’t. Life is simple. Life is beautiful. The children here inspire me to be content, and I am. The atmosphere is gorgeous. And this afternoon I slipped on a banana peel and it made me laugh.