From this point onwards, over the last 5 years, we have been driven by an insatiable desire to learn, to understand and to experience. In particular, we have been drawn to Samahita Retreat in Thailand to study with Diana’s teacher, Paul Dallaghan, now our main teacher. During our first month-long course Paul asked us all: ‘Have you adopted the path of yoga?’ We realised that we were just scratching the surface of the deep layers of yoga philosophy, tradition and practice that there is to explore. It felt both exhilarating and overwhelming at how much there is to learn and experience. Yet a very practical message Paul gave us was the importance of practicing and living with awareness. Perhaps this, we wondered, is the start to ‘adopting the path of yoga’.
Practicing and living with awareness is harder than it sounds. What if you are not aware that you are not being aware? As Paul says, this is why it is called practice. Over a long period of time. There are no short cuts and it certainly cannot be cultivated in a 200 hour teacher training course! The journey is life-long and not always a comfortable one. Our daily meditation, pranayama and asana practice is our ‘practice’ for becoming more aware of ourselves, our natural tendencies, the patterns of the mind and our conditioned thinking. We are learning more and more that practice is also about being gentle with yourself and cultivating self-acceptance rather than reinforcing negative patterns that keep you feeling stuck. Teachers often say that what comes up on your yoga mat is a reflection of what is going on in your life. It is very true if you are willing to listen! So these practices are one way of cultivating an open attitude of enquiry where you are the object of ‘research.’ Then it is up to you what you do with your research ‘findings.’ Hopefully this will involve living a more balanced life, in harmony with yourself and others.
In such a transient place, where people travel a lot or are just passing through, a lot of what we do is about experimenting with different ideas, letting go of expectations and having fun along the way. We have run laughter yoga sessions with 80 year old ladies from Capo Verde in Point E. We have hissed our way into cobras with 3-5 year old kids at the Montessori school in N’gor. We have taught sporty Senegalese guys on Yoff beach in collaboration with a social enterprise Begue Coco, the powerful waves of the Atlantic crashing in the background. We have worked with our talented tailor El Hadj to create a range of yoga products, from meditation cushions to yoga mat bags with funky colourful West African fabric. We have saluted the sun with scruffy, snotty-nosed street kids in Hann-Mariste. And, we have just run our first weekend yoga retreat at a beautiful creative space in Toubab Dialow, in collaboration with other teachers in Dakar.
Something particularly close to my heart is offering classes to people who may never have heard of yoga or be able to afford a regular class. I teach a weekly class at a refuge in Guediawaye, La Maison Rose, which supports women and girls, many of whom have been raped or abandoned, and are often estranged from their families. In partnership with a local organisation, Tostan, I also run a weekly class at one of the women's prisons in Rufisque, many of whom are imprisoned for ten years for minor drug offences and infanticide. We sit quietly, we breathe, we laugh and we move through different postures together. Sometimes language can be a barrier; we mainly communicate in French as my knowledge of Wolof (the main local language) is limited. However, as Paul’s teacher, Tiwariji, said: ‘Some things just cannot be expressed or explained in words, they can only be felt’. Music can transcend such linguistic barriers and a beautiful mantra that we learnt at Samahita Retreat with Tiwariji – ‘Twameva Mata….’ – has become a firm favourite. After each class I leave feeling touched and wondering whether I have learned or benefited more from these classes than the women do – it really puts my life into perspective each time!
All of these experiences are a reminder that we are constantly learning, through our practice, our ongoing study, and our teaching. If there is one word I could use to capture the essence of our journey so far it is that is of connection. Connection first and foremost to this incredible tradition and gift of yoga and to a lineage of inspiring teachers who have passed on these teachings. Connection to ourselves and our families. Connection to amazing friends. Connection to people who I never imagined I would meet. With utmost gratitude we continue on this journey of learning as we return again to Samahita Retreat for further study on pranayama and philosophy with our teacher Paul and his teacher Tiwariji in July.
If you find yourself in Senegal and want to drop by, please get in touch! More information can be found on our website: www.shalayogadakar.org. For more information about what is on offer at Samahita Retreat visit: www.samahitaretreat.com.