I suspect this may be my last blog for a little while as I am getting ready for a baby’s imminent arrival in my life. I could probably write a book on my experience of becoming and being pregnant but there are quite a few books on that already (about twenty of them are currently piled up next to my bed). But today I wanted to write about something different. A matter also very close to my heart and something that has inspired me to remain being a yoga teacher at times when I have felt disillusioned by the yoga industry. And at this time of year I am reminded of a promise I made to myself a long time ago...
I was born in South Africa and that powerful, beautiful and turbulent country is one I shall always love even though at times it pains me to do so. I grew up while apartheid (which literally means apartness) was dismantling around us and even though I was too young to understand much of what was happening I do believe that experience shaped me and my views in various ways. My mother volunteered at an orphanage when I was a girl and she took me along with her a couple times. Doing this showed me how lucky I was to have two parents who were able to provide for me in so many ways, ways that I realised so many others did not have. I was also able to connect with children from vastly different backgrounds to mine and realise that despite those differences we also had much in common.
As I grew older I saw that even though apartheid was no longer the law, there was still great imbalance in wealth and privilege throughout the country. I felt devastated seeing young children on the streets begging or dealing drugs, taking money on behalf of others older than them. It was around this time that I swore to myself that I would do something in my life to support those children with less advantages than I had. Although I had a grand notion of my good intentions I had absolutely no clue how to follow this through. So I sought advice from people who worked with street children and learnt that one thing I could do was to really see the children, to speak to and smile at them, to acknowledge them. That my connection with them was a good starting point. Of course this did not seem like much, but it taught me that as humans we all crave love, understanding, connection.
When I moved to Europe I slipped into a world where that extreme divide in poverty and power was less in the face (although I of course know that these issues are also prevalent here). It was easier not to think about those children in the orphanage, on the streets, and that promise of mine faded way into the background of my priorities. That was until the 5th of December 2013, the day Nelson Mandela died. I was on my way to attend a yoga class when I heard the news. Instead of getting off at the studio, I stayed on the bus and went into town. To Mandela’s statue at Parliament Square. There was a growing shrine of flowers and letters, a gathering of people from all around. I felt a great spirit of compassion seep between us, and standing there I remembered that promise of mine.
In the ensuing months I reached out to friends back home asking who was doing valuable work with children in South Africa. And that's how I heard about The Earthchild Project who offer yoga (and more) to children in under-resourced areas. I got to know their founder, Janna, a hugely inspirational woman, and began to do a some fund-raising work for them. The next time I went back to South Africa I went to visit them in action and that experience blew me away. I did yoga alongside children in their classrooms and school uniforms on dirty floors, where we were three to a mat. Despite the big gap we had in privilege and circumstance we laughed and wobbled together when standing on one foot, and shared that sweet moment of silence in seated meditation. My heart crumbled when we all hugged each other at the end of class. It drove home to me how yoga does not require the fancy mats, studios or expensive leggings. It really can (and in my opinion should) be made accessible for anyone. Yoga is about sharing a moment together, a deep breath, maybe even a giggle, it’s about connecting to each other, to the world, to our true human nature.
As we approach Mandela Day on 18th July I wanted to honour and thank Earthchild for reminding me what yoga is and can do. And as I prepare for having a baby I am struck by how lucky I am to be able to provide for my child in all sorts of ways, ways that so many children around the world don’t have access to. I hope that I can show my child, as my mother showed me, that even though we humans may look a bit different from each other, we are equal and we each deserve respect, to be seen and to be loved.
If you feel moved to support Earthchild in some way, for about the price of one yoga class in London you can sponsor a whole year’s worth of classes to an earthchild/ecowarrior. Any support is always greatly appreciated.