Kundalini Africa Rising! Making a Difference Where It Counts
When the South African Government of National Unity came into power in 1994, with Nelson Mandela as President, HIV/AIDS was made one of 22 lead projects in the Reconstruction and Development Program instituted by the new government. The years that followed saw many failures to sufficiently address the massive destruction that the disease had created within families and communities. By 2005 more than 5 million South Africans were infected, making South Africa the country with the highest HIV rates in the world. The government of Thabo Mbeki (President-elect after Nelson Mandela) did much damage to the fight against HIV/AIDS by claiming that HIV does not lead to the development of AIDS. Many activist organizations were created during the decade after 1998, to fight for the national provision of antiretroviral drugs to pregnant women and those who were HIV+. It was during this time, in 2006, that the eldest son of Nelson Mandela, 54-year-old Makgatho Mandela, died of AIDS. President Mandela, one of the first public figures to publicly state that his son died of AIDS, did much to dispel the painful stigma surrounding the disease. This stigma caused many unnecessary and premature deaths of people from AIDS because they would not agree to be tested, fearing rejection and sometimes violence from their communities if they were discovered to be HIV+.
In this climate, in 1996, I began teaching Kundalini Yoga as taught to Yogi Bhajan® to people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The emotional atmosphere in the groups I encountered was fearful; every week someone died, and the people in the yoga community were frightened that it would be their turn next. Every weekend there were funerals. (In Africa, funerals are very sacred and important rituals, and they can last for an entire weekend.) The whole community attended the funerals of those who had died. Every week there were protest marches and rallies supporting the fight for the provision of free antiretrovirals in hospitals and clinics, and when we looked around us, again we saw the whole yoga community there. This electric energy, permeating through the classes that I taught, was amplified by the teachings of Yogi Bhajan and the Naad. People began to pick-up weight, skin lesions began to clear up, and stress-reactions started to reduce.
It was a time of fear and desperate hope and this led to an intense religious response within organizations devoted to the struggle against AIDS. It was this religious fervor that caused people to drop out of the Kundalini Yoga classes, for fear of negating their religious beliefs, and from 60-70 students in each class, the numbers dropped to 5 or 6 people attending.
Teaching to people with HIV/AIDS in Soweto in 1996
African Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training Foundation of Southern Africa
It was during the decade following 1996, while working with several NGOs dedicated to uplifting and improving the lives of disadvantaged communities, that I formed the idea of creating a Kundalini Yoga teacher training organization that would focus on dynamic and politicized black youth. I had participated in the youth-led activism in the struggle against apartheid (when I was a youth myself) and witnessed the youth-led struggle against HIV/AIDS. I believed that training the youth to become Kundalini Yoga teachers, in compliance with the guidelines of Yogi Bhajan, would address many issues simultaneously; health, wellbeing, spiritual tolerance, and inclusion on one hand and the problem of massive unemployment of youth on the other. Figures for unemployment are as high as 70% for ages between 15 and 34 years in Southern Africa, and these are also the ages most likely to contract HIV/AIDS and other ills connected to poverty and despair such as drug addiction and turning to sex-work to earn a living.
AKYTTSA, African Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training Foundation of Southern Africa, was formed in 2015 with myself and five young South Africans who were the first generation of black Kundalini Yoga instructors sponsored by AKYTTSA. AKYTTSA is dedicated to spreading Yogi Bhajan’s teachings throughout marginalized communities in Southern Africa, through a movement called Kundalini Africa Rising. Kundalini Africa Rising has several initiatives, or incubator projects, that nurture young people interested in training as Kundalini Yoga instructors. One of these projects is called OKYC (Open Kundalini Yoga Classes), weekly classes managed and taught by the instructor-trainees of AKYTTSA. Since its inception AKYTTSA has sponsored 12 young black students in the study of Level One Teacher Training. These 12 students are engaged in running weekly classes in Alexandra (Yoga4 Alex), Soweto (Yoga4Soweto), and the inner city of Johannesburg, areas which are identified as being historically disadvantaged due to apartheid.
It is my intention to train youth to the point where they, as lead trainers, can take over Teacher Training in Southern Africa. To date Kundalini Yoga in South Africa has been dominated by white teachers and black people are virtually non-existent in the white-taught and white-attended classes. This situation is being reversed in and around Johannesburg by the newly qualified and inspiring young teachers who are using social media to advertise and discuss Kundalini Yoga. They are attracting many new students who witness the change that Kundalini Yoga is making in the lives of their peers-as-instructors.
Another long-term goal of Kundalini Africa Rising is to purchase a building for an inner-city ashram as there is no accessible Kundalini Yoga ashram as yet in Southern Africa. In order to further our goals of spreading Kundalini Yoga into marginalized communities in Southern Africa, we need an ashram situated in the heart of the city which is easily accessed by those who do not have the means to travel. To reach the goals of Kundalini Africa Rising, we need funding, and so we are appealing to our worldwide community to assist us in realizing our dreams. To assist in making this goal a reality, please contact me at email@example.com or donate directly at CrowdRise. From Southern Africa to all the people of the world, Sat Nam.
OKYC in inner city Johannesburg – weekly classes
Mandela Day In Alexandra, 67 minutes of yoga taught by AKYTTSA trained teachers Bongi, Fhulufelo, and Emmah.