Outside Our Walls: Yoga for girls in South Africa
Kripalu Yoga teacher Alex Singer was thinking about moving to Thailand to immerse herself in yoga and Eastern culture when she heard about the nonprofit organization She WinS (Sports Helping to Empower Women in South Africa), founded by Cindy Burns. Burns was recruiting young women to serve as role models in an after-school program in the township of Memel, South Africa, where girls are vulnerable to sexual and physical assault, teen pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS.
“As soon as Cindy began explaining her program, which works to empower these young women by teaching them dedication, focus, teamwork, love and compassion, and respect for their bodies, I instantly thought of the impact that yoga could have in this environment,” Alex recalls. “I realized that in contrast to the yoga I could find in Thailand, in South Africa I would have the opportunity to bring yoga to a population that would otherwise have no way of learning the practice. Yoga fosters strength, dedication, compassion, joy, and tranquility—all of which are powerful tools in the face of adversity.”
Supported by a Teaching for Diversity grant, Alex traveled to South Africa in 2012 to work with She WinS. There she taught yoga to a group of student athletes, a group of girls in grades 5 to 7, and a group of adults. She was astounded by the across-the-board enthusiasm for yoga. “It exceeded any expectations I had,” she says. She also taught soccer to the girls, and incorporated yoga into the training programs for both soccer and track, teaching breathing, stretching, and visualization. Her focus with the adults was on developing consistent yoga practice and helping to integrate the concepts of yoga into lifestyle choices.
“As for the young girls, we bonded over our group yoga sessions focusing on body awareness, compassion for each other and ourselves, physical strength, play, and teamwork,” Alex says. “Plus, we had a lot of fun.”