THE STORY OF YOGA-4-ALEX
Written by Kendrick Lebron on June 3, 2021
Yoga4Alex was born out of the desire to address the physical and mental needs of at-risk youth in Alexandra. Using yoga as a tool, it has given the program a bridge to a community who welcome upliftment, opportunity, and intervention.
Between 2011 and 2016 Yoga4Alex held yoga classes after school at two high schools in Alexandra, Realogile High School and Minerva High school, two community centres in Alexandra, Afrikatikkun Centre and Thusong Community Centre and 4Living Guesthouse in Waverley. In 2015 470 youngsters from Alexandra each attended at least five yoga classes. Many more attended classes only once. Yoga4Alex works with youngsters who attend more than one class.
In October 2015 three young female Yoga4Alex youngsters started the two-year Kundalini Yoga teachers training programme. In 2015 a young lady, who lives Alex returned from being at a boarding schooling in India. During her schooling she qualified as a Kundalini Yoga teacher.
In October 2016 a young male Yoga4Alex youngster started the two-year training. So by the beginning of 2017 Yoga4Alex had five young yoga teachers who all had grown up or spent time in Alexandra.
In 2016 they became the teachers giving all the yoga classes in Alex. All the yoga classes occurred after school and the number of students attending were always less than 20 in a class which was ideal for trainee teachers.
At the beginning of 2017 we approached all the high schools in Alex and they were receptive to our giving yoga classes during the Physical Education (PE) period for the Grade 12 and Grade 11 students. Each of the five teachers was assigned a school, Realogile, Kwabhekilanga, Alex High, Minerva, and Eastbank High School.
Yoga4Alex has a good relationship with Mitzvah school which offers matric to 30 young matric students from Alexandra. Mitzvah staff has accepted at least one student each year from the Yoga4Alex programme who’s past academic performance suggests he or she may not achieve a matric pass.
Since 2017 Yoga4Alex gives weekly yoga or meditation classes at Mitzvah School to all the students. The students attend a weekend yoga workshop at 4Living Guesthouse and during the end of year week long study break Mitzvah students are welcome to study at 4Living from 8h00 to 16h00. they start the day with yoga, eat a vegetarian meal at lunchtime and benefit from quiet study environment with wifi access.
In 2017 Yoga4Alex piloted a programme for teen mothers to become qualified Kiddies Yoga Teachers. They gave classes at Gordon Primary School during school time in the second term and after school in the third and fourth terms. Two qualified Kiddies Yoga teachers ran the programme and 6 teen mums in training participated.
IMPROVING PHYSICAL & MENTAL WELL-BEING
Yoga-4-Alex offers yoga classes to students living in the Alexandra township of Johannesburg, South Africa. Our yoga classes and support services equip the students with tools to cope with stress and anxiety, thereby enabling them focus in both their studies and daily life. Our yoga programs, mentoring, and support services help Alex’s youth to break out of the poverty cycle.
LIFE IN ALEXANDRA
Alex is one of the poorest urban areas in South Africa1, where the community is squashed into an area of an astonishing 25,979 people per square km, one of the highest population densities of any township in South Africa2. Alex is estimated to have more than 20,000 shacks where residents live, some of which are made from cardboard boxes3. Over 50% of its residents are unemployed, and this desperation has led Alex to be one of the worst precincts in Gauteng for crime.
Amid this chaos, youngsters have a slim path out of poverty, and the hardships of life are often too overwhelming for them to believe that a better life is possible. Many youngsters’ minds are understandably rooted in negativity, fear, and frustration. For those lucky enough to make it to their matric year, the stress and anxiety are amplified exponentially, as their first attempt at matric is their best opportunity to achieve a matric certificate and a better life for them and any family they might have.
BREAKING OUT OF THE POVERTY CYCLE
Alexandra (informally known as Alex), is a township in Johannesburg, where children grow up in an environment characterized by immense poverty, unemployment, violence and crime resulting in a sense of hopelessness that permeates their entire lives.
We offer Kundalini yoga classes to students through high school and into young adulthood.
In addition to yoga classes we offer workshops in nutrition, mental well being, HIV prevention, study skills, communication, and yoga.
We mentor those who attend class regularly to help them secure meaningful employment or to succeed at their tertiary studies.
We are committed to helping youngsters who are willing to take the risk of attending their first yoga class and who return regularly to participate in weekly classes and mentoring.
By participating in the programmes we offer, participants experience a community where honesty, gentleness, consideration, having fun and working hard are the order of the day. They learn techniques of achieving serenity to take back into their everyday lives and to help them make thoughtful choices that allow them to move out of poverty.
YOGA HELPED US PASS MATRIC WITH DISTINCTIONS
”Yoga played a huge role in my succeeding in my studies” say 5 young women who passed with distinctions in 2019.
“I joined yoga in Grade 11 but then I attended it occasionally. In Grade 12 I started making it a priority no matter how busy I was. The reason being that I had noticed a change in my behaviour and attitude towards my studies, I noticed that yoga helps me relax a lot and focus with a clean mind on my studies. The pressure that I had in Grade 12 reduced once I was doing yoga. I got five distinctions and I can proudly say without a doubt, that yoga played a huge role in my studies and I am grateful. I recommend youngsters of today, especially matriculants, to do yoga daily because the results are astounding.” RB
“Yoga helped me a lot. Whenever I had too much schoolwork and felt I wasn’t coping. I would attend an after school yoga class or do yoga during Life Orientation and I would feel relieved and be able to get back to doing what I had to do, one step at a time. The way I felt after yoga classes, I wanted to do more of it and so I began meditating at home with the help of Sis’ Bongi who instructed me on how to do the meditation properly. I was able to release all the negativity and straightaway I would feel much calmer and I would smile a lot with people. On some days I even noticed that the meditation continued within me unconsciously when I was in class. Mediation helped me a lot during exams because the feeling of anxiety and being overwhelmed was no longer present in me. I passed my Grade 12 with a Bachelor’s pass and got two distinctions.” SN
Attending the yoga classes was the best thing that ever happened to me because it changed everything in my life to a really positive energy. I learnt to accept and embrace who I am, as I am a very loud person and some people have a bad perception about that. For a person whose father is an alcoholic and abusive person I did not want to be defined by my home circumstances. I had so much anger for such a long time towards him and I couldn’t find someone that I could trust enough or be comfortable around to talk to. So yoga taught me that you can heal without getting any advice or talking to someone, I was able to take out that negative energy I had battled with for such a long time and turn it into a positive energy and with that said I forgave my father and talked to him as a daughter who loves him. Yoga taught me that I’m the one who chooses how to feel in anything and everything around me. It also taught me anger and arrogance doesn’t kill anyone other than myself. It has been a year of hurting so bad but living so good, making friends out of strangers, Yoga taught me to focus on warm energy and to be kind and supportive towards others. We are living in a very harsh and shocking world which brings new experiences everyday but you can always count on yoga to fix just about everything and if it can’t there will always be ma’am Bongi. Because of yoga , I was able to pass my Grade 12 with a bachelor and one distinction in Life Orientation.” NG
“At first I thought yoga were only for relaxation, fun, an extra activity for Life Orientation and another way of getting out of the class. Grade 12 was really not the best year for me but with yoga its turned out perfect. When teachers were pumping us with a lot of school work, before I sleep I would do some yoga and meditation to help me feel better. For the exams when I felt a fright I would do some breathing exercises in the class to keep me calm. It helped me a lot to remember what I have studied, even in June when I had a major set back and I wasn’t be able to write my exam, I didn’t give up. Yoga helped me through those tough patches and I am really grateful to have been introduced to yoga. That’s why I finally passed my Grade 12 with a Bachelor’s pass and one distinction.” MM
“ Yoga was very helpful during my year in Grade 12. It helped me mentally, physically and academically . Yoga was like an extra subject to me. I got to relieve my mind and I would like to thank Sis’ Bongi, because she was willing to guide us. She gave us some meditations that helped us study. Indeed I can say yoga helped me to pass my Grade 12 with a Bachelor’s pass and one distinction in Life Orientation.” MN