Despite the worldwide popularity of yoga, the ancient craft has yet to catch on in Ethiopia. A few entrepreneurs are trying to change this trend. In Addis Ababa, one can find a few yoga studios and gyms that offer classes. There are even a few centers that offer training to become certified as a yoga instructor. Still, yoga practitioners argue that more work needs to be done before yoga becomes a popular activity. EBR’s Ashenafi Endale spoke with yoga instructors to learn more about the potential of its growth in Ethiopia.
When the UN General Assembly gathered last year to dedicate June 21st as International Yoga Day, Ethiopia, a country little known for practicing yoga, was among the 177 countries that supported the idea out of the total 193 UN member countries. A year later, on a sunny morning of June 21, 2015, a little over 150 people came together in the Ethiopian capital at Hilton Addis to mark the first International Yoga Day.
On that same day, millions of people around the globe were celebrating yoga en masse, practicing it at different places. In India, where the yoga practice is believed to have originated, more than 36,000 yogis (a person who is proficient in yoga) turned out on the lawns outside the Indian parliament, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended.
Modi’s speech, which was broadcasted at Hilton Addis, lauds the importance of yoga for a better world. According to him, environmental pollution and lifestyle changes are detaching human beings from nature and yoga is the only tool to unite the body with mind, without medical help.
On that day, participants at the Hilton, many of whom were diplomats, were practicing yoga. Yohannes Gezahegn, 28, a martial artist, was one of the few Ethiopians at the event. He told EBR that practicing yoga has helped him to be fit and active when he trains martial art for his students. “My work requires me to be flexible and concentrated, which I managed to achieve by doing yoga in my home.”
Yoga, the physical, mental and spiritual practice and discipline that integrates the mind, body, thought and action, is said to have emerged in Ethiopia 50 years ago, when Indian traders came to the country.
Deborah Lundstrom, an internationally certified yoga instructor and owner of Tulsi Ayurvedic Massage and Yoga Center in Addis Ababa, was in attendance at the Hilton and told EBR that yoga practice is in its infant stage in Ethiopia despite its long presence globally. “Usually foreigners practice yoga in my center and most Ethiopians that join discontinue after some time,” she said.
Deborah, who has Ethiopian nationality, was born in Addis Ababa. She was exposed to yoga when she went to Indian school, an international community school located in Addis Ababa. Deborah further practiced yoga when she went to Germany to get her undergraduate degree. Finally, she was certified in Kenya ten years ago, which paved the way to open a yoga center in Addis Ababa.
Currently, there are 60 clients that practice yoga at the Center, which is located in a relatively large and silent compound in the Arada District, near Ras Amba Hotel. Clients at Tulsi pay ETB100 to ETB120 for a session, which lasts for one-and-a-half hours. “Sometimes, I also take them to outside the capital for practice,” she says.
Deborah believes that yoga’s universal recognition will help change people’s attitudes towards the practice in Ethiopia. “However, the government must do the heavy lifting by allowing the practice to expand, which is currently nonexistent,’’ Deborah argues. In fact, Deborah is currently facing a problem because the government institution that should renew her license has not listed yoga among the list of business categories.
Currently, there are a few yoga schools in Ethiopia; however, in India, there are hundreds of thousands, according to Sanjay Verma, Indian ambassador to Ethiopia, who participated in the event at Hilton. “It has also become the most practiced art around the globe,” Verma says. “But more than Indians, foreigners take the largest share for expanding yoga throughout the world.”
In addition to the very few yoga centers in the country currently, there are gymnasiums like Tilla Spa & Fitness, Bole Rock Fitness and Health Experience, and Alem Fitness Center that provide yoga classes.
But Deborah says it is not appropriate to give yoga lessons in gymnasiums. “Gymnasiums focus only on physical fitness, which is only part of practicing yoga,” she argues. ‘‘In addition, yoga should be practiced in a calm environment.’’
Berihan Abera, manager of Alem Fitness Center, which gives yoga lessons to roughly 30 people, disagrees with Deborah’s assessment. “Ever since we started giving yoga training ten years ago, we use a separate room that is free from noise. In other countries, gymnasiums played a major role in expanding yoga.”
But according to Megbar Ayalew, who was certified in Bangalore, India, the low development of yoga practice in Ethiopia is the result of a lack of awareness and the unavailability of many certified instructors.
There are less than 10 certified yoga instructors in Ethiopia currently, according to Megbar, who is currently in the process of opening a yoga center in the capital, Addis Ababa, which will specifically focus on breathing techniques that help people de-stress.
“The lack of skilled yoga trainers is the biggest challenge,’’ says Jan Jackers, who recently closed a Yoga Center he opened in Bishaftu (Debrezeit). “The income collected from my clients was not enough to pay for [experienced instructors].’’
Sanjay and Deborah say that, although the cultural similarity of India and Ethiopia can help to develop yoga in Ethiopia, it must start from primary and secondary schools. As Verma describes it: ‘‘one cannot observe the cultural similarity if you do not learn about it first.”EBR
3rd Year • July 16 – August 15 2015 • No. 29