As we enter the gate at Lewaso Lodge, I hear their welcoming voices chanting in union, singing us into the tribe for our 3 night stay. The Maasai are one of the best known tribes in Africa due to their presence near the major game parks in Kenya and Tanzania. I'd always heard the Maasai referred to as Warriors, but the smiling faces I experience feel more like Peacemakers. As I step out of the Land Rover, an exuberant young man donning a headdress of feathers and beads, grabs my hand and welcomes me into their undulating ceremony. Energy. Movement. Connection. It feels as if the dancing is their yoga. It's a connection to spirit and to each other that transcends words and brings us all into oneness.
Paul, the owner and creator of Lewaso Lodge, knows the power of community, and his generosity in this corner of the world is legendary. Paul recently commissioned a community well to supply the lodge and neighbors with water. It has become the local watering hole - a godsend during a devastating drought that has threatened the lives of many families. Paul's wife, Modesta, has become a guide and guru with the local women. Each day they meet in a modest hut, to bead and bond, creating earrings, necklaces, bowls, and bracelets in patterns that express their culture and creativity. The funds collected by selling these wares are divided evenly between all of the women, giving them independence in a patriarchal society. Together, the local women have a voice as well as an emergency fund to support families when sick children, sagging roofs, and months without rain threaten their survival.
Paul asks me to share a yoga class with the lodge community - a first for all of the Maasai that work here, including Paul. He is curled up sleeping after our 5:30 a.m. game safari that included sunrise with numerous elephant families and herds of giraffe, zebra, and impala. We move the dining table to create an open space that looks out over the savannah. It's dry and hot, but a light breeze creates a welcoming space as I assemble the group. Most of the male staff agrees to participate as Paul pulls them from the kitchen. Yoga is a new dance for them and I am grateful for their willingness.
As we stand together, I offer my intention. "Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart." We lift our arms to the blue African sky and invite its energy into our collective hearts. Then we reach our arms downward and pull the earth of Africa into our hearts, standing together as a yoga tribe. Immediately I feel the same reverence, joy, and connection I felt during the welcoming dance. The class has begun.
Standing in Mountain Pose, we are as majestic as Mt. Kenya - tall and proud. Balancing in Tree Pose, we sway in the wind - smiling as balance and imbalance dance through our bodies and minds. About ten minutes into the class Modesta joins us, shedding her traditional necklaces to allow her body more freedom to participate in these new shapes we call yoga poses. She is shy at first, but her body smiles as we turn to the right for Warrior II. "Look over the right middle finger, like the wise warrior, focused on a goal, with a wide open heart." We are proud and united. Breathing and being. As we fold into Triangle, one of the tribe yells out - "This feels so good!" We all nod inwardly in agreement. Energy. Movement. Connection.
"Can we take off our shirts?", asks Paul. "Of course!" I reply. Each warrior drapes his beads over each shoulder, embellishing their bare chests in celebration. Each is more comfortable now. I can feel their trust and I am honored.
We return to Mt. Kenya Pose, twisting our arms right and left, to prepare for Twisted Stork followed by King Dancer. Juma, my exuberant dance partner from the welcoming ceremony, adds his own twist, hopping on one leg, as we all try this newly invented posture - Jumping King Dancer!
As the session moves toward its close, we form a circle around the table - hand to shoulder. "Let's feel how much easier the poses are when we are connected", I suggest, as we lift one leg into Tree Pose again. We balance easily and smile together. Arms overhead, we extend one leg behind us in Warrior III. With a hand on our neighbor's heart, we feel the beating of the universe running through each of us. No lines divide us. Male/Female. African/American. Young/Old. Black/White. Not either/or, but Both/And. Powerful.
Paul exclaims, "I feel great!" His tiredness from the early morning safari has been shed. Whether dance or yoga, it is movement and the rhythm of the universal chant of breathing that unites our hearts in joy and evaporates the boundaries our minds create.
Modesta encourages me to work with the women when I return to Kenya in October. I'm honored beyond words by the trust she has expressed with her participation in our group and this invitation.
The next morning as we prepare to leave, I once again hear the familiar sound of the women's voices. Outside the dining hut, they have gathered to sing the song of our departure. We interlace arms and join in, much more comfortable now with the sounds of their language and the movement of their bodies undulating in dance. I find myself singing with them - not sure what I am saying - but trusting in the community we have created to hold me safe in my unknowing.
The men join in, singing around the table until we wind our way out to the gate. Our eyes are no longer shy as we peer deeply into each others hearts, exchanging embraces and soft kisses on the cheek. Tears are shed. Friendships have been formed.
Three days in Ewaso have taught us much about ourselves and the community we can create when we are willing to breathe and move in new ways. Together.