Visiting a new yoga studio is not always the most comfortable experience.
There is the business of finding out where the coats and shoes go; discovering whether there is space for me to bring my purse inside the practice area; the bathrooms and whether they are clean enough for me to walk in barefoot; and sometimes, as a Black woman, there is the feeling of otherness to contend with.
However, on a recent trip to Ghana, I found that the experience of being new, doesn’t have to feel so foreign after all.
West Africa is not exactly the place that many people think of when yoga comes to mind - and perhaps, if it does, its in the context of a non-profit program, where beautiful, smiling sun-kissed children have their brown fingertips raised to the sky in Virabhadrasana I and their toes grounded firmly in dusty African clay dirt. While those programs are necessary to our collective calling and mission as yogis, yoga is also reaching people on the African continent the commercial way.
I’d decided many months ago that I would move to Accra, the capital of Ghana, but in March 2014, I found myself back in town and busy with the task of figuring out how I would make a life there. Initially, my enthusiasm and spirits were high. I was enjoying the sun and a respite from the eternal Chicago winter; enjoying the company of old friends and taking delight in envisioning my new life ahead.
And then I hit a wall. Ghana fatigue is what I call it. When the gloss and veneer falls and you are faced with the realities of being outside of your comfort zone, where the temperature isn’t always regulated, there are strange smells, no one seems to understand your accent or manner of speech, and you realize that you just don’t understand the way anything works.
Fortunately, the very day my fatigue hit, I was scheduled to meet with Nana; a former New York City prosecutor who recently moved to Accra and opened Bliss Yoga Accra, the city’s first commercial yoga studio.
So, after my Ghana fatigue induced mini meltdown, I dabbed the sweat and oil off my face and headed back out in the afternoon heat and traffic to meet Nana; and I arrived at an oasis.
Nana greeted me with her beaming smile and infectious good energy. I quickly changed into some yoga clothes and settled in to take notes on what her journey has been like since leaving her life in law for the mat.
After a long, soul-affirming chat with Nana, her students began to arrive for evening vinyasa class. Everyone was different and there were no expectations, hidden assumptions and certainly no bravado about who could put what limb where.
Her students were a beautiful, diverse mix of yogis reflecting the city’s cosmopolitan and international vibe.
There were two other Americans who worked at the U.S. Embassy, a glamorous magazine editor who recently had a baby, a first-timer who floated into shoulder stand like she has been practicing since birth, a young PR executive and, myself — the newcomer who felt completely at home.