James Njuguna grew up in Sodum a market centre in Nairobi, Kenya
After 15 years of drug abuse, he became a yoga instructor
He now runs weekly yoga classes in the Kangemi slum
Yoga mat in hand, James Njuguna walks around the neighborhood he grew up in: “When I wanted to go buy drugs, I’d go to one of these houses behind here and get… like anything I need”, he reveals.
Doing the mountain pose may transport you into a world of zen, but for 34 year-old Njuguna, yoga is everything. The exercise helped him escape a downward spiral of drug abuse within Nairobi’s slums.
“To me, yoga is not a religion,” he says, “it’s how you trust, how you believe, because it has transformed my life and it has made me take full control of my life”.
Njuguna grew up in a poor community and fell into the wrong crowd while in high school. Most in his group of young thrill seekers had dropped out of school.
“All my friends were criminals and thieves”, says Njuguna. Each day turned into the next, “but when you are into drugs you feel the day is shorter”, he adds.
A chance talk with a friend helped get him into yoga - an experience that would lead him to become an instructor and pave a way out of a 15-year drug abuse.
“I used to see my friend with a yoga mat every Thursday” he explains, “and I was curious. He told me, ‘You want to know where I go, then follow me”.
His friend introduced him to local community classes put on by the Africa Yoga Project - a nonprofit organization.
As the brainchild of American expat Paige Elenson, the project’s goals are to create jobs for young people particularly within the infamous Kibera slum where 50% of residents are unemployed.
Yoga is now spreading across Kenya. Elenson’s project started in 2007, and currently has more than 6,000 converts. From Maasai warriors to Kibera slum dwellers, downward dog poses are being embraced by new recruits - more than 300 community classes a week are given by the project across 80 locations in Kenya.
Now married, Njuguna is a yoga instructor within the organization. He runs classes every Friday within Kangemi slum. As he contorts his body fantastically into bird of paradise - a move definitely not for beginners - yoga is a practice that empowers he insists, “when you breathe, you let go the tensions around your body, you let go the fears.”
Njugunga’s new found focus is testament to yoga’s growing magnetism. Los Angeles based dancer and Instagrammer Jesse Golden reportedly fights her rheumatoid arthritis with a little help from naked yoga - yes it is what you think.
The transformation has made Njuguna determined to give back to his community through yoga: “I have lost a lot of my friends,” he says, but by teaching yoga he hopes to inspire others.
“You’re supposed to embody something you’re doing. I love teaching what I know.”