Area yoga practitioners converged Sunday on the University at Buffalo North Campus for “Yoga Jam” – a supersized class organized to benefit a good cause.
About 200 yogis from eight different studios participated in the fundraiser, which raised $5,600 for a research mission to study the success of the Africa Yoga Project in Kenya this summer.
“There’s not a lot of yoga in Africa, so we’re going to study the qualitative benefits of Africa Yoga Project,” said Catherine Cook-Cottone, the mission’s lead researcher who also is a UB associate professor and an instructor at Power Yoga Buffalo. “We’ve gotten feedback that it’s a life-changing project, so now through concept mapping, we’ll survey the impact.”
The Africa Yoga Project began in 2007 in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. The project is a model for community change. It promotes health and overall wellness through yoga.
More than 250,000 Kenyans become practitioners each year through the project. So far, 68 Kenyans, trained and certified through the project, are sharing the practice in schools, prisons, special-needs centers and HIV rehabilitation centers.
The project also is the subject of an Emmy-winning documentary, “Practice: Change.”
Cook-Cottone said the project has been successful and accessible for Kenyans because of its affordability – only a mat and shelter are needed for yoga. Its benefits surpass the physical, spilling over into emotional and psychological well-being, Cook-Cottone said.
“It’s about improving lives, making better choices for your family,” said Cook-Cottone, who also is a licensed psychologist.
The project has spread yoga throughout communities in Nairobi, but its impact on the lives of practitioners has never been studied.
The project was started by Paige Elenson, a practitioner of Baptiste power yoga, the type of yoga Cook-Cottone practices. She learned about the Kenya project through a training session with Elenson in Cleveland.
Cook-Cottone, who developed a methodology for studying yoga programs at Cradle Beach, wanted to apply the same techniques to pin down the benefits of the project in Kenya. She will lead a team of mostly Western New York-based researchers in July on the mission to Nairobi. The cost of the trip is about $40,000, and so far $35,000 has been raised.
Sunday’s class was held in the UB Center for Tomorrow. Yogis hailed from area studios including East Meets West, Shakti and Mind Body Flow yoga.
The two-hour class featured various types of yoga with 10-minute lessons taught by 10 area instructors. Participants paid $20 and bought raffle tickets to win more than 100 prizes.
While there are different area studios and styles of yoga, the event served as a reminder that “it’s all yoga,” said Jessalyn Klein, an instructor at Evolation.
She said the unity of the local yoga community to help a greater cause exemplified the purpose of yoga.
Klein, a UB counseling doctoral candidate, also will go on the mission, and the research findings will be the basis of her dissertation.