BIG THX to Give Back Yoga Foundation for helping  coordinate this interview!

George Acire -- whose name means “I have passed through pain”-- teaches yoga at Mandala House in Gulu, Uganda.  Mandala House provides yoga training to locals who then go on to teach within their own communities.  Each week George leads up to 24 yoga classes – both at the MH Yoga Studio and through Beneficiary Classes offered via partnerships with NGOs working with war-affected youth.  He is also helping to train mental-healthcare workers so they may use these techniques to complement their on-going therapeutic models.

Interview was conducted by Mandala House volunteer, Holly Porter on June 4, 2013 in Gulu, Uganda.

Give a brief background of your yoga service career.

I used to pass the Mandala House but I had no idea what yoga was, then one time I saw a friend called Ivan Julius was there. I saw him with Eric, [another teacher], and I asked what they were.  They said they were doing yoga. I decided to try and that evening I went for the first time. Lenny [founder of MH] was around and I met her the next day. She invited me to the teacher’s training workshop the next week and I attended it.  It ended on the 28th of June 2012 and that’s when I became a yoga teacher.  I’m twenty years old.  On the 14th of July I will be 20.

How was your first class teaching?

I was nervous and I was in a hurry.  I even forgot to do one side.  In the workshop we had practice teachings but I would find myself accidentally ending early just because of nervousness. When I began to feel like I was a good teacher was during the relaxation part.  I found my voice speaking confidently when helping people to enjoy the resting poses and that’s when I said to myself, “Yes, I can be a good teacher.”  Now I feel confidant--even more than confidant -- due to constant practice. Now, I teach two times a week in the Mental Health Unit.  Twice a week in the prison with the male inmates. I also teach on Sunday at St. Jude’s children’s home with the orphans aged 11 to 15.

What originally motivated you to do this work and what continues to motivate you?

I felt that yoga has benefits.  Everyday I used to feel back pain, then one day during the teacher’s training workshop we learned plough. The next morning when I woke up I remember thinking, “there is something missing.” I sat on my bed and I remembered, “every morning when I wake up I feel back pain but today it is gone.”

Plough became my first best yoga pose because I realized it had the power to heal me.  I felt yoga would benefit different people in different ways and other people will get different benefits than mine, but everyone will benefit and everyone should be able to witness the benefit.  In Uganda yoga is a new thing and I want everyone in the community to be able to experience it and I want them to be able to benefit from yoga in their own unique way.  

George teaching at the Mental-Health Unit-Gulu

What did you know about the population you are working with before you began teaching?

Right now we are mostly focusing on teaching within the town of Gulu. Northern Uganda has experienced a war and it has affected people in different ways.  Some people are traumatized.

When you talk with them they say “yes” but they might not really understand what you are saying.  It’s like their mind is somewhere else.  They sit and look around silently and it is hard for them to concentrate.  I hope that if they keep on coming they will improve.  Now, I think I just have to try to give more attention to them and observe how they are doing and support them in their practice.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach in the population you work with?

There will be some new teachers coming soon and I would say to them, you know teaching yoga is interesting and don’t lose hope or get discouraged.  In the beginning you will be nervous but that is normal and that is part of life.  As you keep on teaching and the more experience you get you build more confidence.  I would advise them to: “teach to learn” and then “learn to teach.”  Because when you teach, you are learning and then when you learn, you are able to teach.  That is my principle.  I would also advise them to be friendly with people because if you are not it is very difficult to deal with people.  Everyone comes to yoga with different backgrounds.  People get an impression of yoga from you.  You have to share ideas, be polite, share your personal benefits with them and ask them about their interests and experiences.  You have to welcome people so that they feel they are part of the yoga community even the first time they come.

Also, when Ugandans think about me, they think that since I’m working with whites I make a lot of money.  Some people might come to yoga initially because they are interested in making money—but I’ve realized that if you don’t have a genuine interest in yoga it won’t work out.  You have to be ready to serve the community.  You have to be ready to see the benefits in people’s lives. Ready to see MH expand.  Ready to see yoga expand in Uganda.  You can’t do yoga for money. It has to be genuine.

What are some of your ideas about or hopes for the future of “service yoga/beneficiary classes” in Northern Uganda in the next decade?

In ten years if we will expand and the more teachers we have the more people will learn about it and the more the community will commit themselves to practicing yoga.  In 10 year I can say that all the schools and NGOs in Gulu should be doing yoga. 


How has this work changed your definition of service?

To the community, I feel like yoga brings people who are very different together and lets us share ideas.  It lets them set a goal for themselves.  In my case it has changed my life.  Ever since I was young I was never patient.  I did everything in a rush.  In yoga, during some poses, you realize that you have to stay still in one pose.  You have to say, “today I am here.”  Tomorrow I am there.  Some people want to force themselves to be somewhere else.  But it takes a journey.  In yoga, the most important thing is not the postures you’re going to do but the steps you’re going to take.  It doesn’t matter where you’re going to go but where you are right then, and I think this can benefit the community a lot. 

Others are asking, like the prison inmates, “if I get out of prison where can I do yoga?” and they ask if they can also become yoga teachers.  I think that is a good sign.






via Huffington Post