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Fighting Chronic Diseases with Yoga: Not in Africa

After coming across an article talking about the benefits of yoga for people suffering from heart-related chronic diseases, I started wondering why yoga was not promoted in my home country: D. R. Congo. I personally love yoga. I feel like it helps with my concentration in general, calms my nerves and gives me a good stretch following a hard workout.

The Harvard Health Publications admits that the studies regarding yoga and cardiovascular diseases are still very new and have room to grow. However, the research available suggests some potential effects of yoga that should only push anyone to jump into it. Indeed, it says that “yoga may help reduce high blood pressure, improve symptoms of heart failure, ease palpitations, enhance cardiac rehabilitation, lower cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and stress hormones, improve balance, reduce falls, ease arthritis, and improve breathing for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease”.

Although I am no expert, I would venture to say that yoga, especially the more physical Ashtanga yoga could be very efficient for fat/weight loss if incorporated to a complete workout regime and healthy diet. Thus, reducing to some extent risks of type2 diabetes and other possible weight related chronic diseases.

However, there is a trick with the importation of new practices. I thank the phenomenon of globalisation (note that I am not saying westernisation) for opening doors to the outside world, and permitting the exchange of cultures and traditions. Especially, since in my country, traditions and customs still holds a great place in people’s lives.

Not so much a tradition, but more a custom, the population in Congo is very religious, more precisely Christian. Their spirituality is to a certain point the centre of their lives. I know for a fact that when I started using yoga as a daily exercise, I was frowned upon every time I went back home on holiday. The most obvious example I can think of is of my cousin who was so superstitious and scared that I practiced yoga in her room; she started sleeping with her bible under her pillow.

In a more explicit and concise way, I asked around at my father’s gym and entourage what clients thought about yoga, how they understood it and whether they’d be willing to practice it. The overwhelming majority was extremely skeptical about ever wanting to do it, or was simply against it. One of the interviewee said: “Regarding yoga, as soon as a sport interferes between a person and his God or pretends that one does not need God anymore as he is the master of his own spirit, I must say, that sport should not be recommended, better it should be banished”.

I didn’t try to explain that yoga has long been commercialised. In effect, in the Western world (for the most part) it has completely lost its spiritual angle to be purely a form of fitness and/or relaxation.

The aim here is not to criticise or satire a population’s beliefs. However, it is to raise some practical question at how best to raise awareness, fight and prevent chronic diseases in Africa. Putting chronic diseases on the agenda when it comes to African issues is a very important task. Nevertheless, it should not be done carelessly as one has to take into consideration the different lifestyles between nations. I know now that I should not consider doing a sensibility campaign by promoting yoga in Congo, it would not work and worse it would alienate the population. On the other hand, it does not mean that we shouldn’t try and join the campaign in the best way we can.

Tamara Kinja Nyakabasa is a volunteer blogger who likes to write, tweet and blog in various places about health issues, fitness, women's rights/human, rights books and education.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Engage Africa Foundation's Staff.


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