An accepted fact of history, as we know it, is that India is the birthplace of Yoga, based upon artifacts which date back 5,000 years ago. Yet, it seems that if you look at history hard enough, many things also originated in Africa. According to some – that even includes Yoga. Based on pictograms and other relics found in Egypt, a number of scholars have proposed that Yoga appeared in Egypt at the same time, or slightly before, its appearance in India.
Some claim that the practice spread from Egypt to India, which would certainly be a twist on Yoga history as we currently know it. The main proponents of this theory include Babacar Khane, an author, Yoga teacher and doctor of osteopathy, and Muata Ashby, a researcher and practitioner of “Egyptian Yoga.”
Whether Yoga originated in India, or Africa, the Yoga movement can be considered much less developed in Africa for the past 3,500 years. “Complete Yoga” magazine dates the interest in Yoga, now, to the 1940s, when the Divine Life Society of Swami Sivananda was founded in Durban, South Africa. Various Yogis then began visiting South Africa and developed followings and schools of Yoga.
However, the grip of apartheid kept many Indian masters from coming to teach freely. Individual Yoga teachers taught and traveled outside the continent to further their studies, and the movement crept along. A major proponent of Yoga was Johannesburg resident and professional, model Roma Blair.
Having spent three years in a Japanese prison camp during World War II, she received stitches without an anesthetic, contracted two types of dysentery, and coughed up worms. A South African doctor referred her to a local Yoga swami for her ongoing health problems. She credited Yoga with restoring her health, and began filming Yoga exercise shows in 1959; even after her move to Australia, she helped spread the popularity of the practice in Africa.
Outside of South Africa, missions in Zimbabwe and Kenya helped spread knowledge of Yoga, but it was not always well received. Traditional people even now view Yoga as a “religion for the idle.” A 2010 BBC article on the African Yoga Project, in Kenya, includes laments from some young practitioners that their parents view Yoga as a waste of time and a mark of laziness. On the whole, however, the article heralds the project, a 501 (c) (3) credentialed non-profit, with providing jobs and bringing a much-needed sense of community to areas in Nairobi – with many ethnic groups and a history of tribal warfare.
Today, the African Yoga Federation counts 39 credentialed Yoga instructors as members. Though the African Yoga Federation is still in its developmental phase, Yoga is sure to bring benefit to a continent where humankind itself originated. At this time, South Africa and Namibia have a very strong, and dedicated core, of Yoga teachers and students.