Most of us have experienced Renee Canzoneri’s beautiful and powerful teaching style. For those of you who have taken one of her classes, we’re sure you’ll agree that The Africa Yoga Project would have been excited to take her in as part of their Ambassador Program.
Renee has been kind enough to share her journey with all of us Light Space yogis…
LSY: Can you tell us a little bit about your first impressions of Kenya?
Renee: To be honest, the day I arrived I was a little shaken; the Garissa attack happened only hours after I reached the hotel, and I spent the remainder of the day questioning my decision to be there.
It wasn’t until the following day, when we arrived at a school in the Mathare Slums, that I remembered exactly why I went, and knew I was exactly where I needed to be.
We spent the day building desks for the students, painting the school, playing soccer (with an impressive makeshift ball made from rolled material and tape!) and teaching the kids yoga!
LSY: That must have been very surreal for you… There are some very cute pictures of you and the children… Were you able to keep up with them?
Renee: Only just! During the program, we visited a few outreach locations teaching yoga to children in the slums, at orphanages, and at special needs centres.
The time spent at outreach made me see that kids are kids no matter where you are in the world. They were so great, so beautiful. They reminded me of my nephews; they just wanted connection, attention, and affection.
They wanted to high five a lot, show you secret handshakes, and kept asking me to take photos so they could look at themselves!
LSY: Bet they loved that! What about your teaching/assisting? How did you adapt to address the internal mental struggles of the students?
Renee: The daily life in Kenya was certainly far from anything I had experienced, and before arriving I had wondered how to be there for the students in a relatable way. What I discovered is the true likeness of the human spirit from person to person, regardless of circumstances.
We all hurt, laugh, criticize, judge, worry, beat ourselves up, the list goes on…. and as simple as that realization might be, it was so powerful. The students in the program were beautiful in their willingness to dig deep and uncover the internal struggles holding them back. And at their core, the things they discovered could easily be what holds anyone in the world back, even if it manifests differently in daily life.
The beauty of yoga is that it is so accessible. I’ve been able to see how the language of the practice can translate into every life no matter the country or situation.
On Saturdays in Kenya, the Shine Centre (the home of AYP) holds a free community class. I was lucky enough (see: totally blessed!) to lead this class. There were 400 students from all around the world, and I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more empowered and inspired. The willingness of the students to come apart – to really let the practice move them was incredible.
And I loved the way they would get in to it, cheering during wheels (all 10 of them!), encouraging each other during chair pose, holding each others’ legs during standing leg raise…. The strong sense of community, even in a room of 400 people (most of whom had never met) is something I will never forget.
LSY: Wow… What an experience! Did you feel like there were any similarities to teaching in Australia?
Renee: I thought the teaching experience would be more different somehow – I thought perhaps I would need to be different. Yet, and this shouldn’t surprise me, being authentic was really the most important thing. Whether teaching in Australia or Kenya, coming from a place of authenticity gives access to connection.
Paige Elenson is the Co-Founder of AYP, and I’m blessed to call her my teacher and friend. She led most of the asana practice, and through her authenticity would continually inspire physical and emotional breakthroughs for the participants. The students in Kenya were so open to the power of the practice, and were there to shift their life and way of being into a place of empowerment, authenticity, and self-belief.
LSY: Did your impressions of the students change at all over your time there?
Renee: They didn’t so much as ‘change’ but they did grow stronger. My affinity with the cause and the people continues to grow. And yes, I’m already planning my next visit!
One thing that amazed me was the ability of the people I met to give up what they must in order to see what’s possible. Despite their circumstances, they chose possibility in the face of adversity. They chose possibility on and off the mat. They chose joy. They were there to change their life and to help change lives, and their commitment to that intention was unwavering.
We had students from all over the world come to participate in the teacher-training program, and each student regardless of age, race, physicality, or socioeconomic status, wanted the same thing; to empower and be empowered.
LSY: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Renee: I’m just so grateful to everyone who supported and encouraged me, and all those who so generously donated to AYP. I also want to thank Clare and Susan for their support and leadership. I feel truly blessed to be part of such a beautiful team where I can continue being both teacher and student. My time in Kenya was an incredible reminder that we are always both the teacher and the student. We are always inspiring and being inspired.
If I had to sum it up, I feel a sense of lightness since returning, and a willingness to come apart, dig deep, and learn more about who I am and who I am not. I feel a greater sense of awareness in my own body and life, and more than ever, I want to change lives; I want to make people aware of their greatness, and to help them to stand in it.
LSY: Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us xxx