By Josephine Agbonkhese
An Australian by birth and a Nigerian by marriage, Gina Olayiwola’s commitment to the creation of possibilities for Nigerians through Yoga is extraordinary. For this cause, the international Yoga teacher who has trained teachers both in Australia and Sierra Leone, Co-Founded Madoka Yoga Wellbeing Initiative, Nigeria’s first Yoga-only studio, with her husband Lawal Olayiwola, six months ago in Lagos.
Gina who is a Baptist certified teacher and a mentor for the Africa Yoga Project is currently training over 60 Nigerians free-of-charge, to become Yoga teachers and in turn provide affordable Yoga to their different communities across the country. She tells more in this interview with Weekend Woman.
What has it been like since you established this centre?
It’s been six months since we set up Madoka Yoga Wellbeing Initiative’s studio. But prior to that, I had been teaching Yoga for two years in this community (Anthony, Lagos), both at the field and in my house. I decided to go into this because when I first came here in 2010, I saw that there was no Yoga Centre so this just became a vision.
Were you teaching Yoga prior to that?
Yes. I’ve been into Yoga since I was 18-years-old and I had been a Yoga teacher for eight years too. In three years, these people I am teaching now in my studio will be teaching other people and then I will happily move on to other things; perhaps still related to Yoga, community and youth development. My husband and I believe it’s our turn to create opportunities and possibilities for others like other people had done for us.
…and has the reception of the centre met your expectations?
It’s been amazing. The classes have been growing like every week. We have 63 people currently doing teachers’ training with us and that means Nigeria will now have 63 truly certified world-class teachers. Our breakfast class has 43 people in it right now. Most of our classes are kids’ classes with between 30 and 53 kids every week. We have clients who are on private classes and we also have children here who have various mental health issues. We also have people with physical injuries coming to us for Yoga.
Is this on-going 3-month teachers’ training free or what?
Yes, it is free of charge. But after now, we will put a price to subsequent training. It will however be affordable because we believe Yoga should be made available to everybody. It is one of the problems in America, Europe and Australia; Yoga is quite expensive there and only people at a certain level can afford it. But Lawal and I believe Yoga should be affordable to everyone. I did such in Australia where I had donation classes in which people paid what they could afford and came to do Yoga and I am glad to replicate the same here.
Now you are training 63 teachers free of charge; won’t they become competitors and reduce patronage of your centre?
Lagos is a city of over 17 million people, so, training 63 teachers is not going to saturate that market at all. Moreover, we are looking to employ the ten best teachers and then support the others to set up their centres. Our goal is to create people who will be leaders in their communities. Who can be on their own and be able to teach others.
However, I will say the training is not entirely free. My currency is commitment and timeliness. Anyone who defaults on that is out of the training. Those who failed my commitment and timeliness test are already out of the training and that’s why we currently have only 63 participants.
In a few words, what’s your vision?
My vision is to create possibilities for people through Yoga. That’s why I’m creating leaders who will in turn create other leaders in their communities and also be able to earn a living.
What attracted you to Yoga in the first place that you’ve become very passionate about it?
It has always k been part of my life. I actually started with the breathing practice and later, the physical practice. I kept developing interest in it and then introduced my children to it. Seeing women teach Yoga made me realise I badly wanted to be able to teach it too. And after years of training, that became reality and is taking me round the world.
The meditation involved is intriguing; is there anything spiritual about Yoga?
Everything in life is spiritual if it’s about our inner self. Yoga is however not a religion.
…and how much of science is involved?
Science is largely involved in Yoga. That’s why it is called the science of health and wellbeing. The breathing is scientific, as well as the anatomy and physiology we are teaching. One must know very well the parts of the body to be able to teach Yoga.
What about Yoga do you think many Nigerian are yet to understand?
I think they are just not well exposed to it; it’s not that they do not understand it. Everyone I’ve come across easily gets interested in Yoga. They love the physical practice, the meditation, and all.
…and what are its benefits?
It integrates the body and gives good body posture. Helps in meditation, brings peace of mind, tunes the body, helps to lose weight, gives more clarity about what one wants to do in life, how to do it, etc. It’s fun.
A person who does Yoga is usually more flexible, healthy, mentally sound, very accommodating and tolerant and much more. They are also particularly more relaxed. For example, we have in our classes quite a number of children who usually play and fight on the streets. But now, according to the testimonies we get since they started attending Yoga classes here, their attitudes have changed.
They are now very calm and more relaxed. We have people from different parts of Lagos who come to us here in Anthony to train as teachers or just do Yoga.
You know, it is quite different from the normal aerobics we used to know.
How would you measure the success of your work in the lives of those that have passed through you over the years?
I see the transformation. They become happier, calmer, more focused on what makes them happy in life, and their bodies are more open so they can move more freely. They have more stability in their bodies.
You’ve been in Nigeria since 2010; what do you think about the average Nigerian person?
You mean the average human being, right? I don’t class people. It’s not like “You are a Nigerian and therefore I’m going to create a whole lot of judgment. It makes no sense. Once people are on the mat, they are just ‘a person on the mat doing Yoga’.
Is that a Yoga philosophy?
I don’t know if it’s a Yoga thing. But that is my philosophy; I don’t judge people.