Not many people will believe Dorcas Murunga when she credits yoga, the discipline that stresses on body relaxation, for her reduction from 100 kilograms six years ago to the 67 kilograms she weighs at the moment.
To the untrained eye, yoga looks like an eccentric activity where people strike weird poses and develop an uncanny attachment to mats. But to her, it is one of the best gifts she has ever received from a friend.
Ms Murunga joined the yoga movement with cautious optimism but now, she has embraced it so much that she trains others.
“Six months after joining yoga and starting a nutrition programme, I noticed changes in my body. I was no longer obsessed with the weigh scales or body inches. Something much more exciting and fulfilling was happening within me. I felt at peace and grateful that I was finally doing something to help myself,” she told Lifestyle.
Ms Murunga’s story is sure to strike a chord with the many people who are flocking gyms this January as they jump into the “resolution to get fit” bandwagon. For some, the goal is to knock off a few pounds that were acquired during the festivities while for others, it is another attempt at living dreams that were deferred from yesteryears.
In Ms Murunga’s perspective, yoga is an important precursor due to what it does to the mind.
On and off the mat
“Let me tell you something interesting about yoga. We often say that yoga on the mat is yoga off the mat. What that means is every yoga pose you go through while on the mat represents everyday struggles, be it in relationships, finances, health, parenting and so forth,” she said.
“The meditation that follows, which includes being still and letting in every thought and energy to course through your being then releasing it, represents how we ought to handle life’s curveballs. More often than not, we tend to shut out life stressors — bury our heads in the sand, if you will. But just because you turn a blind eye and deaf ear to a problem doesn’t mean that it will disappear. On the mat, I learnt to be still and let all my worries flow freely into my mind, address them and slowly release them into the universe. This is how I found my calm,” she added.
APPROACHED FRIEND FOR HELP
At the time she was starting the programme, she weighed 100 kilos after giving birth to three children.
She had a friend called Jamila, a nutritionist and a yoga teacher who now resides in Bolivia, and she approached her for help.
“After hearing me out, she looked at me sombrely and said, ‘Once you begin this journey, there is no looking back. This is a holistic transformation. Yoga is about mind, body and soul.’ I could tell that she wanted me to be sure about starting my yoga journey, but my mind was not there. I just really needed to lose weight. I hated my reflection on the mirror. It had reached a point where my frame couldn’t fit in the mirror!” recalled Ms Murunga.
Besides her looks, she was also battling a host of other health problems, including hypertension and depression.
“I was always frustrated and even if my husband was caring and supportive, it did not improve what I felt about myself. This is what led me to take up yoga,” she said.
When she made that decision, Ms Murunga used to design African print bags and Jamila was one of her customers.
Her earnings, she recalled, could not afford her a session on Jamila’s programme, which cost Sh1,000 per hour.
“However, she saw my zeal to change my life and so she offered me a job as her personal assistant in exchange for free nutrition plans and yoga classes. It was the best decision I ever made,” she said.
DETERMINATION PAYS OFF
Starting the journey was not a small feat. She struggled to get the poses right because her body was not flexible.
In addition, she had to cut off some of her favourite food such as mandazi and bread, and replace them with green smoothies.
However, Jamila was a remarkable teacher who insisted that she weans herself gradually into this new and healthier lifestyle.
“Within my first few weeks at the programme, I finally understood why Jamila had taken that sombre tone with me.
The change I craved for was not going to happen overnight. The nutrition plan I was on included a balanced diet which, unlike fad diets, did not give me speedy weight loss results.
The yoga poses were not strenuous enough for me to burn a lot of calories. Furthermore, Jamila insisted that her students stick to what they can, which for me was very little,” she narrated.
After weighing herself constantly over the first month on the programme and still not seeing any significant change, Ms Murunga decided to step off the scales and focus on getting healthier. Whenever she got agitated about her unshifting weight, she would grab her mat and meditate.
Eventually, she came to terms that the programme was not a quick-fix but instead a lifetime commitment.
Once that reality dawned on her, her journey became a smooth sail from that point.
“It was as if my body unlocked once it registered in my mind that the healthy food and regular exercises where here to stay.
Also, I thank God for my husband who cheered me on and kept me focused on my resolve.
Being Jamila’s assistant meant spending less time making bags and, in turn, making less money. Instead of finding fault with that, my husband chipped in more into our finances,” added Ms Murunga.
This, she said, was because her husband was impressed by the progress she was making on the programme.
“We have been married for 18 years,” she offered. “He was my high school sweetheart and so he knew me well enough to know that the programme was very important to me.”
Ms Murunga’s rough past contributed to the obesity that plagued her.
She got pregnant immediately after high school and her disappointed parents ejected her from the family.
“I felt rejected and even though my boyfriend then, now my husband, took me in, it still hurt. At some point in life I got arrested for selling illicit brew and I spent three months in prison,” she narrated.
She went on: “All these past experiences had scarred me in one way or another and, over the years, I had conveniently tucked them away in some dark corner of my mind. I sought comfort in food, consequently piling on the weight. You see, it was a vicious cycle of emotional turmoil within me manifesting through obesity which in turn led to depression and low self-esteem, leading to more eating to mask my frustrations.”
That is how yoga came in handy, and today she says she is all different.
“My body mass index (BMI) is healthy, I have inner peace and a more confident approach towards life. Life is unpredictable and sometimes I get rattled, but I have learnt to trust my journey and to be still. Often you hear people saying that yoga is a religion but it is not. Yoga helps you to be a better person by aligning your mind, body and soul,” she said.
When you visit Ms Murunga’s home, you will discover that yoga is part of her family’s way of life.
“Doing yoga with my husband and our three boys is one of best family moments. These sessions have strengthened our bond in ways that I cannot begin to explain. My boys are so proud of me. They say I am the coolest mother ever. I bet it’s because we do headstands together and other fun stuff. Being fit enough to play with my boys is simply amazing. I prepare all our family meals and ensure they are balanced. Our day begins with a tall glass of green smoothie,” she said.
Ms Murunga insists that exercising has far-reaching benefits beyond weight loss, pointing out that her three sons have never had weight problems but still benefit from their routine yoga sessions.
“It takes a lot of discipline to work out consistently, perseverance to stay motivated and commitment to stay focused. Yoga is helping us to be all that. Six years later, I do not have a weight programme but I am still on that mat. I am still taking the smoothies. Why? Because the quality of my life currently motivates me to keep at it,” Ms Murunga offered.
According to an article published in August 2017 by healthline.com, a US-based portal that focuses on health matters, yoga has been proven to have both physical and mental benefits that include relieving stress and anxiety, improving the quality of sleep, easing chronic pain, relieving migraines and fighting depression.
The practice of yoga also emphasises on mindfulness — the state of being aware and present in the moment — which can potentially improve the quality of one’s social life by ensuring they enjoy each waking moment of their life.
The discipline of mindfulness extends to mindful eating where one is conscious of the quantity and quality of food they eat and the impact of such food to their health and wellness.
“Incorporating it into your routine can help enhance your health, increase strength and flexibility and reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. Finding the time to practice yoga just a few times a week may be enough to make a noticeable difference when it comes to your health,” said the healthline.com article.
Ms Murunga’s stint as Jamila’s assistant led her to becoming an instructor at the African Yoga Project (AYP).
Her son Brighton Opiyo, who finished his Form Four examination last year, has chosen to join the initiative as a trainee as he transitions to the next level of education.
“There are a lot of opportunities for young people to become yoga instructors because there are so few of us. It is a discipline that is gradually being accepted by more and more Kenyans because of its holistic approach as a health intervention. Harmony of mind, body and soul is what yoga is all about,” she said.
This year, Ms Murunga is determined to share with others the gift she received six years back, the gift that rescued her from obesity and stress.
“Two years ago, I began doing outreach at a children’s centre on Limuru Road called Nest. The reception is amazing. Most of the children there belong to incarcerated women and it’s a privilege to impart some positive energy to the children. This year, I hope to begin a yoga programme in women’s prisons as well,” she said.