One of the most remarkable aspects of our training was the group itself. Not only were we presenting the practices of yoga to people who were experiencing these practices for the first time, but from a cultural perspective what we introduced was so new and different. Our work called on our trainees to step out of their expected and familiar roles, to expand their ideas of what they could do and understand what helping people to get out of pain meant.
Responding to the challenges that arose to meet the needs of our unique group of teachers-to-be called on our years of teaching experience, group facilitation and communication skills.
Initially, Erin and I had expected that we would co-teach a training group of 13 participants together. Our trainees represented the two locations where World Spine Care (WSC) operates clinics in Botswana. Raquel Rojo-Delgado, the WSC Clinic supervisor, knew the communities well and did a great job in identifying participants for the training from both locations.
As we learned more about our trainees we realized that they were two distinct groups with different levels of physical ability, language skills, as well as very different ideas about physical fitness and experience with pain management.
The Mahalpaye Group
We had 6 trainees from Mahalapye, a town of about 40,000 people. The WSC clinic is located in the hospital there.
All were fitness trainers from the local gym. These were mostly young men in their early 20s. They had no yoga experience, but were trained in boot camp style fitness classes and taught aerobics and kick-n-jab at the gym in Mahalapye.
To give you an idea of how fit they are, they regularly participate in organized aerobics competitions where they do aerobics for up to 6 hours at a time. This group could learn and teach in English.
The Shoshong Group
Our other 7 trainees were a group of women from Shoshong, a rural village of about 7,000 people located about 40-minutes drive from Mahalpaye. The WSC clinic here is a trailer adjacent to the medical clinic.
In Shoshong the “Straighten Up” exercise program developed by the World Health Organization is offered weekly. Participants lead this 30-minute exercise program for the community. Our Shoshong trainees were selected from the group that practice this program.
These were women in their 50s and 60s, many of them grandmothers. They had all been through the clinic as patients and had benefitted from participating the exercise program. Each of them had directly experienced the benefits of movement and exercise in the management of spinal pain.
The fitness trainers and the grandmothers: we realized that these two groups were so different in terms of age, cultural roles, language and physical ability that it would be most effective to split the groups and teach them separately. This allowed us to present the material differently to addresst the different needs and understandings of the two groups and maximize the time we had together.
We had planned to deliver the training in English, to trainees who could follow along with our manual in English. When we arrived a few days before the training, we learned that this was not the case. Our Shoshong group needed to have the training and manual presented in Sestwana, the local language.
The weekend before the training began we secured an excellent translator, Ms. Tsitsi Kowa. Tsitsi not only translated for us during the training, she also was able do the written translation of the breathing and mindfulness sections of our manual by the end of the training. Our next step will be to translate the full training manual into Sestwana.
We also created visual representations of our sequences so the trainees could see which poses and exercises without having to read English.
Each day of the training began with a morning practice to give our trainees an experience of a yoga practice suited for them.
For the fitness trainers, this meant challenging them:
The Shoshong group got to practice the poses they would be teaching others:
Several times we brought the two groups together to practice teach with each other. This was an excellent learning opportunity for both groups. For the fitness trainers, teaching the elders was a valuable opportunity to address the actual population they would be serving as teachers for the World Spine Care clinics. Unlike the people who attend their fitness classes, they had the opportunity to teach an older population who could benefit from simplified postures, breathing exercises and mindfulness exercises.
For the grandmothers, teaching the younger group was a chance to feel empowered. They enjoyed a light competitive spirit in teaching the boys and felt proud that they could hold their own as teachers.