Bringing Healing from Kripalu to Rwanda

Kripalu Yoga teacher Steve Terrill has the body of a football player, the face of a grown-up cherub, and the heart of a sadhu. In photographs taken during his trip to Rwanda this past spring, Steve towers over the children—and many of the adults—clustered around him, but their matching grins radiate the same light. “I’ve never felt so happy, so at peace, as I do in Rwanda,” Steve says.

Steve, a Kripalu Yoga teacher, feels that his deep connection with the Rwandan people comes in part from their shared experience of trauma. Fourteen years after the genocide that killed nearly a million Rwandans, the country is suffering from a kind of collective post-traumatic stress syndrome. Steve suffered a different kind of trauma, but he understands the deep impact it has on human development—he struggled for 15 years against drug addiction and the effects of childhood abuse.

“Then I found yoga,” he says, adding, “We hold trauma in our bodies—talking about it is good, but it’s not enough. You have to release it through movement.” He believes yoga can help heal Rwanda’s population, half of whom are under 18 years old. On his first visit to the Rwandan capital, Kigali—immediately after completing Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training—Steve brought people together to practice gentle postures and pranayama, dance and sing, and listen to each other’s stories. The first time he taught class, he was expecting a couple dozen people; 75 showed up. When he arrived for the second class, 125 people were waiting for him.

Since that visit, Steve has founded two organizations: the Rwanda Coalition, whose goal is to bring Kripalu Yoga, stress management, and trauma-recovery programs to the country, and Orphans Without Borders, providing computers and Internet access to orphans in remote Rwandan villages. His vision also encompasses business education for widows, HIV/AIDS prevention, and the creation of a coalition of nonprofit aid organizations. “I’ve decided to devote my life to this,” Terrill says. “I’ve been on this path for a long time, and somehow everything I’ve been studying all came together for my work in Rwanda.”

Along with a six-week training in trauma counseling with Vikram Patel, Steve’s preparation for this ambitious venture consists of Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training and a dozen other programs he has taken at Kripalu, on topics including body-mind psychotherapy, mindfulness in psychotherapy, and creating transformational workshops.

“Kripalu has taught me to meet people where they are and to breathe into the stretch,” Steve says. “It’s taught me I have something to offer and to follow my intuition, take a risk, and not be attached to the outcome.”

What Steve’s passion can teach the rest of us is not to wait around for the experts. “Imagine if this building was on fire and it was full of children,” he says, gesturing around him. “Until the trained firefighters and emergency technicians arrived, we would do what we could. We’d grab the hose and fill the buckets with water.”

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