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BYR Chats: Emma Bonnici from Kanga Events

by Emma Bonnici

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BookYogaRetreats speaks to Emma Bonnici, the founder of Kanga Events, about Kanga yoga and setting up retreats in Kenya!

When did you start traveling to India?

In 2008, mainly for events. Nowadays, I return twice a year to Rishikesh in India to practice yoga and run the retreats.

What other Indian events have you worked on?

I worked with the Youth Commonwealth Games and Commonwealth Games. I managed the fashion show events of the International Indian Film Awards (IIFA) for events in Macau, India and Sri Lanka. Later, I worked as Events Manager for Leeds Metropolitan in Madhya Pradesh.


When did you start teaching yoga in India?

In 2011 I returned to Madhya Pradesh to teach! Whilst teaching yoga there, I was asked to write a weekly yoga column for The Hindustan Times, which I really enjoyed!


Where did you complete your yoga teacher training and Ayurveda therapist course?

I trained as a yoga teacher with the International Sivananda organization in Vietnam and I trained as an Ayurveda Therapist at the Ayuskama Ayurveda and Panchakarma Centre in India.


Yoga class with Kanga Events. Image: Kanga Events


What is Kanga yoga?

Kanga yoga is an energetic, alignment‐based flow yoga practice. We use music, gravity and the breath to rediscover and rejuvenate the body and the mind.

According to Ayurveda, people have different biological body types. A relaxed Yin yoga practice may be good for one body type, whereas an energetic Yang practice may be best for another body type. Our biological energies vary according to our lifestyles. 

Kanga yoga adapts yoga to the individual rather than the individual to yoga. Each of our classes deepens the student's yoga practice, provides a practical understanding of yoga, and offers the opportunity to focus on specific postures, their benefit, alignment, and breath control.

You teach Kanga yoga with live music?

Yes, music itself is Hatha yoga sadhana; it involves a good amount of control and regulation of breath. Moreover, the various musical notes have their own corresponding nadis (subtle channels in the vital sheath of the body) in the vital centres within the Kundalini chakras, and music vibrates these nadis, purifies them, and awakens the psychic and spiritual power dormant in them. 

I work closely with Kat Drake, an incredible sacred singer. Together we integrate sound, color, asana and mudra to bring the body and mind into balance and harmony.


What does 'Kanga' mean?

The Kanga cloth first appeared in the mid- to late-nineteenth century in East Africa. It projects the essence and soul of East Africa. The colors and pattern tell stories of everyday African life, the struggles, spiced by uplifting periods of vitality, the unique traditions, language and culture. They are worn as everything from headscarves to skirts to dresses. The Kanga cloth embodies art, beauty and culture. It is used at any occasion and follows people through life.

I first fell in love with the African material in 2006, when I was living and working in Kenya. The kanga cloth itself is like a giant social poetry performance, a collective reading, an enormous living book of poems bound by the body, by all who read, interpret, and live by its words and many meanings. It is a multi-faceted, multi-functional, eye-popping gorgeous fabric that doubles as a message in motion. 

As a novice Swahili speaker, I could barely decode the deep Swahili scripted on each Kanga but I would happily wrap myself in the vivid prints and Live In Colour! I was making earrings at the time with beautiful spotted feathers. I fell in love with the patterns on these too! Later, I traced these feathers back to the bird; they call in Swahili, the ‘Kanga’! The spotted patterns on the African cloth, reminded people of the plumage of the Kanga bird, the chatty, sociable songbird, with its elegant spotted feathers, and so the popular name for the Kanga cloths were born!


Fun in Africa. Image: Kanga Events


How did you find yourself setting up a retreat in Kenya?

In 2006, I moved to Kenya for an events management job. The following year, I relocated to the coast to work for a diving company. While living in the coast, a friend's safari company and his extraordinary tree houses inspired me! I dreamed of bringing people to Kenya, taking them on holistic safaris and staying in such extraordinary accommodation and places.

I was taking tourists out on the boat daily for scuba diving and visioning that one-day this would be in the retreat itinerary! It was during the transition from the city to the coast that I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Laikipia, located two hours from Mount Kenya. This was a friend’s private land—acres and acres of beautiful land was someone’s back garden, filled with zebras, giraffes, buffalos, leopards, wart hogs and so much more! 

During my stay, I helped out on the farm, branding and tagging the baby cows. We visited lions up in the rocks and buffalo around the caves. I flew in a small plane and hovered above the giraffe. I really dreamed of bringing people here! Never did I think I would be amidst this beauty again. Nonetheless, in 2010, fate landed my feet back in the remote land of Laikipia to plant the seeds for the Kanga yoga and Ayurveda retreat.

A lady I was working with for kids yoga workshops in Kenya connected me with Kenya's leading Botanist and her camp in Laikipia, of all places! The following year, traveled back to Laikipia to meet Anne and see the camp. There were no tourists to be seen. Only a local would know they way through the bush! 

We spent a week planning yoga spots in the bush to stop on game drives, village trips, walks, foods, talks and so on! Truly amazing! Anne not only shares the same dream, to run holistic safaris and the passion for helping the local community, but her camp was also decorated in the elegant spotted feathers of the Kanga! The spotted feathers can often be found laying amongst acres of the magical land of Laikipia, now the spiritual home of the Kanga Retreats.


Outdoor yoga class. Image: Kanga Events


You mentioned community work. Tell us more about the Kanga Project.

We aim to create empowerment and change through the practice of yoga and Ayurveda. We aim to improve the overall health and wellbeing of local communities in developing countries. We always aim to hire locally for our retreats and achieve this by training locals in Yoga, Ayurveda, holistic therapies, nutrition, travel, hospitality and business skills. 

For the Kenya retreats, I trained Margaret, a local lady, in Ayurveda massage. I have been working with her for the last few years. She works on the retreats in January and she has the skills to continue with work out of season. I also recently trained two locals in Kanga Yoga who were sponsored by the Leopard Beach Hotel. They assisted on the retreat in January and now they teach Kanga yoga classes at the hotel in Diani.


Where else do you teach? 

I was in Croatia this summer teaching Kanga yoga classes and workshops at the festivals. We are also setting up a Kanga yoga and Ayurveda retreat. I will be back in London to teach six-week Kanga yoga courses and then to Italy in September.

Are you also a yogi who wants to focus on teaching? Then join one of the many Yoga Teacher Training retreats we have on offer and make your dreams come true. 

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