MINDFULNESS IN THE MIDST OF CHAOS: CHOCOLAKO SHARES HOW TO REMAIN CENTERED IN LAGOS
BY TOYIN GANIYU
Lagos is known as a very chaotic city, the most populous city in Africa and one where people spend half of the day being stuck in traffic and the remaining half struggling to make ends meet by searching for their daily bread. It is not surprising to find that most people live their lives stressed; upset most of the time and rarely find peace, calm or awareness beyond the physical. Chocolako share her experience with living in Lagos and helping Lagosians find calm…
You were in Bali last year, teaching Yoga, how was your experience in Bali as compared to Lagos?
I was tutoring here in Lagos Nigeria for the past five years and my experiences here have been phenomenal which is why I am constantly coming back. The way in which this vibe called Lagos operates truly is incredible. There is no place on the planet like Lagos.
And I have this firm belief that if you can make in Lagos, you can make it anywhere in the world. I call it the New York City of Africa because it is so vibrant and dynamic and when I arrived I was reaching out to other yoga teachers and asking what works here on ground, it was quite helpful. Just understanding the needs of people in the communities so I was teaching in Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki as well and what I found most interesting was a lot of people were having out of body experiences.
What does that mean?
Right! So there is something called embodied mindfulness whereby you are fully in alignment to your sensations. Your body sensory capabilities and we have portals throughout the body that are able to open and close. For example our eyes are portals for seeing, our nose are portals to smelling, our mouth is a portal for tasting and our pores and how we feel aura around us are also openings. Has an ability to open and close so that’s where messages are communicated through body, through sensations, through sensory sensual experiences through the body. And so when clients and people in Lagos were complaining about body aches or sleepless nights and one issue after the other, there are a number of variables contributing to that so having the level of awareness to maintain equanimity in your breath and that alignment in your source energy and to truly just relax in your knowing that everything truly, truly is okay is what embodied mindfulness is. By virtue of freaking out or stressing out all we are doing is sending a signal to our bodies, to ourselves that something is off. And that’s a message that we are constantly giving our self that something is off and the body would respond according to what we are feeding it, so that was my experience in Lagos. I decided to do a two months sabbatical to go to Bali, Indonesia where I call the Yoga Disney world and it truly is a playground for yogis and people who appreciate sensory body movement and breath work and true healing from within and that’s where this glow and radiance that you spoke of earlier is able to radiate. It’s just a matter of having a platform, the basic structure to be able to be creative and to work on areas of self- study and self-inquiry that truly means something to me and going back to Bali provides for me the platform for nourishment and once I’m full, I am able to share with other people around me. I am inquiring and discovering as I flow and as I go and that feels really good, to be able to receive information and share with brothers and sisters who aren’t able to travel to Bali.
You talked about embodied mindfulness earlier, what does it mean to be mindful?
Mindfulness is a sensory experience of each and every moment in the moment. We have a tendency as people operating in this matrix, in this realm to be so fixated on the past and what has already happened and what has already gone, we are so worried about back then and you have other half of the population who is so worried about the future, the undiscoverable future, a place where we probably can’t do anything. We can’t do anything about the past and we definitely can’t do anything about the future but yet those are the two areas where we tend to spend a lot of our time and so being mindful is being aware of this moment as it is happening without any interference or need to modify or restructure it to look like the past or to modify or structure it look like what it is you want the future to behold so just having that level of presence in the now is what mindfulness is about and it can happen. It is happening right now.
So are you saying as a person that you are not supposed to think about your future, make plans for your future… you know that saying that you can design what your future looks like
Absolutely not. What I am saying is there is something being said in dwelling in previous occurrences that have already come and gone so rather than just taking the lesson as it is, we dwell there. I do believe that wherever our attention goes, energy follows. So if my attention is on the intention, that level of alignment and energy alignment then helps to manifest that which I have envisioned for myself. That is completely different from dwelling in the past — the area or place where we can’t have true change or dwelling in the future whereby it hasn’t even happened yet so there’s nothing to even do but just remaining present and trusting that as a spirit which we all are — we are simply spirits having human experiences, we can then recognize okay I am not in control and simply relax in the knowing that everything genuinely is cared for if we just sit back, step back and anchor in breath in the present, we just see how things naturally navigate and weave themselves together with very little interference from us humans.
How can one achieve that state of peace where you are not regretting the future, you are not worried about the past, you are just here and now even though you are making plans for the future and you are taking lessons from the past.
I love that question, I love answering that question because it would never change. It is being anchored in breath. So as the external variables around us are doing their thing and naturally operating on their wavelength being anchored in breath and being embodied and returning to the body whenever the mind wants to wander elsewhere or take you on a journey that you are not even interested in going but just remaining present in breath. Just noticing my shoulders and the distance between my shoulders and ears or my shoulders up here, I might simply just relax and if my belly is soft or if I’m holding and contracting or if I’m trying to force something, or if it just dissolved and easy. Just the way in which I expend energy is another form of being embodied and mindful and present. So what is happening with this bio-intelligence feedback system, how am I giving and receiving information, how am I communicating on a sensory level, that is how we all are able to align with this peace that you spoke of earlier.
Talking about Lagos, in your experience with people, how has the reception been of yoga?
Amazing, Lagosians are all about healthy lifestyle and Lagosians are all about doing their own personal research and evidence based research before plunging into anything and so it has been quite the rollercoaster here in Lagos in terms of practicing yoga here in Lagos, it comes with all the ebbs and flows or everyday living in major global cities and you have people who immediately after work, come to yoga class and they know that it is important to balance the work that they do on a daily basis with body, physical sensory movement. And so to that degree, people are really excited about what’s happening in Lagos, what’s happening in West Africa and Africa as an entire continent and an entire market. People recognize the benefit of weaving breath with body movement and relaxing and combating day to day activities with inward self-care. So it’s going really well, I am happy to see what’s going to happen with the fitness space, with the yoga space across West Africa.
How did your yoga journey start?
I am the eldest of five children and we all grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. My parents are both from Benue state, Igede and they moved to the US in the 70s and my siblings and I are first-generation Americans. When I was young, I was told by my parents that I was going be a medical doctor and so was my brother, he was told that he was going to be an Engineer you know that’s just how it works in the Nigerian household. I went through University doing all the science classes — calculus, Physics,
Did you like it?
I did, I was quite fascinated with energy and how energy works so to that extent, I appreciate science, fact-based, evidence-based research, I like that. I was at UC Berkeley, graduate school in California and one of my classmates asked if I was interested in a study break and I said yes, she said we were going to a yoga class and at that time I had no idea what yoga was about but I was quite athletic — growing up, I played rugby, basketball, track. I was very active. And so the opportunity to try something new has always excited me, curiosity tends to take me into directions where I find adventure and on that yoga mat, I was crying and sweating and my tears and my sweat tasted the same and I truly appreciated the experience of being on the mat and allowing all the emotions, all the energies and motion do their thing, I wasn’t trying to resist, there was no blocking, it was just alright, do your thing. That level of freedom, that level of weight being lifted from my shoulders, off my being felt really good. So I signed up, that was on Grad Avenue, in Oakland, California in 2005. That was my first time on the yoga mat and thirteen years later, I’m still going to the yoga mat for that feeling of liberation and freedom and tears and sweat. Yeah, it was good, it was really good.
How has your experience of studying science merged with Yoga? Is there any way you use it interchangeably?
That’s a great question, I have never thought about that. Synergy. I like how science is vast. There’s not a particular topic or subject when you think through the sciences, it is quite similar to the universe. The universe is vast. And there’s never a moment in the history or time where any of us know everything. And that’s what yoga has done for me. That level of inquisition, constantly inquiring, asking questions, discovering, that’s what yoga has done for me, similar to the sciences and psychology. Being able to ask questions and then take me to a different rabbit hole and from that rabbit hole I am on to another journey and I am learning something else and something new has popped up and that expansiveness feels really juicy especially for someone who is an internal learner and I’m constantly trying to learn something new because it just reminds me that if this is possible what more is possible and that curiosity takes me to new adventures and that’s kinda what science does.
So what’s next for you? What’s that new journey that you are on to right now?
This time in Lagos, I hosted a couple of women’s sacred circles which are quite intimate. It is a sacred space where women come together , the first one I had 12 women, that’s the one you participated in, then I had one last Saturday with eleven women and I have one more this upcoming Saturday and it’s a container where we’ve agreed to be confidential, it’s private and I believe I did a really good job of selecting all those I felt could be in the same space with each other and it is an opportunity for women to speak, to listen and to be very intimate with one another and to recognize that we all have our own stories, our own narratives and it is up to us to either allow these stories anchor us or to propel us forward. And so to be able to witness another woman share her story and how she’s come through that journey because that’s her imprint, that’s how her journey looks which is very different from how it may look from your journey but to just celebrate her as she is going through it and to see within yourself and to have that compassion within yourself that wow! This sister is going through it, look at her, she is still going, she is shining, she is radiant, my goodness, she is amazing, she looks good and to be able to cheer her on as she is going through such journey is amazing, it truly is amazing and I know that because it’s been part of healing journey to be able to hold space for women as they are going through their transformation wherever they are on their cycle because we all have our own cycle and these cycles are just patterns on top of one another woven through and around it with each operating and vibrating on our own frequencies and sometimes they overlap. We are all operating on a journey and that’s really juicy. With the circles that I held in Lagos, they were just the beginning and I had a number of women ask me who were in the first I they can come to the second, I have had women who came to the second asking if they can come to the third because they have experienced their own transformation, their own awakening in very small doses and to be able to remove obscure filters and to be able to see what is as is and being witnessed by other women as a sense of accountability, community and trust and all those things we yearn for especially in this society, we are all yearning to belong and to feel as though we belong, we are all yearning to be loved, to heard and to be witnessed and celebrated and that’s what the circle does which I am really excited to roll out on a larger scale here in Nigeria and the future. I am returning to Bali to host yoga teacher training with a friend of mine and then in December, I am heading to Australia where I am participating in a lost paradise festival which I am really excited about, I am doing an African drumming meditation, should be really fun.