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Local yoga teacher brings technique to Uganda
Instructor joins mission trip
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Emilie Cook, owner of Find Your Center yoga studio, poses in a variation of extended side angle for a portrait in her yoga studio in Gainesville. Cook taught several gentle therapeutic yoga and mindfulness techniques to women who work in refugee camps in Uganda. - photo by David Barnes

The farthest Emilie Cook had ventured from Gainesville had been the border states of Georgia and excursions to Louisiana and New York.

Flying to Uganda in East Africa, with a stopover in Amsterdam, was beyond the dreams of the proprietor and instructor at the Find Your Center Yoga studio in the Main Street Market.

Yet, Cook posted on Facebook this week a photo of a yoga pose from Murchison State Park in Uganda.

Cook also posted photos of lions, elephants and rhinoceroses she saw at the reserve for all her friends and relatives to enjoy. It was, for her, the most consequential trip to date.

Prior to embarking two weeks ago, Cook told everyone she wouldn’t believe it until she was on the plane.

The trip of a lifetime came from a nonchalant invitation by one of her yoga practitioners — the Rev. Ruth Demby, associate pastor of missions at First Baptist Church of Gainesville.

Demby credits Cooks’ yoga techniques for avoiding surgery from severe back pain.

“At one point, I was getting MRIs and looking at what could be done,” Demby said. “Finally, when I realized I might be looking at surgery, I thought what we could do other than surgery. So, I started going to Emilie’ yoga classes, and I don’t plan on getting older without yoga.”

Cook said that in the spring  Demby asked for her help to get ready for a 5K event. When she finished with no pain, Cook said Demby approached her the next day and said, “I think you have to come to Uganda with me.”

Fighting jet lag, Cook told The Times the trip surpassed her expectations at many levels.

She said the highlight of the trip was teaching restorative yoga techniques to some 20 women who work at a mission for abused female refugees in Kampala, Uganda.

The yoga instructor arrived with the nagging question in her mind of what a western white woman could offer as a solution to a Third World problem.

“What the heck do I have to offer them?” Cook asked herself. “But they loved it. They said, ‘I don’t remember the last time I was able to be calm and be quiet in my body and to relax and to notice what my body was telling me.’”

Cook said the workers said they would use those techniques to help their clients.

Cook said she got to offer some classes during a retreat in Jinja, Uganda, with the Nile as a backdrop.

“At one point a monkey was so close it was like she wanted to do yoga with us,” Cook said. “They were very appreciative and receptive of it. So, the power of yoga has been brought to Uganda. I doubted the effectiveness of it, but I don’t anymore.”

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