YOGA MASTER: Kofi Busia had the privilege of training with the late BKS Iyengar
YOGA WAS only something Kofi Busia came across by chance because he couldn’t find anyone good enough to play badminton with at university.
More than 40 years on, it became his life.
Based for the last 20 years in California and teaching now in Santa Cruz, the son of a former Ghanaian Prime Minister, Busia is well aware of how yoga has changed his life, “settled” his mind and helps him come closer to understanding the infinite.
It has been a profound journey for the highly esteemed yoga master who studied under the world-renowned BKS Iyengar, one of the most celebrated teachers in the last century who helped bring yoga to the rest of the world.
Although Busia first thought yoga was about “lying on beds of nails”, he explains further what it means to him after decades of teaching: “Yoga is a science about how to approach the infinite. You can’t quieten the mind without thinking what that mind is, and it’s really about what is indiscernible.
“Yoga is really saying ‘who am I, who’s that person over there, and what am I doing really?’ A lot of people do things without thinking through the consequences,” he says.
“Yoga does help. It is a science to help identify what you want and are about to do, what is real, eternal and everlasting, and to set aside the rest.”
The Ghanaian-born yogi slips easily into topics that people spend their entire lives investigating, ideas which the major religions all discuss and shape humanity’s core beliefs about our existence.
As a child, Busia spent much of his time in exile. As a seven-year-old he remembers being on a ship that took him out of Ghana to Sierra Leone for his first period away from home.
His second stint of exile was enforced when his father, Kofi Busia Snr, who was the country’s prime minister between 1969 and 1972, was forced from power in a coup.
FATHER: Kofi Busia Sr
The young Busia went on to study politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University following in his father’s footsteps.
Busia Snr did a PhD at the famous university, no mean feat for a man who, it has been claimed, was the first person to be able to read and write in the kingdom of Wenchi, part of the Ashanti clan from which his ancestors hail.
While at Oxford, Busia discovered yoga. In terms of education, he may have followed in his father’s path, but that’s where the similarity ended. “I never had any political ambitions whatsoever,” he says. “I just wanted to go home and do something socially useful. Once I figured out I didn’t want to be a doctor, the most useful thing I could think of was in bureaucracy or administration.”
Yet his path home was barred, and after not having a clue about what he wanted to do for a career, his yoga teacher, the influential Penny Neal Smith, asked him to take over her class because she would not be doing it anymore.
“I took yoga seriously enough to turn up every week for a class, but it wasn’t as if it were a life ambition,” the 62-year-old admits.
“I didn’t have any expectations, it was just something I was reasonably interested in and was practising.
“I never really decided to become a yoga teacher, I just never found anything else to do, and I’ve been teaching for 40 years so I guess it must be what I want to do,” he laughs.
He first came across Iyengar when he was taught by him in west London. “I always found him a kind, pleasant, humorous person,” Busia recollects.
“Other people have told me how strict he was, but I never found him strict in any way. I always enjoyed his classes, I learned from him and found him great fun.”
YOGA IN ACTION: Kofi teaching a student
Apart from the oft-cited benefits it brought, yoga gave Busia an opportunity to transcend Christian dogmas that condemn non-believers. “I couldn’t understand how people like Ghandi and other faiths were all doomed to hell because they were born in the wrong religion. It made no sense to me,” he explains.
“I went through a brief phase about being worried about dying because I knew God knew I had these doubts and questions and that I hadn’t resolved them. I gradually started to find that yoga gave me the opportunity to answer a lot of the questions I had about the meaning of life and what we’re supposed to do here.”
Yoga has led Busia to grapple with some of life’s biggest questions. Apart from his teaching and looking after his family, he is working on setting out a theory which supports Darwin’s theory of evolution by defining the concept of generation.
Once again, it leads to the concept of the infinite, which Busia defines as “anything that can contain the whole of itself inside itself”.
And with his diverse pursuits in science and yoga, Busia is certainly living the way he was brought up to be – “a divine and spiritual being”.