Be Your Color…

This next collaboration is a modern day love story indeed. Modern day in that Maya and I struck up our friendship over Instagram and we haven’t met in person. Yet. But I can sense that we are like-minded kindred spirits and I look forward to calling her my friend for reals for reals. And it’s a love story simply because I’ve long been looking (and dreaming and visualising) for yoga wear that appeals to my African soul. Something that can cheer things up when the grey Nordic landscape lays it on a little too thick. Something with the color and celebration for life in a way that’s so unique and special to the mother continent (teeny, tiny plug: our Kenya Ashtanga yoga retreat starts oh so soon!) That down to earth swagger. That joy and happiness and art of living. And any chance I get to combine not just the things I feel passionate about, but those which are integral to my identity, feels not only like my duty and purpose, but part of my destiny to share it. With you, yes you, dear reader, the very one who’s reading this🙂

1. Tell a bit about yourself Maya: who you are, where you’re from, where you live…
My name is Maya Santimano. I was born in Uppsala, Sweden, to a Swedish mother and a Mozambican father. I currently live in Uppsala, Sweden, but I’ve moved around a lot my whole life. As a child, I lived in Mozambique for six years. Later on I moved a lot and lived in Sweden, Lisbon, Shanghai and London. This is the rhythm of my life, moving around🙂
2. Sounds familiar. And what about your business; can you describe how it came about?
Puka Wear is a leisure wear line of leggings designed for yoga, dance and movement; produced in organic cotton using colorful African print. Puka Wear is an extension of myself and my identity. My father is from Mozambique, but born to Goan (Indian) parents. Therefore Puka Wear is a combination of everything that lies within me: yoga – India, African print – Mozambique, with the company created and based in Sweden.
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This company has also become something bigger than just a being producer of clothes. Two years ago, the practice of Ashtanga yoga opened up a new awareness within me, where I started to question what I thought I wanted to do in life. This lead me to the decision not to continue with my studies in Political Science, where the idea was to work in aid, mainly in Mozambique and Africa in general.
The thought of being an entrepreneur was what first caught my attention. I wanted to create a life where I worked close to the core of a business, something that is not always the case when you work in big organizations and your job is to write reports and organize projects. I want to be where things actually happen!
When I worked as a yoga teacher in Casa Vinyasa  (Lisbon, Portugal)  I was always on the look out for yoga clothes with African print, but couldn’t find any. That’s where the concrete idea behind Puka came, and it was only a few months later when I decided to go for it and produce it myself. It was a huge step. Not only within myself but it also required a lot of strength in relation to everyone around me who had ideas of what I should and should not do.
3.I bet it was and that step took a huge amount of belief and trust in your intuition. You mentioned Ashtanga yoga opening up a new awareness in you which in turn sparked this tremendous career and life transformation. Tell us a bit more about your Ashtanga yoga background…
My yoga journey started in Lisbon where I was living for a year, studying Portuguese.
I had started a meditation practice and became more and more curious about yoga. When I first came to Casa Vinyasa in Lisbon I knew nothing about yoga, and even less about Ashtanga yoga. Casa Vinyasa is Isa Guitana Wong’s shala, who was one of the first yoga teachers of Ashtanga yoga in Portugal.
After my first practice I was completely in love, with the practice, with the space, with the teachers, everything! I started coming everyday to practice in Isa’s beautiful shala and with her wonderful assistants Liz, Stef and Ana. A few months into my practice, Isa asked if I wanted to assist her. I was completely blown away because it had never ever crossed my mind to teach yoga. And I was even more touched by the fact that I would be part of this beautiful shala and one of the team made up of such strong, loving women who dedicate their time and love to us students. So only a few months into the start of my own practice I was given the chance to dive deep into the world of Ashtanga, into the world of me and also see what it means to be there for a student.
Isa is my teacher and a dear dear friend. She studied together with Guruji in Mysore and continues to give the teachings of Ashtanga yoga to others. I know that one day I will go to Mysore and I am longing for that day, but now I feel strongly that there is so much more for me to discover together with Isa and learning from her.
Due to my current lifestyle I haven’t had the time and haven’t been settled enough to find space to continue teaching here in Sweden. However, now the circumstances are different and I will soon start teaching Ashtanga yoga again, here in Uppsala.
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4. What else do you like to do besides Ashtanga yoga and nurturing Puka wear?
I love cooking and reading cook books! I love adventures and everything that gives your day to day life that little extra boost: food, dancing, laughing, small projects at home, building things, being creative.
5.  What are some of the advantages to being your own boss? What about the disadvantages?
The biggest advantage to being your own boss is the freedom you have in your daily life. Being an entrepreneur makes you flexible to whatever comes that day, and for that I am grateful everyday. However, with freedom comes responsibility, which is the other side of the same coin. You are ultimately responsible for making your own money and always pushing the business forward. It requires a lot of discipline and just like you can have days of pure happiness and full power energy, you have days when you just want to quit.
Another advantage is that you can be really close to the core of a business, and at the core is where you can have visions and plan the future. This is a practice that gives a lot of energy and is so fun to be part of. You have the possibility to actually CREATE from your own source.
6. What advice would you give women, particularly women of color living in primarily white contexts, about starting a venture of their own?
First of all I would like to share that there will be no perfect timing. The time when you decide to follow your dream, there will be fear, there will be doubt, there will be people questioning you, you will be questioning yourself, there will be so much fear that you’ll feel it physically. Therefore, there won’t be a time where it just feels right all the time. I can guarantee this 100%. What you should remember though, and what kept me going, is that this is part of life as a whole. There will always be ups and downs because it’s the rhythm of life and it’s within this rhythm that things move forward. And on those down days filled with doubt, you should remember that this will pass, the fear will calm down eventually. It’ll probably also come back again, but you learn not to get too attached to it.
Secondly, I cannot stress enough the importance to start early with manifesting your dream in this physical world. In the dream, everything feels so distant, so unattainable, so romantic and this can make you passive because it seems so far reaching. Therefore, it’s important to start writing about what it is you are creating. Start writing down, talk to others about it, and start working with it in this physical world. One of the things that made all the difference to me was the amazing support I got from being a part of an incubator for start ups. What this incubator gave me was 1) they believed in me and my idea and 2) they helped make my dream real, into something workable. In the beginning you don’t really know where to start but I was given tools to work with and in this way, it was much more do-able.
Being a yogi, I will of course advise everyone to practice yoga or at least do something that is only yours, where you dedicate time only for yourself. I start most days with my practice, and I think that this grounded me in a way that was important during the beginning stages of Puka, where you deal with a lot of emotions, both good and bad.
Believe in what YOU are creating. Believe that you do not have to do like everyone else. There are a lot of ideas on how to run a business, what to do, how to behave, but many of those things didn’t feel right to me so I did it my own way. Always stick to what feels good, because when you do, you’re creating from a deep source of energy within yourself and you are working in line with your path, not against it.
7. Wow, this is so inspiring Maya! Where do you see yourself (and your business) in the next five, 10 and 20 years?
The thing with life is that you can only respond to what you have at the moment. At this moment, I want to explore this adventure that Puka is giving me because I believe that it will lead me forward and make me grow in a way that is stronger and wiser. But one day maybe something else will excite me. I am not too attached to Puka Wear itself. I am more interested in what it can give me at the moment. Therefore it is hard for me to think about Puka in 10 or 20 years, because so much can happen. In the last two years only, my life has turned upside down at least three times.
Having said that, I do see myself working creatively, with the African continent, with design, with culture. I also see yoga as a big part of my life, teaching and practicing and never stopping going deeper inside myself and exploring within.
8. As a yoga practitioner, do you feel you make choices in your business that reflect some of the values and ethics written and discussed about in yogic teachings and philosophy? What is one example?
As a yoga practitioner, you practice listening to yourself, your body, your spirit, your inner voice, and this is what I always do with my business. I probably could have made the start- up process faster and shorter and started earning money now now now, but I wanted to let Puka Wear grow organically and not force anything. On the yoga mat I know what happens if I force myself, I have learnt the hard way just like most do when they start their practice. You are eager to move forward fast, next posture, deeper, open up, more more. But with the practice over time comes patience, patience to wait for the right moment and the right decision. And trust that that moment will come, 100% sure. Of course I have days when I’m too much up my head and not enough grounded inside myself, and I want to move faster and I feel like I’m shit at what I do and nothing good will come out of this. But then thanks to my practice and my experience on my mat I have that grounding feeling in my stomach to relax and not force anything.
9. To end the conversation on a lighter note, what’s your I’m a Dope Ass Queen anthem that you listen to when you need that little reminder that you are, indeed, a dope ass queen?
Haha, I love this question! In Uppsala, where I live, everyone cycles, so pumping music in your headphones when you cycle… it’s just CRAAAZY how much energy it gives. You almost get high from it! But my choice at the moment is probably Can’t Hold Us  by Macklemore. Especially listening to it with headphones, you’re full power!
You can check out Maya and Puka wear on social media @pukawear and www.pukashop.com
The Kickstarter campaign has now reached it’s goal (good job, girl!) but you can still put your order in for the first shipment of super cheerful leggings, set to ship out in January!*
Watch the super inspiring story of Maya and  Puka Wear here…
*I’m not sponsored in any way by Puka Wear… I just believe in Maya’s vision🙂

Suomesta Rakkaudella…From Finland, With Love

Hello hello,

I’m excited to start a series on the blog that has been bubbling around my head for awhile: a look at women entrepreneurs, or femmepreneurs as I like to call ’em, who are working in some creative field or capacity. The purpose of the series is to interview several women of color here in Helsinki (and beyond) who run their own small businesses. It’s to feature women who are working for themselves and/or are leading a group of employees. The main themes I’m looking to highlight are to inspire women of minority identity to take risks, believing in themselves as business owners and to make choices which come from a place of purpose, passion and creativity.

I start the series with Bianca, an African-American by way of the West Indies who’s lived in Helsinki since 2008. Her father was a military man and the family moved around when the children were young, eventually settling in Texas. She went to a predominantly Mexican high school in El Paso and was one of four Black students there. Bianca was Texas state champ in high jumping, won a track scholarship and attended Southern Methodist University.  In terms of study interests, she found out she was more creative rather than technical and had a desire to study Ceramics. She earned a degree in English and Journalism in 2000 and after graduation, decided not to continue with her athletic pursuits by going to Olympic training camp. She felt it was something she’d been doing for so long that it had begun to feel a bit empty and she wished to see more of the world. She felt she’d done what was expected of her by graduating and that now it was time to strike out on her own.

She worked as an editor in Dallas for a bit but felt ready to leave Texas so she went out to New York City to stay with a friend, Sharon (you’ll hear more about her in another post) from university. Funnily enough, the day before 9/11, she’d taken the red-eye back to Dallas and about a month later she packed up her things and, with the help of a friend, drove a U Haul out to the city. Once there, she began the transformation of reinventing herself in the city, working as a bartender and a model; gathering education and skills along the way by studying acting and the culinary arts. She did this for about nine years and felt it was a great period of growth. She’d felt that as far as high-school and college athletes go, they led quite sheltered lives, where everything is taken care of for you. In NYC, which she considers to be home, she felt she truly came into her own, on her own terms. However, after close to a decade in New York, she started feeling that wanderlust itch again and began to think about possible moving out to LA to pursue acting, when fate stepped in and determined that she would actually continue her story in Finland. She met a Finn and after two years of doing the long-distance thing, when she was invited to move to Finland, she accepted and arrived to Helsinki in the summer of 2008.

And thus begins the Helsinki chapter of the tale…

So why don’t we start with your business and the story of how it came to be?

I run a tourist and souvenir T-shirt retail company called Suomesta Rakkaudella*. It’s based at Kauppatori by the harbor and I do the design, printing and embroidering for the shirts. When I first moved to Finland, I was working my boyfriend at the time with his Kauppatori stall. After the relationship ended, I was sort of forced to work for myself and the reason I stayed at Kauppatori was because I felt limited with what I could do career wise due to language limitations. In 2010-2011 I started my own stand with one of those low-key, informal umbrella stalls, four designs and two colors of shirts. Now I have 16 different designs and several colors to choose from. I’m proud of it because I love the design aspect and while there are more glamorous things to design than souvenir T shirts, at least it’s a built-in focus with a market. I’m currently learning to delegate better so that the business can grow.

*From Finland, With Love (which also happens to be the title of Roman Schultz’s tongue-in-cheek book on life in Finland)

The nature of business at Kauppatori is seasonal and tourist dependent. Can you describe how you structure your on and off-season schedules? 

Basically, during the summer, I wake up 6am so that I can get to the market by 7am. This past season I didn’t take on an employee, so I sold alone at the stall. I’d only stop for a quick food and bathroom break and it was back to the stall. I’d finish at around 6:30 or 7pm, take a look at the inventory and go straight to print whatever’s out of stock usually until midnight. I work crazy hard in the summer, 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Not much sleep, not much eating, just work. Winter is the quiet time and now the question has become, “What do I do in the winter?” The first winter or two, I enjoyed the time off but after a while, you need to do something to feel worthwhile.

Are you involved in other projects?

I’ve done some TV work. I recently wrapped up filming as an extra on a TV series and when I first came to Finland, I was on Top Chef. Last year, my brother and I made Trinidadian food for Ravintola Päivä. I made roti, chicken curry and several sauces. I’ve also done a bit of modelling but the market is different here. It’s not my market but it’s a nice supplement. Right now, food trucks and the whole concept of street food is booming in Helsinki. And you know, coming from Trinidad, it’s all street food so I’ve had a small thought to have a Trini food truck. It’s hard to make a profit with food though so you need to really love it.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to setting up your own business here?

As an entrepreneur the scariest thing is thinking that I don’t have a retirement plan. You’re living by the seat of your pants. When you’re doing it by yourself, it’s a lot harder. With a career and a job, all that comes with the package. I think about retirement everyday. In the initial and middle stages, you need to live with the fact that you and only you are providing for your future. There’s no 401K or retirement plan and you need to make enough so that you can retire in the future. There’s more responsibility in your own life which is great but it’s also harder than leaving it up to the government or your job to take care of you. Here in Finland I’d say it’s a bit easier, especially for women. I personally had enough savings so I didn’t need to use a start-up grant, but it’s not like in the States. Finnish offices are supportive and helpful and they want to help you and work with you, as a small business owner.

That first season in Kauppatori, it was make or break. I said a Hail Mary and threw in the rest of my savings. That first year I was thinking to make enough money just to go back home. It’s pretty isolating within Kauppatori as well and you do need some working knowledge of Finnish with them (Kauppatori), to get through the bureaucracy. You need to work very hard yourself because employees are so costly here. Opening anything, you have to love it. You don’t have to know you love it, not in the beginning, but once you’re in it, if you don’t love it, get out, it’s going to suck you dry.

Where do you see yourself (and your business) in the next five years?

I am happy in Finland and Helsinki and so I plan to stay here for the foreseeable future. When people ask me where I’m from I say New York but currently I consider Finland to be my home. Over the next three-five years, I’d really like to have a yoga wear line and move more into the cut and design of fabric. I love the quality of materials coming out of Bangladesh but there’s a lot of stigma attached to it as a result of the unethical and exploitative treatment of textile and garment workers. It’s tricky because when I look at the quality of the products, it really is Bangladesh that’s making the best stuff and, in the end, I want to give the consumer a good, durable product. Another place in consideration is Portugal where there’re some factories within the garment industry which use organic materials and provide fare wages for the workers.

This leads nicely into my next question: As a yoga practitioner, do you feel you make business choices which reflect some of the values and ethics written and discussed about in yogic teachings and philosophy? 

The idea of fair pricing. I don’t buy the cheapest or most expensive shirts on the market. I find the best product for my needs and deliver it in the best possible way. I try to keep prices within an accessible range. Honesty, honor, truthfulness, many of the yamas and niyamas are in there. It also comes from a moral core that my mother enforced and just by trying to be a decent person.

Tell is a little bit about how you got into yoga…

I’ve practiced yoga for ten years. I’ve only had a dedicated practice for four years. I started in New York at gym classes, etc. I didn’t become really interested until I went to Jivamukti Yoga there. They introduced me to proper alignment, counterbalancing forces, chanting and meditation. I had only experienced the asanas before and they gave me my first glimpse into what yoga really is, and I was hooked. Then I moved to Finland shortly after. Here I haven’t really found a home studio. I did Bikram for a while at Yoganordic. While they were lovely, it was back to just asanas and I was really missing what I’d met at Jivamukti. So once the breakup happened, I decided to take my “Eat, Pray, Love” journey, went to Bali and got my 200hr teaching certificate. I really never intended to teach, I just wanted to immerse myself and learn and heal. That totally worked, but it also developed a desire in me to teach. Since I’ve been back I’ve been “home schooling” myself by following Meghan Currie’s classes on Cody App. I consider her my guru. I’ve taken on some other teachers whom I respect as well, including Dylan Werner, Ashley Galvin and Talia Sutra. I’ve taught a few private classes, but the market keeps me too busy to really focus there. I also feel that in order to teach, I need to gain more knowledge. I’ll most likely take my 300hr training at some point and I’m continually reading and expanding my own practice. I do a mix of yin and vinyasa. It’s not rooted in any particular style. I couldn’t call it Ashtanga, as I don’t follow the traditional sequences. I like to move but I also like to find stability and ease in static holds. I like powerful flows that are challenging, but I’m hyper focused on alignment and gentle progress. I think your yoga should always help you, not hurt you. Everything comes in its own time.

What advice would you give women, particularly women of color, who may not have much Finnish under their belts, about starting a venture of their own?

When you think of savings, you don’t need to necessarily think you need to make such a large contribution to get started. I started with four designs and put 5K. The important thing is to just start. Really be willing to work for it. I didn’t know I liked tshirts. I’m just lucky that I did. Give it up right away if you don’t love it. You don’t need to know that you love it before you start but when you are in it, you gotta love it. If you find yourself lacking in love, give it up, let it go and start something else!

To end the conversation on a lighter note, what’s your I’m a Dope Ass Queen anthem that you listen to when you need a boost of energy? What are your hobbies?

If I want to get pumped up, I listen to Robyn or Sia but honestly yoga and meditation keep me sane. I’m planning to do a Vipassana meditation course early next year. I also love to play golf. I’m artistic so I like to draw and paint and plan to get back into ceramics at some point.

Alright dear ones, that wraps it up for me. I’ll be keeping you posted on developments on the yoga wear line. The next thing to do is book your flight to Helsinki and visit Bianca at Kauppatori. Tell her I said, “Hiiii!”

xoxo

One bad-ass mami

Hi friends,

Another late and short post on this Monday evening. Lots of workshop wrap-up yesterday and travel back to the base today, but I’m still determined to get this one out as a response to last week’s post.

Thank you so much for everyone who posted comments on the blog and on Facebook in response to my mother’s post. It seems like it resonated with a lot of people, which is way cool.

My mother is one bad-ass woman. Seriously, she’s such an inspiration, the way she’s delved into this yogic lifestyle, started not in the first flush of youth. And yet, she approaches her asana practice with such consistency and diligence, not for the glory of advancing into more glamorous, eye-catching postures, but for the value of keeping the body healthy and in well-functioning order. I think her mental drive is one her main strengths. She doesn’t make excuses for herself, she never has and most likely won’t start now. She doesn’t use her age against herself as a reason not to give things a go. I mean, she’s not taking mad crazy risks either and injuring herself, but that spark of curiosity that has been blazing throughout her life is very much present.

I think that’s what it is. That spark.

Makes you want to be around her.

May we all practice with enthusiasm and sparkle, no matter the series or posture (or age!).

images om    and  2000px-Heart_corazón

Reflections of an ageing Ashtangi

The following post was written by my mother, Celia Nyamweru. Enjoy!

Ashtanga yoga is a family affair for me – I started practicing after my daughter, Wambui, began to share her life with the highly respected Ashtanga yoga teacher Petri Räisänen. In January 2011 they invited my husband and me to join them at Petri’s retreat on Koh Mak island in southern Thailand. I celebrated my sixty-ninth birthday the following July, when I was at my second retreat, the one run by Petri and his long-time friend and business partner, Juha Javanainen, in Houtskar, south-west Finland. Since then I have attended these retreats every year, usually for two or three weeks.  2016 was the seventh year of my retreats – and incidentally of my seventy-fourth birthday. As I’ve got older and stiffer, I have seen Wambui gain in skill and confidence, both as a practitioner of yoga and as a teacher. She and Petri are now the parents of a 2.5 year old son, Sesam – but I will come back to that later!

The way I have come to understand Ashtanga yoga, your chosen teacher is a very important person in one’s practice, the person to whom one turns for advice and by whom one is given permission to attempt new asanas. I consider Petri to be my instructor, but I only actually practice with him twice a year, during the Koh Mak and Houtskar retreats. During these retreats he makes time available for personal consultations, as well as running group sessions where he addresses people’s questions and demonstrates particular asanas. As his mother-in-law, I feel that I should keep a low profile in these sessions. I try to be very scrupulous about not bothering him with yoga-related questions when we are together at meal times or sharing family time during the retreats. I am a retired university professor and I know how exhausting it can be to run workshops and field trips when one is constantly bombarded with student questions! I am lucky to be able to turn to Wambui for questions about my practice as well – including reminding me of the Sanskrit names of some of the asanas!

During the months between the retreats, I practice at home. I try to practice five or even six times a week, most weeks, and I think this frequent practice is essential as one ages. We are all of us getting older – but obviously there is a difference between ageing from twenty-nine to thirty-four, and ageing from sixty-nine to seventy-four! As I practice, I am constantly aware of my body and how it is changing. I think I have a naturally flexible body, but my upper body strength leaves a lot to be desired. It took me about three to four years to get my legs into full lotus, and I am still working on it! But I find that much easier than Bhujapidasana and Kukkutasana, which remain distant goals.

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Balance is said to be a challenge as one gets older, and I look with envy at other people’s perfect Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, though in fact it is the transitions within this asana that I find most difficult; once my leg is out in front or to the side, I can usually remain fairly steady. And in Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, I find I can usually bind if I do so once my head is down, though I cannot bend forward with my hand already binding! In the transition from Kurmasana to Suptakurmasana, I find it almost impossible to bring my feet together, however hard I wriggle them. It is much easier for me to get out of Kurmasana and then go into Suptakurmasana as a new asana. I mention these details to show how I am constantly making concessions and taking small short cuts, which I assume will increase as the years pass. Petri and Wambui are very tolerant and understanding about this!

At the same time there has been progress; there are some asanas that I consider as the benchmarks or hurdles that I use to monitor my efforts. Marichyasana D is one of them (I’m sure I am not the only person who feels this!) I cheat a bit with this one, since I am much stiffer on the first side when one is twisting to the right. My first right hand twist I do with my left foot on the floor; twisting left I can put my right foot on my thigh, first time round. Then I turn back to the right hand twist again and this time put my left foot on my thigh – and I can usually bind, however inelegantly! Another benchmark is Sirsana, which I have been working on very incrementally for the whole seven years. I still need the reassurance of the wall in front of me as I go into the pose, and I still need to go up with bent legs rather than straight legs. But most of the time I do not need to actually feel my feet on the wall before I straighten my legs fully, and I am slowly trying to bring my straight legs slowly down to the floor as I come out of the pose.

Last July Petri suddenly gave me a few second series asanas, which came as a surprise and an added challenge. I had no time to read up on them or to watch anyone else doing them – I was on the mat and following his directions before I realized what was happening! Luckily I was able to consult with Wambui later and also refer to his Nadi Sodhana book for a sense of what I should be aiming at. I don’t think my Achilles tendons will ever allow me to proceed very far with Pasasana, but I am excited to be making tiny improvements in my balance in Bakasana. I take the precaution to put two cushions in front of me in case I plop forward onto my nose, as has happened several times.

Being retired means that I don’t have to rush anywhere after my practice – but during the retreats I find that family life makes some demands on my practice, especially in Houtskar. Juggling a busy professional schedule with care for their son Sesam is a huge challenge for Petri and Wambui, and over the last three years I have been able to make a modest contribution to this. At Houtskar Petri usually goes for his own practice soon after 4 a.m., and I would start my practice as early as possible (before the first group session that begins at 5 a.m.) so that I can be finished before 7 a.m. This allows me time for a quick shower before I take over watching Sesam from Wambui so that she can teach her class; we still have to make sure that each of us has time for breakfast! Later in the day things are slightly less hectic, but I have spent many hours walking with Sesam; first with him in a baby carrier, later in a stroller and most recently keeping him company while he plays in a sand pit.

As I get older, I worry more about injury. So far I have avoided serious injuries, though at times I notice bruises on my upper thighs, probably due to the pressure from Marichyasana B and D! I am extremely cautious with my legs, in particular my knees, moving very slowly in and out of the standing asanas. And when doing some of the seated asanas like Janu Sirsana, I give my knees a kiss now and then to thank them for being there for me! Yoga has made me extremely aware of my body and how it continues to change. I think that the main challenge over the last seven years is that I now find it harder to practice in the early morning as I wake up stiff and sore after the night’s sleep. I broke my left arm in 1999 and my right pelvis in 2009, and the residual stiffness from those injuries is increasingly making itself felt. By mid-afternoon I am warmer and more flexible, though I still find I practice extremely slowly. One of the challenges of doing Mysore practice in a group is the sight of younger people going through their practice so fast – I know one is supposed to keep one’s dhristi in all the appropriate points, but one can’t help noticing some things!

Being part of a group during the twice-yearly retreats means that other people also notice me! Over the years I have built up a group of ‘yoga friends’ from several European countries whom I meet at retreats, and many of them have given me tremendous encouragement about how my practice has developed. They notice improvements that I may not be aware of, since I feel I am always practicing at the limit of my ability. And last summer I also learned something unexpected from one of them; it seems that Petri has been using me as a source of inspiration for older people with remarks like this: “Celia started doing yoga aged 68 and look where she is now; no reason why you can’t do this at the age of 55.” I was a little surprised to find myself used as a role model in this way, but I have to think of it as a compliment! I am sure yoga will continue to be an important part of my own life, of my family life, and a help to me as I negotiate the challenges of living in an ageing body.

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Binge Watching…

Hiiieeee!

So, this week’s post is just a confession to say that I’ve encountered some serious writer’s block combined with overwhelming procrastination, most likely caused by my long awaited binge watch fest of Broad City! I’ve lit-ruhly waited two years to be able to watch all three seasons and finally it arrived to Finnish broadcasting. Hurray!

Next week, I’ll be back on with my mother’s reflections on what’s it’s like to be an aging ashtangi. It’s going to be a good one, inspiring and honest so be sure to check it out.

In the meantime, Yas Kween, Yas, Yas, Yas!!!

ilana-yas

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Travelogue: Tel Aviv. First Impressions

A friend of mine, who also happens to be one of the founders of an online publication of award-winning journalism, once gave me a tip: to write anything and everything that comes to mind for the first three days when you are in a new place. Your mind and sense of observation are freshest then. Taking into account that this is now my third day in Tel Aviv, this is a casual list of my first impressions on what I’ve managed to witness and observe here.

  1. We arrived into Tel Aviv on Thursday night. My first impression from the plane was one of a buzzy city and its surrounding areas.
  2. On the taxi drive from the airport, it felt a bit like Abu Dhabi, with smooth, new roads and palm trees dotting the landscape. Once in town I got the sense of vibrant, proper street culture.
  3. The area our apartment was located in was mixed with glossy, shiny skyscrapers, all banks at the street levels and high-rise luxury offices up above, and scruffy, crumbling, disheveled-looking architecture.
  4. The UAK Crew have tagged themselves quite prominently around the city.
  5. Hebrew is an enchanting-sounding language.
  6. The script renders me completely helpless.
  7. Black African men make up the city’s janitorial labor force.
  8. There are signs of unevenly distributed affluence. Piles of not-really all that used clothes and shoes being left out on the street and homeless men sleeping on patches of grass along Rothschild Boulevard.
  9. The hummus is like eating a cloud of soft loveliness.
  10. I’m not going to dip a layer of raw onion into it though. Not now. Not ever. Sorry.
  11. Signs of the wide Jewish diaspora are prominent. One minute I felt like I was walking down a leafy Parisian boulevard with classically French cafes all around, the next I felt like I was in North Africa with hamsa talismans at the entrances to homes; still again I felt like I was in New York City and once more transported to a shop that could have been equally at home in Moscow.
  12. I didn’t realise just how widely the Jewish diaspora extends.
  13. To be eighth-generation Israeli, on the mother’s side, is something to be proud about.
  14. The perfume, that both men and women use, is alluring and I want some. None of that big brand, celebrity-peddled toxic stuff out of Duty Free. It’s poetry.
  15. Fashion is cosmopolitan and enticing, especially in the Neve Tzedek neighbourhood.
  16. Signs of Judaism are clearly around but it doesn’t feel like an omnipresent factor, at least to a visitor.
  17. There are quite many Asian-folk on the street. I wasn’t expecting that.
  18. It was nice to exchange hair care tips with some of the yoga students after class. Curls and texture for days.
  19. People were friendly. Only one or two times did I experience some harsh, severe looks.
  20. Don’t put Russia and Israel in the same sentence.
  21. It seems to be quite an open,  friendly, tolerant place for gay men in particular.
  22. Dogs are popular as pets.
  23. The girl and boy scouts were out in full form in Yarkon Park the other day.
  24. Surf culture is a thing here.

Lastly, and this was by far the deepest impression, on our second evening, we went to a rather nondescript fast foody street restaurant to get some falafel. A rather shabby man came shuffling towards the street-side tables and asked a middle-aged man with short dark hair and glasses for some food. The man with glasses said no and so the hungry man moved on and approached a young man with a glorious Jewfro, all halo of wavy, golden curls, and an open, pleasant-looking sort of face, and asked him for the same favour. The young man consented, stopped eating his meal, went into pay for the hungry man’s food. He came back out and continued with his meal and after sometime, the second man joined him with a generous looking amount of food on his tray. When the kind young man was finished with his meal, he got up, shook the man’s wrist in farewell, threw out his garbage, came back out and gave a final salutation goodbye to the grateful recipient of the meal, crossed the street and walked off. I was fully impressed by this interaction. From start to finish. I mean, you hear of people doing such deeds, but to actually witness this act, which reads like the Good Samaritan out of the bible? I mean, it was utterly decent.

Then that same restaurant went ahead and charged us three times the amount for the food we actually ate. It was the most expensive street food I’ve ever eaten, that’s for sure. Ah well, good and evil nicely tucked side by side…there’s something appropriate about that too.

Shalom friends and, as always,

images om and 2000px-Heart_corazón

Ashtangi Mami Wata

Ok, let’s jump right into it, shall we friends? I promised to talk this week about how I turned melancholy into something more uplifting right? I like to think that melancholy is my expression of creativity in its potential seed form and in order to transform it into something good and satisfying, I owe it to my inherent creative self to manifest it be doing something creative.

Brene Brown said it so well on Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, Big Magic, “Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world and without it, I am not okay…and without having access to everyone else’s, we are not okay. There is no such thing as non-creative people, there are just people who use their creativity and people who don’t and unused creativity is not benign…it metastasises into resentment, grief, heartbreak. People sit on that creativity, or they deny it, and it festers. ” 

We’re all creative beings but somehow along the way, we’ve been taught to ignore and forget this in the work of surviving this serious life and tattered world. I’m encouraging that you, for the sake of us all, tap into your creativity, be it in cooking a nice meal or writing, singing, dancing, painting, making music…whatever your creative spirit finds expression and realisation in. It doesn’t have to become your full-time paying work. You don’t even have to show it to anyone for curation and display and posterity. You can keep it fully private and personal and do it for nothing but the reward of having made or done something. One sculptor makes these sculptures only to throw them into a river. Think of the Tibetan Buddhist process of sand painting these beautiful and intricate mandalas. Tibetan monks spend hours upon days upon weeks to create, and then dismantle these mandalas upon completion, as a symbol  of the transitory nature of material life.

It doesn’t even matter if you don’t feel you are particularly ‘good’ or ‘skilled’ at what you like to do. Most of us I would say carry wounds of shame from childhood surrounding our creative attempts, when you were told by someone, for example, not to quit your day job because your voice sucks. Especially for us African children growing up in the 80s and 90s, where creativity was routinely dismissed and mocked, which is like, so crazy to me as we have creativity through from our veins; where creative work was not considered to be work at all; where nonlinear thinking was not considered to be thinking at all. We have a lot of work to do to unlearn these false beliefs. That’s why I’m so happy to have someone like Lupita Nyong’o’s success story as it helps shift the narrative into more inclusive, tolerant, open-minded territory.

However, I’ll go far and wager that we can all unearth a painful memory, from childhood especially, when our creativity was shut down in harsh judgment. And this moment was so strong in its shame that the impression basically changed the way we thought about ourselves forever more. Think of a man who loved drawing more than anything else in a his life, how he found safety in it in what was essentially a traumatic upbringing. One day, as his mother was putting up one of his drawings on the fridge, his father said, “Look, we don’t want him to be a faggot artist.”* Now think how that was the last picture he ever drew until at 50, about 40 years later, he started drawing again. “Like in Big Magic, when you’re taking on creativity, you are taking on soul work. This is not about what we do, it’s about who we are”**

*Brene Brown; Big Magic Podcast; Season 1, Episode 12 ; **Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

So please, for the sake of us all, don’t just watch and consume from the sidelines. Release the shackles of what you’ve (mis)understood and internalised yourself to be at an early age. Explore, enjoy and satiate your creative instincts either for yourself alone or to be shared and displayed, as I truly believe that much of life’s maladies can be solved or at least understood and come to terms with by using up our inherent creative energies.

Anyway, as I was marinating on the type of way feelings I wrote about last week,  I turned on the radio (Basso) and went to church for a moment. The djs on the show Radio Ouagodougou were killing it and that music felt like the sweetest balm for my parched spirit. Here’s the link to the song which spoke to the marrow of my soul at that moment. You can listen to it while you scroll through the photo shoot which has literally been an idea aching to become a reality for a good long while.

It seems like autumn is my ode to Mami Wata, the water spirit venerated in West, Central and Southern Africa and in the African diaspora in the Americas. This year, I managed to get the spectacular Bianca to join me for some nature deity celebration and black girl yoga consciousness raising (the quasi-Nordic edition). It is an offering, my narrative to show that there we are everywhere, spinning straw into gold. Black women, lift each other up and rejoice in the truth that when one black woman wins we all win. Black girl, lose yourself and find yourself again and create yourself and love yourself. Love her tenderly and fiercely, without shame and miserliness. Love her without permission. Love her without restriction. Love her completely and fully and whole-heartedly.

black-onyx-mala

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Earth mala: Black onyx: a powerful protection stone; absorbs and transforms negative energy, and helps to prevent the drain of personal energy; aids the development of emotional and physical strength and stamina, especially when support is needed during times of stress, confusion or grief; fosters wise decision-making. Use Black Onyx to encourage happiness and good fortune; useful in healing old wounds or past life issues; wonderful for meditation and dreaming, recommended to use a secondary grounding stone in combination with the Onyx.

Earth mala: Labradorite: enhances the mental and intuitive abilities of clairvoyance, telepathy, prophecy; assists in communication with higher guides and spirits; provides an ease in moving between the worlds, and permits a safe and grounded return to the present; brings out the best in people, making work life more congenial; courtesy and full attention to the customer; tempers the negative side of our personality, the traits and actions that rob our energy and may produce depression or shame; helps develop the hands’ sensitivity, making it useful for physiotherapists and all who use the power of touch to heal.

fire-mala

fire-mala

Fire mala: Agate: promotes inner stability, composure, and maturity. Its warm, protective properties encourage security and self-confidence; great crystal to use during pregnancy; also helps new mothers avoid the “baby blues”; Coral: calming; alleviates depression; changes adverse mental and emotional situations, such as nightmares, anger and fear, into more beneficial conditions, including intelligence and bravery; Garnet: energising and regenerative; boosts the energy of an entire system; stabilising; brings order to chaos whether internal or external; root chakra stone, excellent for manifestation; used to ground one’s dreams in reality, bringing abundance, prosperity, and realization of those dreams

water-mala

Water mala and bracelets: Aventurite: stone of luck and chance; said to increase perception and creative insight; creates good opportunities; has a stabilizing effect on the emotions and is excellent for teenagers; used to aid near-sightedness; enhances the immune system. Amazonite (markers and on one bracelet): mint green to aqua green stone said to be of truth, honor, communication, integrity, hope, and trust; said to enhance intuition, psychic powers, creativity, intellect, and psychic ability; often associated with the throat chakra, and as such, said to be beneficial to communication.

air-mala

vashistasana-variation

Air mala: Rose Quartz with Snow Quartz marker: Rose Quartz is a rose pink variety of Quartz; stone of universal love; restores trust and harmony in relationships, encouraging unconditional love; purifies and opens the heart at all levels to promote love, self-love, friendship, deep inner healing and feelings of peace. Snow Quartz: stone that brings good fortune; calming and soothing; helpful for meditation; has all the properties of clear quartz to a gentler degree; can be considered a very yin, feminine type of quartz.

Alright lovies, this was my tale of transformation. Join me on instagram @ashtangimami as I’ll soon be starting my version of #blackgirlyogamagic. I’ll be featuring a song a day by a black songstress linked with bits of yoga in the hopes that it inspires more of my brothers and sisters to take up the practice of yoga; which, and this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the science and art of this spiritual knowledge, is the most radical and truest form of self-love and self-care I’ve ever known. Stay safe, stay hungry, stay woke.

me-and-b

images om and 2000px-Heart_corazón

Bianca, sublime model and t-shirt designer at Kauppatori: @biancatmm

Eva, the perennial talent behind Heart of Joy mala beads: @eevaruotsalainen

Lars, photographer extraordinaire: @larskastilan and larskastilan.com