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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Lifestyle Juice Cleanse: A six-day “Reboot”

Happy New Year! I woke up to the second day of 2015 with a stream of golden sunlight streaming in through the windows. After paying my respects to Ganesh and Guruji, with prayers for courage, faith and renewed zest for carrying out my duties and responsibilities in this new year, the next most pressing task on my mind was sitting down to write this post.

Much like fresh juice, it’s best to write about a period of ‘detox’ and fasting right away, when the nutrients, insights and impressions gained are still most vibrant. It’s been a week of good holiday eating up North in the Thai country side and already my body and mind feel ‘back to normal.’ Which is not necessarily a bad thing; normalcy can indicate a steady state of health. I did prepare for this though with some notes during my juice fast, so here is a day by day breakdown of it. But first, some background info…

Summary: Last year, when I was about seven months pregnant, my friend and Ashtanga yoga teacher in Bangkok, Amorn, was in the middle of a week long juice fast. I got interested in this but didn’t want to do anything drastic while pregnant, so we vowed to go on a juice fast together in a year’s time. We decided to start a six-day juice fast two days’ after I arrived into Bangkok. The Lifestyle Juice Cleanse company delivers two orders of six daily juices every other day, which you drink over a twelve hour period per day. You can supplement with water, almond milk, noncaffeneited tea, coconut water and unprocessed juice with no added sugar. The rest of the time (night) one should fast (and sleep).

Here are pictures of the juices:

Juice 1: AM: a fresh n’ fruity start to the day

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Juice 2: AM: the ‘mean green’

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Juice 3: PM: a vibrant dose of beetroot

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Juice 4: PM: a great combination! Coconut water & a stick of cinnamon hydrates really well in the afternoon

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Juice 5: PM: rounding the evening out with another leafy green tincture

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Juice 6: PM: a smooth, creamy end to the day. This almond/cashew nut drink is the equivalent of warm milk before bed.

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Prep: The day before the actual juice fast (and on the first day), I did a coffee enema. It was one liter of water mixed with a tablespoon of special detox coffee and a teaspoon of organic spirulina.

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It was intense and uncomfortable, kind of like how giving birth in reverse (but not as bad). I practiced mula bandha like crazy and held on for dear life! For the rest of the day, I ate lightly, as recommended, so that the lack of food doesn’t come as quite such a complete and nasty shock the next day. I also got a massage to recover from travel fatigue.

Day 1: I was still pretty spacey from the long flight from Helsinki to Bangkok, in addition to the time difference and jetlag. I felt restless throughout the day but was able to detach from food quite easily. I did have a weird feeling of missing the action of chewing though! There is a lively street food culture in Bangkok, so I was confronted with food at every turn. At some point I began to be confronted with temptations and cravings, some as outlandish and improbable as braised pork knuckle?? I tried turning my attention inwards and thought about the fifth limb of Ashtanga: pratyahara, sense withdrawal, and more specifically, about how motherhood and caring for a nine-month old infant oftentimes has meant multitasking like crazy. For the better part of this past year, my senses have felt scattered everywhere, mostly in a joyful, chaotic way. Like opening a bag of skittles and having them spill onto the floor, tinkling and bouncing around in an unpredictable, multi-colored razzle of spontaneity. Happy moments that take your breath away. But also lots of wishing for order and tranquility. And quite often, awareness of food choices: what you eat and why, goes fuzzy. It’s been all too easy to begin to eat distractedly and for comfort in times of stress and fatigue.

Day 2: I started the day with my second coffee enema. It was easier the second time around as I broke it down into two parts, which meant holding half the liquid at any given time than from the previous day. I must say I felt great after it. I felt happy, light and energetic, ready to go! I had also slept well, so I felt much more rested. Uddiyana bandha felt very strong and engaged during my practice, something I hadn’t felt for several months during pregnancy. It provided me with a sense of power as I moved through the sun salutations. Later on in the day, I did start having some weird side-effects, like white coating on my tongue. Apparently it’s perfectly normal and part of the detox process, and nothing a tongue scraper won’t get rid of. I also felt very cold and sensitive to temperature. The water couldn’t get warm enough in the shower and AC felt way too strong everywhere I went. This sensitivity to the cold is another side-effect, which had me wondering how fasting would work in cold winter countries. I wouldn’t think an extended juice fast in the dead of winter to be quite the time to give it a go.

Day 3: This was a hard day for me! The inital excitement had passed and the day felt long. I was hungry, missing and craving food and felt bored. I read some raw food recipe books to keep me entertained but mostly I just tried to ride out the sensations and observe the mental chatter.

Day 4: Better than the previous day, but I needed to avoid large, noisy spaces like shopping malls and the streets of Bangkok. I stayed in to read and do some gentle yoga stretches. It was interesting to note that the supplemental almond milk that I drank during days 3 and 4 felt very heavy. In fact, I got a tummy ache from it on day 4, so I avoided supplementing with them for the rest of the fast.

Days 5 & 6: The last two days of the fast passed by smoothly. I remember feeling nostalgic for food and missing it, but with a certain amount of distance and detachment. It no longer felt like a sharp, aggressive craving like in day 3, but more like a lost love which would feel really nice to be reunited with. The effort of being with family members in restaurants when one is not eating began to wear thin, which proves once again, how social food and eating can be. In the evening of day six, I broke the fast by eating a light salad which contained healthy sources of fat like avocado and cashews roasted in olive oil:

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Conclusions: My biggest concern was how the juice fast was going to affect breastfeeding, and I was ready to stop early if Sesam was unable to nurse. However, I didn’t notice any change in milk production levels and Sesam seemed happy and well fed. I wouldn’t try juice fasting while breast milk is still the main source of nutrition for an infant though, but since Sesam has now been on solid foods for three months, I wasn’t too worried about him getting malnourished. I am still not convinced about the benefits of juice fasting during pregnancy. I think applying the principles of healthy, mindful eating and making wise food choices at that time would be a safe bet for all parties involved.

Next steps: There are certain words which carry heavy currency in the LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) industry: yoga…slow…green…mindfulness...detox. In this context, they can be catchy buzzwords useful in  terms of promoting the entrepreneurial spirit behind health and wellness platforms. If you wish to read further about the myth and massive industry surrounding detox, read this article  (and this one) published in The Guardian. Having said this, I personally highly recommend juice fasting at regular intervals throughout the year. It feels pretty amazing to give your intestines a break and not continually digest and process what is, quite often, an overload of nutritional information. I plan on doing a 2 day coffee enema & 3-5 day juice fast every quarter, to coincide with the general change of seasons. For those of you who are not yet convinced, here are my top eight tips to get you started, on juice fasting and for a general nutrition makeover, with suggestions for cold seasons and countries:

8. Start small. Choose a weekend, either one day or both Saturday and Sunday, to refrain from alcohol, caffeine and processed foods. 

7. Prep well by stocking up on healthy, organic, whole food ingredients. You might even feel inspired to make a healthy meal at home.

6. If you wish to try juice fasting for a weekend and are fortunate to live in a place that has fresh juice bars, check out their cleanse programs. They usually run anywhere from one day to a week, and also offer meal replacement juices.

5. Start each morning with a glass of warm lemon/lime water. You can add a dash of cayenne pepper for an additional boost. Recommended in cold climate countries!

4. Time your evening and morning meals so that you have 12 hours of fasting at night. This is quite a straight forward way to give your digestive system the chance to take a break and recover. 

3. Partner up with a friend to boost morale. It’s easier not to veer off track when you have someone towing the line with you too! I owe my thanks and inspiration to Amorn: 

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2. Take a 1-2 day ‘digital detox’. Clear the head of information overload. If possible, spend time outdoors and in nature. Meet up with close friends and family in person and give them all your attention.

1. If you aspire to live a religious/spiritual/mindful/yogic/aware/healthy life, one of the greatest benefits to juice fasting is the psychological practice. You get the chance to observe the workings of your mind and mental habits as they occur in your daily life and routine. You must experience cravings and temptations, which we often give into or think we cannot do without. And if you can withstand these impulses, then you are left with a greater feeling of mental discipline and clarity, and, hopefully, deeper appreciation for what you have in abundance in your life and compassion for those who go hungry or are malnourished. It’s no wonder that periods of fasting and abstinence are a part of most religious traditions.

*Bonus tip: Remember that incorporating healthy habits and smart food choices is a process. We don’t perfection or punitive measures. If you happen to fall off a juice cleanse, no worries. Life can be messy and stressy. Dust yourself off and try again. 

And now, I would love to hear from you. What have your experiences been with juicing and fasting? Do you find it useful to step back for a short period of time from the usual routine? If you practice or follow a religious/spiritual tradition, is periodic abstinence recommended or required?

Here’s to a year of collective goodness to us all. Om Love!

Black & White make Zebra Stripes: An afro yogini’s journey to the yoga mat.

I recently came across a blog post entitled Yoga IS for black women. We’re just not showing up, and I thought, “How very true!” As a practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga yoga, I am well aware of the underrepresentation of people of color in yoga. And much like Larissa Postell, the author of the post, I too, am familiar with being the only brown-skinned-afro-puffy-yogini on the mat. Maybe one out of two, at best.

Let me be clear on one thing though. I am a Kenyan-American living in Finland, so the demographic context is rather different than, say, Washington D.C. However, irrespective of this, when I lived in Chicago, I remember attending the free community clases on Sunday afternoons at Moksha Yoga Studio and I was still pretty much the only nonwhite in the class. That never kept me away though. Being a graduate student on a monthly stipend, the thing which did limit my yoga practice (before Ashtanga yoga and the discipline of a solo home practice) where the monthly studio fees!

I do think it’s safe to say that yoga has been marketed to a predominantly white, educated, upper-middle class audience. Nothing wrong with that at all. No matter how yoga is marketed, and to whom, the fact of the matter remains that yoga works. On a fundamental level, yoga is a practical and philosophical system which promotes Self-awareness. Needless to say, this goes far deeper than anything skin color, nationality, gender and age can touch upon. Yoga literally IS for everyone. Or can be. If you make up your mind that, yes, this truly is of benefit.

I was always one of the only students of color in middle and high school. It didn’t matter that my mother is an English woman, kids asked if I was adopted anyway (I’m not). At that time, in my social environment, one could only be black or white, not black and white. Thanks to my background, I have always been surrounded by both black and white family members and therefore, apart from being called on to represent an entire race of people in class discussions, I feel equally comfortable around large groups of white people and large groups of black people. I do wonder though what it would take to attract more people of color to yoga. Postell claims that most black women wish to focus on weight loss rather than wellness, and many feel that ‘stretching’ won’t help with losing weight; furthermore, there seems to be a general misunderstanding when it comes to yoga and religion, that there is a conflict of interest between the two. The last pattern had to do with white representation and the marketing of yoga. How black women don’t go to yoga since they are not represented, and how they are not represented since they don’t go.

When I came into my own as an Ashtangi, I was living in the United Arab Emirates, far away from the United States and its ubiquitous racial context. When I started with Ashtanga, I couldn’t have cared less if the teacher and my fellow students were green with purple dots. I had reached a time in my life when I needed yoga with all my heart. So when my first teachers, a lovely Canadian couple, spoke of living a life with more peace, happiness, clarity and self-acceptance, I clung to the practice like a lifebuoy, with the desperation of a person drowning. Because I was drowning, in my own heavy, dark, confused mind. On my own, I didn’t know how to navigate myself through life and the world. Yoga showed me how, and when something shows you how to transform yourself and your life entirely, then placing the racial dichotomy into a radically different context is a piece of cake; not to mention the argument of religious dogma, as to why folks cannot practice yoga and attend church or pray five times a day. But I’ll save that for another day!

My first Ashtanga yoga teachers, Jeff and Harmony. Forever grateful for introducing me to the practice! 

Wambui, Jeff, Harmony

Getting the hang of lotus pose while balancing on a Royal Enfield in Mysore, India…

Wambui with bike 1 Stay blessed and dare to change. Om!