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Interview with Wambui Njuguna — about ashtanga yoga, motherhood and travels

This January I have visited the Koh Mak island again, for the same reason as two years ago: Petri R and his wife W were running a month-long ashtanga yoga retreat there.
While we were there I sat down with W for an interview. It is a very special one for me. Every time I reread Wambui’s words I get goosebumps and a dose of inspiration.
We talked about yoga, motherhood, travel and most importantly how to combine all of these. W shared her personal experience in dealing with postnatal depression and changes that children bring to life.
If you a yogi or a travelling parent interested in others’ experience this interview will be of use.

Tania: When did you start practicing Ashtanga yoga?

Wambui: I started practicing Ashtanga yoga ten years ago in October 2008. I was living in Abu Dhabi at the time working there as English teacher. Jeff and Harmony Lichty (now Harmony Slater) were my first teachers. They were on their way to India and stopped to give a workshop in Dubai… It was actually my boss at my job…we kept bumping into each other at yoga events in town and she gave me the flyer for this Ashtanga weekend workshop, followed by a week of mysore classes. I found the practice really challenging, almost confrontational, and somehow it just really stuck. I attended the weekend workshop and then stayed on to take the mysore. It was a much-needed yoga ‘holiday,’ after which I just continued practicing at home in my living room. Slowly, slowly, then  it started getting longer and longer. A group of us practitioners also began to gather before dawn to practice together before work. That’s how I started.

Shortly after, in the beginning of 2009,  I went to Goa, to Purple Valley Yoga Centre, and practiced with Nancy Gilgoff for one week and with Petri for the second  week. Later on, a few months after Pattabhi Jois passed away, I went to Mysore and practiced with Saraswathi for one month. Sharath was giving his teacher training at that time, so I went to Helsinki in August to practice with him.

After Sharath’s workshop, I went back to Abu Dhabi and finished the semester. Petri and I started traveling to see each other and keep this relationship going. Towards the end of the year, I decided to resign from my job and move to Helsinki. By 2010,  I had started assisting Petri, learning how to give adjustments and teach Ashtanga yoga.

Tania: And what about yin yoga?

Wambui: Just from my own experience—from different books and self-research, finding teachers who are good. I think of what I do not so much as Yin Yoga as good rest!  If you do Ashtanga yoga 6 days a week, then a slower approach can be a good opportunity to really relax the body. I’ve learned a lot from one of my teacher’s, Eddie Stern,  about the parasympathetic nervous system and ways to keep the vagus nerve healthy.

Tania: You and your family travel a lot. How many months were you pregnant when you decided to stop traveling?

Wambui: With my first pregnancy, I returned to Helsinki on literally the last day possible for travel by airlines. I was 36 weeks. For the second pregnancy, I was home earlier. We were back in Helsinki in early March and Sumu came on April 28, 2017.  It was nice to be at home longer before the labor and settle into the nesting period.

Tania: When I was pregnant I found your video interview where you told about pregnancy and yoga and recommended to read the book “Yoga Sadhana for Mothers”. At that time I was in Mysore and bought it immediately. Thank you! From the point of view of this book, what can you tell me about the relationship between yoga, pregnancy and motherhood?

Wambui: I think Sharmila and Anna do a really good job talking about the journey towards motherhood. Through the yogic view point, it’s so much about surrendering and letting go. It becomes «Bhakti yoga»—a devotional practice, where you’re really observing dramatic transformations that’re happening to you physically, mentally and energetically. You try to realize and let go of the woman you were before pregnancy, before this radical transformation. I think that the yoga practice is really necessary training for this. Every day, through the asana practice, you can observe that all is changing, that nothing is permanent. And hopefully, it can allow you to be easier with the big changes which happen when the babies come, and to be comfortable and steady throughout.


Tania: Did yoga help you during the pregnancy and the labor?

 Wambui: Yes, it did; most definitely. This relationship you have with your body through yoga and the awareness that’s created allows you to manage your pregnancy more comfortably, joyfully even. I took the first three months off during both of my pregnancies. It was really liberating to practice Ashtanga yoga during the second trimester. When the third trimester came around, I again felt the need to drop things physically again, and  focus more what was happening in me to prepare for the delivery. My third trimesters (both of them) were about meditation, breath and heightened sensitivity and awareness. Yoga is a beautiful gift for pregnant women. Through yoga you can learn to trust your body during delivery. This level of trust in yourself is so important when you’re going into labor. Trust that your body knows what it’s doing, provided that all is well and without complications. For both my babies, I had unmedicated, active births. The second time around I had a homebirth, just with Petri and my midwife. This level of trust in myself and how I wished to bring my baby into the world was a direct result of the relationship I’ve created through the use of breath and body in the yoga practice.

 Tania: How does your practice look like now? How did you modify it when you found out that you were pregnant and what is yoga for you now?

 Wambui: My practice now is this—I do what I can with the time I have. On a good day I have 30 minutes, sometimes 40 minutes or an hour even! I don’t have a lot of time now for the whole practice. But I try to do something when I can. I continue with meditation as well, which can be a more accessible practice as I can fit it into my babyminding duties, like when I’m breastfeeding. for example. Meditation is very important for me now as it’s very effective to sit still for even just 5-10 minutes and feel differently.  A few days after labour I started closing my body very gently using the Birthlight technique of closing the body. Then I started attending postnatal yoga 3-4 weeks after the labor. It’s a nice activity to share with the baby and to go out and meet new mothers.

Tania: Are you familiar with the postpartum depression?

 Wambui: I am. The first time I had PPD was when we were traveling a lot with Sesam. I was getting very exhausted with that and then I stopped breastfeeding Sesam at 15 months. But in my mind I wanted to go longer—for about two years, but I felt too tired with the travel to continue breastfeeding. My hormones dropped when I finished breastfeeding. With Sumu it was quite difficult for the first three months, he was extremely sensitive. And I was also busy at home with the first child. My mother came for four months to help me, and she was my lifesaver, my angel. I would say that with Sumu I had more systems in place to help support me. Now my lifestyle is changing.  I’m not traveling as much, I’m in Helsinki more with the kids. So, I have more home life with my boys, but Petri is still traveling a lot.

 Tania: Right now you are in Thailand, next month you will spend in India (Goa). Do you have any difficulties in organizing everything for your youngest son Sumu? For example, how do you find special food or diapers for him in each country?

 Wambui: With Sumu I’m practicing elimination communication. It’s basically this—we’re already teaching Sumu to go to the potty. But when we’re traveling, we use a combination of cloth and disposable diapers. I’m pretty aware of the problematic nature surrounding disposables, especially in India where they are burned, so I started with EC at birth with Sumu in order to reduce dependency on diapers.

 I don’t worry about food at all. Sumu’s still breastfeeding and getting all my antibodies, so I’m just giving him banana, papaya, avocado, pumpkin; perhaps some little baby packets of porridge.  

 Tania: Can you give any tips for yoga mothers who love to travel with a family?

 Wambui: Try take it as easy as possible Try to sleep when the baby sleeps. When you get to a place try to find child-centered activities. Try to create daily kid routines and rituals as much as possible, just the same family routine, wherever you are. For example, when we came to Bangkok before Koh Mak, the travel had exhausted the whole family, so I decided just to focus on being with the boys so that Petri could focus on teaching the Bangkok workshop. A bit of compromise and clear division of labor is necessary. Beforehand I looked at the Facebook groups like “Parents in Bangkok” and asked about nice activities to do with the kids. We lived close to the Lumpini Park, so we spent a lot of time there. When you are with the baby you need to have a simpler life. Travel with babies is definitely different. It’s not anymore about “seeing all the exciting sights”, it’s more about “here we are”. Baby needs a nap, to have lunch, get some sunshine and go to the playground. So, that’s what I would suggest—the general structure of your daily routine should follow the baby’s needs, but don’t hold too tightly to it. So you need this structure, but also a lot of flexibility.

Also my recommendation for young mothers—sleep when the baby sleeps. If you feel tired and need to sleep, take a nap too. Don’t try to be a superwoman and get stuff done when the baby sleeps. Motherhood is a marathon so don’t try to sprint through it. Having said that, if you can, try to wake up before the baby (when you can!).  If you can give for yourself even just half an hour of your own time in the morning, just to breathe for yourself, visualize the day and give some care for yourself. It’s such a nice way to start the full day ahead. You nourish yourself.

 Tania: Are you both vegetarians?

Wambui: Yes, we are. We are flexible with eggs, but don’t eat any fish or meat. I became vegetarian when I was introduced to Ashtanga yoga. But with both my pregnancies I had anaemia—the low red blood cell count. I needed iron, so I ate a lot of spinach, broccoli and took an iron supplement.  We also try to keep dairy in moderation and use plant-based milk alternatives.

 Tania: Last year you translated Petri’s book. How long did it take? And was it easy for you?

 Wambui: The first Petri’s book it has already been translated from Swedish to English. I mostly worked on the tone of the book and got it sounding how Petri wanted it to be. We worked very hard on it during the summer in 2010. The second book (on the intermediate series) was a lot of fun to do. It was a lot of work as well, but it was really great. At that time I had just moved to Finland and I was getting started on the second series of Ashtanga yoga and it seemed like this book was just waiting for me to be translated. This was the really perfect combination of all my interests and also all of my skills coming from my linguistic background. Bit by bit, word by word, phrase by phrase, I translated it from Finnish to English while at the same time did my practice. It really helped to use the language to make things come to life. If I just read “inhale” that I would remember how it was in Finnish when I was doing it. You can have body memory and also mind memory.  

Tania: Maybe are you planning to write your own book?

 Wambui: Who knows I wouldn’t say no. I enjoy writing. I was writing the blog (www.wambuinjuguna.wordpress.com) for a while, as a way to document my motherhood experience and would love to be able to get back into writing.

 Tania: Is Petri just your husband or your teacher too?

Wambui: He’s been a very essential guide along my Ashtanga yoga path. Through him, I’ve learned how to be in the Mysore room and how to adjust people.

 Tania: How do you spend your first two hours in the morning?

 Wambui: It really depends  if I wake up with the kids or I wake up before—it’s very different. We have a very different life here in Koh Mak than at home. So my first two hours at home in Helsinki: if I’m home alone, I get the kids ready and take Sesam to daycare. Sumu just started short days in daycare too. When Petri is home he takes the kids to daycare. Now in Koh Mak my parents are helping me. I wake up before the babies are awake and I try to do my meditation. If I have my time I try to do asana practice. Then the babies wake up and we start doing the morning routine and then we are ready to take breakfast.

 Tania: Your perfect breakfast, what does it look like?

 Wambui: Hot water with lemon and cayenne pepper, first thing in the morning. Green juice. Local fresh fruit, like papaya, coconut, mango, dragon fruit. In a warm country I often eat chia pudding with cacao and coconut. In the colder months I like to eat porridge with some nice berries, plant-based yogurt and almond butter.

 Tania: Do you drink coffee?

 Wambui: Since moving to Finland and becoming a parent, I do!  I’m quite sensitive if I have too much, so I don’t make it at home, but I do enjoy a good-quality cup of coffee.

 Tania: Which books can you recommend for yogis and mothers?

 Wambui: My top three books for yogis and mothers are:

  1. Yoga Sadhana for Mothers. Sharmila Desai and Anna Wise.
  2. Ina May Gaskin’s books are very inspiring (about childbirth and pregnancy)
  3. The Continuum Concept (about Attachment Parenting philosophy)
  4. Journal your own experience so that you can remember your very own unique experience!


Interview by Tania Ryneiskaya

The photographers: Petri Räisänen and Justyna Jaworska


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