Wellness & fitness
Duo seeks to Africanize centuries old practice
Thursday January 19 2023
There is a startling likeness in manner, character and aspiration between Anne Kinyanjui and Jackie Oyuyo, the founders and directors of Siha Wellness at Nairobi’s ABC Place.
So intertwined are the lives of the two lawyers, yoga enthusiasts, trainers and businesswomen that one is nearly an extension of the other. When Anne speaks, she appears to put words to Jackie’s thoughts, and vice versa.
It is this telepathy that made them forge a friendship when they met on a yoga mat 10 years ago. As their camaraderie blossomed, so did the desire to establish their own yoga studio, someday.
This dream would culminate in Siha Wellness, which they co-founded last year. Inside, the ambience, the wooden floors, the hot room and the large glass walls inspire a sense of calm and belonging that those who come here experience.
The facility is anchored on four pillars that Jackie calls the ”Siha way” namely: compassion, diversity, passion, and community.
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”We wanted to create a space for all. It does not matter whether one is a beginner or advanced in their practice,” adds Jackie, a corporate commercial lawyer and an arbitrator. She has trained yoga for five years now.
Siha offers different types of yoga exercises, including restorative, hot (heat), vinyasa (meaning ‘flow’) and bikram. There is physiotherapy for the elderly and people nursing injuries.
”We have one-hour Zumba sessions on Thursday and Saturday. People come here and dance for fun,” says Anne, a full-time lawyer practicing real estate and finance law.
When the two set up the space, everything they had done in the past 10 years came full circle. But how different is it being in the yoga business from merely practicing it?
”Practicing and training yoga has enabled us to orient the practice in a way that benefits our customers the way we have benefitted,” Jackie says.
Having experienced yoga in ”different ways” has also allowed them to open up the space ”in ways that make it less intimidating” for customers.
”We are keen on the user experience. Yoga is for people who are flexible and those who are not,” she notes.
Their mission is to make yoga inclusive in Kenya and to debunk the myth that the practice is for a certain demographic in terms of race, age, and economic status.
”We have professionals, corporate clients, sports people and patients nursing injuries whose doctors recommend yoga for recovery. We also have the Asian community to whom yoga has always been a practice and foreigners visiting the country,” Anne says.
They say the older one becomes the more they need yoga due to loss of muscle, mobility, strength and flexibility and to keep their mind engaged.
Siha Wellness has weekly, monthly, yearly and even one-off packages, all designed to suit customer needs and availability.
Anne says there is also a package for ”young people who have fitness goals but do not want to spend a lot of money on yoga.”
Are their lives better with yoga? In many ways, Anne says, noting that how it translates to life away from the mat is what matters.
”I have seen it work in my day job in terms of how I engage my colleagues, plan my activities and in terms of discipline,” she says and adds that the process is as important as the attainment of a specific posture.
Jackie says she is less critical of herself than before. ”I am more intentional about the things I do. I am less reactive. I tend to take a step back in situations and breathe before responding.”
She says one does not have to practice yoga for perfection. ”Just enjoy the journey. Everyone has different splits.”
Also called hanumanasana, a splits pose is a strenuous sitting position that engages the hips and hamstring while resting the body on the pelvis.
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The rule of thumb? Be attentive, Anne advises. ”As you try to achieve some postures, you discover other realities of your body. When you understand how to move your body, you learn how to bend to prevent back pains, for instance.”
Benefits extend beyond fitness. ”Yoga heightens your awareness of your surroundings. People who practice yoga generally treat others better,” Anne adds.
A posture is an alignment of the body, Jackie explains, with each expression having specific goals. Some work on the body, others on the mind and the spirit.
”Some postures massage your thyroids and others improve the [beat] of your heart.”
They could also help to build strength in some parts of the body and to lose weight in others.
Even so, one may not be able to express all postures because of how their body is proportioned and even their lifestyle. ”What you eat and drink will show in your output,” Jackie warns.
To some people, yoga has a religious bent owing to its oriental origins, which discourages them from the exercises. Jackie and Anne say one does not have to chant religious prayers and vows in yoga.
”Yoga starts with how you breathe and bring your mind to a state of stillness and focus. In a sense, you are meditating. We are not trying to indoctrinate people into a religious way of thinking.”
The yogis, though, may meditate in their own way. ”We want to Africanise the practice; to make Africans know yoga is something they can do as part of their physical and mental wellness routine,” Jackie adds.
Then there’s the often slippery balance between career and passion. For the duo, it all comes down to strict demarcation of time. There is time for legal work, yoga training, family and other activities.
For Anne, it is all about being intentional. ”Once in a while, things will spill over into each other. So I have to be patient. Usually, I will have three yoga classes in a day, with legal work in between,” she says.
Jackie says she lives in the moment. ”I commit to what I am doing at that particular moment and block everything else out. My meditation and yoga are cross-related. Mediation requires you to be present to understand what the parties are saying and how they are expressing their feelings.”
Without yoga, law practice and their families, the pair have their minds and spirits.
”I am someone who extends grace to others and brings value in others and a sense of calm to situations. That requires me to also see value in myself,” Jackie says.
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