Chichi Towett looks just like she does on the poster, she has the same warm smile and mid-length dreads that she ties up to keep out of the way. At just 28, she is at the fittest she has ever been and she laughingly describes how she once could not do even a single push up.
“I used to use the excuse that ladies and girls do not have upper body strength but that’s a lie, you can build that muscle and boost your confidence,” says Chichi who now does hand stands with amazing ease.
When we get on to the yoga mats, I realise how limber she is. She is patient with us, offering encouragement in soft tones even when my downward facing dog looks more like a puppy stuck in a fence. We pick up a steady sweat as we go through the poses before winding down with stretches and, I must admit, there is a feeling of accomplishment and immense relief that goes with lying in savasana having completed a Vinyasa set.
As we settle down to have a chat, she opens up about how she got into Vinyasa yoga (a smooth flow like yoga that synchronises movement and breathe) .
“My housemate at the time and I would go to the gym together. She had a back injury and so she started doing yoga in the house. It was more of a relaxed, stretching recovery type of yoga but I wanted something more active”
At the time Chichi was living in Birmingham, UK and yoga offered some respite to the changes she was suddenly experiencing.
“I started doing my research and found out how it can help if you have anxiety or stress and coincidentally at the time I was going through a lot of shifts, moving countries, leaving a job I really enjoyed, relationships ending…all these things were happening at the same time and so I thought maybe I should try something to help me relax.”
She however dived into it head first, with the aim of learning everything in the shortest time possible.
“I went straight into wanting to do handstands, head stands, I was careless with my practice. I almost broke my ankle, I was not focussing on the zen side of yoga, I never understood that mindful side of yoga,”
It was back to the drawing board and this time she found blogs and online yoga communities. After six months things finally begun to connect.
In the beginning, Chichi recalls trying hard to perfect her postures to the point of obsession.
“One day my cousin walked me and found me obsessing and she asked: ‘Isn’t yoga supposed to make you calm, why are you so frustrated?’” She laughs at the memory though, at the time, she was almost crying on her mat.
“I later did the posture on a random day when I was just having fun and I wondered why was I stressing myself. What was the point of arriving then, when all it was doing was making me frustrated and angry? My tolerance was that small.”
Through yoga she learnt how to take a breather and relax when she felt things were not going how she expected them to.
“Any time something is not happening when I need it to happen I tell myself, if it’s going to happen it will happen, I can’t force and it takes so much energy for me being an angry person that it’s not worth it,” says Chichi.
“Any time something is not happening when I need it to happen I tell myself, if it’s going to happen it will happen, I can’t force it”
Chichi begun to embrace the discipline that comes with stretching beyond one’s limits and says it has had a positive effect on her physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
“The mind is a muscle and once you start teaching it a habit of positive thinking that’s who you will be,” she says. She is no longer anxious about the future.
“Before, I would get a job and worry: If this job comes to an end, what will I do when I am unemployed? Have I saved enough? Will I be able to get the same job? Will it pay the same? Meanwhile, I am not even enjoying the fact that I have a job. So I stopped all that looking into the future because things change, why worry about what may happen when you should just live. That’s what life is, you don’t know what the next hour will be, you may be here or not. So what’s the point of stressing?”
She cites the fact that yoga in itself is not a competitive sport, there are no winners or losers in yoga.
“When you walk into a yoga room you will notice that it’s not competitive, and that’s why in the end we say Namaste — “the inner light in me recognises the inner light in you” it is a way of acknowledging someone’s practise. Even If I can do this and you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter, it’s my journey, it’s your journey,” says Chichi.
“That’s the humbling side of yoga and we all need that because people can be really competitive in life and it brings out ugly characters in them, ugly emotions, you become this jealous and angry person, and that’s not what we are put here for. It’s what brings out the power struggles, the greed, it’s not necessary,” says Chichi.
For Chichi this side of yoga is what she connected with and she adds that it also resonated with her Christian faith. She is aware that there are many misconceptions about yoga, especially in regard to faith.
“It’s a form of exercise , it’s like running, some people go into meditation when they are running, because your mind is just on ‘keep going’… you are not thinking about school or work.”
She credits the Africa Yoga project in particular for helping demystify and popularise yoga in Kenya and urges skeptics to do more research into the different types of yoga.
Though she studied business computing and has experience in project management, Chichi admits that she feels pulled towards yoga and hopes of to pursue further training in India.
“I do IT projects but at the moment it’s fully yoga, I don’t know if I want to go back, I enjoy teaching more, it doesn’t really feel like a job to me”
“The mind is a muscle and once you start teaching it a habit of positive thinking that’s who you will be”
Chichi’s Yoga tips
- Don’t look at other’s yoga practise and feel discouraged, they were also where you are once.
- Come with an open mind, take your time and just be patient.
You can join Chichi every Saturday morning at 9am at Sigiria Fitness , Karura Forest, Nairobi and every Wednesday at 6:30pm and on Saturday from 11:30am in Lavington. She also offers individual and private group classes for those who prefer them.
For more info: Sigiria fitness
Email Chichi: firstname.lastname@example.org