Reclaiming Joy Through Heartbreak – Wambui Njuguna-Räisänen

June 14, 2020

photo by Coni Hörler

Photo credit: Coni Hörler

#016: Wambui Njuguna-Räisänen

Scott talks to Wambui Njuguna-Räisänen on her life in yoga. 

An up and coming wellness advocate, Wambui has a blend of formal Ashtanga yoga training, Chavutti Thirumal (massage by foot press) and life experience that gives her a unique ability to see and hear those around her in a way that is tender, gentle and real.

Wambui started practicing Ashtanga yoga in 2008 and began assisting Petri Räisänen, who is also her husband, in 2010. She received her Chavutti Thirumal massage training in 2013 from Helen Noakes and Indian head massage training from Terry Thomas in 2019. Wambui combines various healing modalities into her treatments, such as Finnish jäsenkorjaus (bone setting), fascial release, breath work to create customised and highly individualised healing sessions for the client.

She aspires to be as human as possible in her teachings and both works and lives from a place of compassion and authenticity. As such, she strives to create spaces in the wellness and spiritual culture where tough, tender conversations can be had with brave truth-telling and equanimity. Where topics such as racism and cultural appropriation can be addressed without resorting to spiritual bypass and denial. 

It is her greatest aspiration that liberation and awakening can be embodied not only on the individual level but on the collective plane as well; so that we may work to furthering a world based on the tenets of justice, safety and love for all.

You can find more about Wambui’s work here.

Wambui also shares widely on her Instagram page here.

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Reclaiming Joy Through Heartbreak – Wambui Njuguna-Räisänen

Scott and Wambui have a deeply open and honest conversation on diversity in the yoga world. Scott and Wambui met when Wambui emailed Scott about his work with Amāyu. Since then they have shared conversations on diversity and how the Ashtanga yoga world can become more open to wider voices. Wambui also shares her evolution from yoga practitioner to teacher to activist.

In this intimate conversation Wambui shares:

  • How yoga has always been a contemplative practice for her, right from the beginning, in a deeply embodied somatic way 
  • Her background in dance, and the experience of taking her first Hatha yoga class while having a tough year training in modern dance at university 
  • That yoga let her discover a deep intuitive knowing that she was enough, just as she is, and that the body is not something to be conquered
  • Her experience of practicing yoga during her time at grad school in Chicago, and how she didn’t feel comfortable identifying herself as a yogi during that time as a result of the monocultural white yoga culture 
  • How she found community with black and brown people through Capoeira, Samba, and Afro-Brazillian dancing, a culture that wasn’t present in yoga spaces. 
  • Her experience of moving to the UAE as an English teacher, and hitting rock bottom while she was there.  
  • How she had her first experience of Ashtanga yoga while working in Abu Dhabi, and how empowering she found her gradual immersion into the practice
  • How in 2009 she studied Ashtanga intensively, travelling to Purple Valley in February to study with Nancy Gilgoff and her now-partner Petri Räisänen, then to Mysore in July to study with Saraswati, and then practicing with Sharath in Helsinki in August. 
  • Her experience moving to Helsinki in January 2010
  • Her calling to teach, which developed into teaching yoga with her partner Petri
  • Her experience navigating yoga spaces as a multiracial black woman
  • How yoga spaces operate on assumed white norms 
  • How she had to silence parts of herself in the past, and how she will not be silent any more 
  • How in 2015 her friend Rosalie  bought her This Bridge Called My Back (Rosario Moraleas) and Sister Outsider (Audre Lorde), which led her to really consider who is on her bookshelf, and make a conscious effort to seek out community with people of colour in Helsinki. 
  • How the tools we develop in yoga practice can be valuable as self care when navigating difficult topics 
  • The work that the Ashtanga world needs to do in terms of understanding and countering cultural appropriation, and the need for nuanced discussion with South Asian voices leading 
  • Spiritual bypassing within the yoga community, when kindness becomes weaponised
  • The fragmentary effect of Colonialism in separating people from themselves and their history, and how and why it is important for everyone to learn where they come from 
  • Ahimsa as an ongoing process rather than a fixed goal
  • How privilege doesn’t need to be something to be ashamed of, but does need to be leveraged effectively
  • How she came to study Buddhism with black African teachers such as Lama Rod Owens
  • Her resonance with Bodhisattva aspiration of collective liberation, and why the prevalent emphasis on samadhi as self-realisation is incomplete
  • Karen Rain’s 2017 statement on decades of systemic abuse within the Ashtanga Yoga community, and how unprepared the community was to address it in a productive way due to dynamics of power and privilege
  • The limits and dangers of the authority model of teaching and how it is healthier to think on collective level
  • The need for a trauma informed approach to teaching yoga
  • The importance of accountability 
  • How yoga isn’t separate from the patriarchy and its harmful traits of  toxic masculinity, victim blaming and rape culture. 
  • How an element of joy is important when undertaking the difficult work of decolonising one’s own mind
  • Her hope that that white people can begin to unpack things for themselves, because black people are exhausted 
  • That for her, living a contemplative life means making space for her heart to break, making space for discomfort and pain without pushing it away or making it bigger, but being open to what it can teach about being a human in this here and now.
  • The importance of friendship across lines of difference so that people can feel held, seen, cared for and trusted. 

 

‘In all the Stillpoints conversations I really love seeing our guests open up. But Wambui’s honesty and vulnerability really inspired me. I loved this deeply profound and meaningful conversation and think it’s an essential listen for everyone interested in equality in yoga.’

Scott Johnson – June 2020 

If you enjoyed this podcast then you might also enjoy Scott’s conversations with Deepika Mehta and Jess Glenny

 

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