Interview: Brenda Wanjiku on yoga in quarantine, growing avocados and doing yoga with her stepdad

Yoga Blog

Brenda Wanjiku a.k.a. @shikushapes is a YogaLondon graduate who ‘clicked’ with yoga from the very first class she went to.  Self-effacing, artistic and passionate about food, she talks yoga in quarantine, growing avocados, doing yoga with her stepdad and why we should learn from each other.

1. How did you get into yoga?

Three years ago I decided to take a break from work. I’d worked in the hospitality industry since I was 16 years old and I was starting to feel unhappy. I had some savings and I decided I’d never have enough for a house, so I took a year off to focus on my mind. I’d never been interested in yoga or meditation before, I just felt like they weren’t for me, but I knew about the mental health benefits and felt I needed to move more, so I went to the nearest yoga class to me and from the first class I just thought ‘Wow’.

2. What prompted you to do your 200-hour yoga teacher training course?

I started doing yoga every day right from my very first class. I was really lucky that I found the right teacher for me. I had no intention of teaching, but I felt I wanted to explore yoga more for my own practice. I also thought it would be really nice to teach friends and family, like my stepdad, who’d wanted to learn. Now I teach him as and when I can in this situation.

I started yoga 100% for the mental benefits. I’ve always been interested in the mind and started studying psychology – but actually dropped it and changed to Film Studies. Yoga ticks all the boxes for me – the physical health advantages are a great by-product. Once I realised its many benefits I wished I’d come to it earlier.

3. You talked about practicing yoga with your stepdad – how important is family to you?

Family is so important. Back in Kenya where I was born I had a huge family network. When I came to the UK at nine years old it was just my Mum, my stepdad and me. Because of that my network of friends is really important to me. I’ve just got back from visiting a close friend in France  – and it was worth it, despite the quarantine!

4. How important is Nature to you?

I spent my childhood in Kenya, and nature was all around me. I’d hang out with the chickens, we had mangos growing – I was part of nature. When I came to the UK I didn’t realise how much I’d miss it. So now I really appreciate anything green – I grow avocado trees from the stone, and I even have a baby mango tree.

My pet is also really important to me and represents the animal side of nature. She’s a cat called Cookie. I love her, but also the way I am when I’m with her.

5. How do you show love?

I think everyone has a ‘love language’ that they speak. Mine is giving high fives! It’s my quirk. It’s a nice way to connect. Some people show love through using emojis or sending their favourite songs. My family’s way of showing love is through food – that’s their way of opening the doors of love.

6. How has 2020 changed you?

It’s made me want to pursue my yoga teaching career. But having said that, my current job has saved me over the lockdown this year. I work at a lovely independent restaurant and deli and I got all my food from there – we could even get toilet roll in the early days! The only thing I had to source was cat food.

This year has given me time to focus on my connection with my mental health. I’ve reached out and am seeing a therapist. I needed this time to work things out.

I’ve also been lucky in that I’ve had a close group of people I’ve been able to stay in touch with and have a little hug with too.

7. The Black Lives Matter movement has resurged this year. What’s been your personal experience of this?

I’ve had lots of deep, honest conversations with friends. I’ve been glad about the challenges that has brought and their willingness to communicate. I feel it’s a time to start anew. Yes, things have always been this way, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have to all come together to work on it.

I’ve had a couple of awkward encounters with customers. One old guy was complaining about people wanting to take down the statue of Churchill. I asked him if he knew the background to this, and he said, ‘It’s just not the right way!’ I wonder what he thinks is the right way. Another elderly customer asked if Kenyans felt things were better under white rule, or now. I was shocked but I said there were good and bad aspects to both, and he said, ‘What more do they want?’

I think we all have to work on it – for some people, their part is to listen, for others, their part is to talk.

8. Has yoga helped over lockdown and while you’ve been in quarantine?

My yoga practice has been a complete lifesaver. My teacher sent audio files so we could carry on from the very beginning and then she took her classes online using Zoom. I took this time as a time to focus on strength, especially my hip flexors. I’ve done a lot of yoga! And actually I’ve noticed that my body has changed too, surprisingly quickly.

9. What’s your relationship with food?

When I was younger I had an eating disorder, but at the time I didn’t realise that’s what it was. I used to scoff food down and bring it up again. I think I was unsettled by my body, as I was like a stick and then I suddenly developed boobs and hips and I felt this social pressure and expectations of how I should look. Luckily I got to a point where I didn’t want to do it anymore and I recovered by myself.

Recently I did seek professional help as a way to unpack the root of that illness – wanting to be a yoga teacher has given me the confidence to address those issues from my past.

10. How has yoga helped with this?

My attitude to food now is the healthiest it’s ever been. Since I started yoga I have no guilt about what I eat – I treat myself without feeling I’m breaking all sorts of rules. Scrutinising what I ate and thinking certain foods were BAD showed on my body – if I was telling my body that this food was bad, then why shouldn’t it believe me?

Yoga has helped me see that my body and me are a team. I’m slowly going off meat, and I don’t drink alcohol because I’ve learnt to listen to my body. Now I don’t eat MacDonald’s but I’m naturally healthier and eat more consciously that I did. I haven’t weighed myself in seven years.

11. What’s your yoga pose goal?

Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm balance). The mobility in my shoulders just isn’t there yet. I’m actually doing a mentorship with Corrie (McCullum – teacher trainer at YogaLondon) and she’s helping me with identifying goals and working on them.

I find this also helps with knowing what you want to achieve in life too.

12. What are your other skills?

I have a huge interest and love of film, and I enjoy making and editing my own videos too. I love to read, photography and painting – although I haven’t studied it.

One of my main loves is cooking and hosting dinner parties.

13. What’s your favourite quote?

There’s a quote that really clicks for me:

Feel the fear and do it anyway.

I think it’s from a book in the 80’s. But those words have never been more true.

In terms of yoga I’ve spent lockdown working on my headstand, which I find challenging. And then I take that work off the mat – it really comes full circle.

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