I have been to yoga retreats lead by the internationally known ashtanga yoga teacher, Petri Räisäsen, and his wife Wambui in Koh Mak, Thailand in 2012 and at Purple Valley in Goa in 2014. Through out the years I have attended several workshops and intensives lead by Petri. I know that I can always rely on the quality of his events. The arrangements are perfect, the food is delicious, the accommodation is top class and the teaching is in line with the ashtanga tradition. You can just book the trip and go, no extra arrangements are required. When I saw the Facebook add for this winter´s retreat in Kenya I knew right away I´ll be attending it.
Wambui was born in Nairobi and is Kenyan from her fathers side, she has been dreaming for years of leading a yoga retreat in her birth country. This retreat did not only fulfil Wambui´s dream, but several of our attendee´s dream of experiencing mystical Africa. I have dreamed of traveling to Africa since I was a little girl and this trip was a dream come true to the T.
I´ve never been a solo traveler and highly doubt I ever will. Yoga retreats are a great way to travel kinda solo, because the lonesome feeling lasts only up to the airport where from after we are like one big yoga family. On this retreat the team spirit was exceptionally great, the whole group was amazing and super fun. There were several moments and encounters to remember.
The retreat was in Watamu, in a place called Watamu Treehouse. The location in itself was so incredible that we were screaming of joy with my room mate Mari when we saw our huge room in the second highest floor of the house. On one side of our room the view was to the ocean where the sun rose in the mornings and from the other side we could enjoy the sunset. On the top floor of the house is the most beautiful yoga shala I have ever seen, it´s walls were decorated with colorfull glass mandalas and the view was open to the ocean and far over the jungle to the savannah. The Treehouse is full of details that make it even more beautiful. Here and there, on the floors, ceilings and walls there´s recycle art created by the local glass artist Kitengela. Her art is very well known in Kenya. Some of her works were sold from the house neighbouring Treehouse and a couple of pieces came back to Finland with me. I will come back to best Kenya shopping in it´s own post shortly.
Treehouse is located in the bush which brings all kinds of creatures to it´s surroundings. I did not see any creepy crawlers throughout our entire stay and got just one mosquito bite even though the windows were wide open throughout the night. We did have uninvited guests frequent our room though, to be accurate, little monkeys. They were not agressive at all but these little rascals did a daily check through our stuff looking for anything to eat. In their rumbles through our stuff you could see the tooth paste and cosmetics jars fly out the window.
The staff of Treehouse was warm and helpful and they made us feel right at home. The lovely owners of Treehouse, Paul and Louise have wanted for Treehouse to be a home for yoga retreats and workshops. Every Tuesday there´s an open yoga class at the house where the whole staff is welcome. The majority of the staff has had a regular yoga and meditation practice for a couple of years. Our chef was Alice from the States, the food was pretty American, vegan with a local twist. As always on Petri´s retreats the meals were one of the highlights of the day!
Treehouse is located a short walk from the beach which you can reach by trecking a small path through the jungle from where the snow white, powdery sand beach opens up to the crystal clear turquoise ocean. The beach is the cleanest I´ve seen in my life. There´s pretty much seaweed in the water which comes to the shore with the high tide but washes back into the ocean with the low tide. From December to April there´s no seaweed so you can enjoy an absolutely pristine shoreline. The tides are very strong and during the low tide you can walk far into the ocean on sandbars. The water is so shallow in between the sandbars that just floating there you can totally forget about all your worries and the current state of the world. Feels like you´re on another planet all together. The tourism in Watamu is quite minimal and in November the season hasn´t really even begun so you can have the whole beach to your self like in this video.
The schedule of the retreat was just right, in the mornings we had a mysore practice, a practice done by yourself and after that on the first two days there was a led class for beginners. You could join the retreat even if you had never done Ashtanga yoga before. On a couple of afternoons there was technique workshops, on one of the evenings we had a yin yoga class. Every night we would have pranayama (breathing practice), chanting and a meditation. Aside of the actual schedule there was ample time to laze around the beach and sandbars, drifting in the ocean and reading a good book. There was an option to rent out a SUP board or go snorkeling as well (must say though that even here the corals are not untouched any more).
On one of our days on the retreat we had the supermoon shining bright in the night sky, probably the biggest full moon I´ll ever see. In the tradition of ashtanga there is no practice on moon days which was perfect because during full moon the near by Mida Creek is perfect for floating away with it´s stream. Due to the full moon the flow is so strong that you can just hop on and let it´s flow take you on. We embarked on this journey at 6am, walked to a small side river and floated it down stream a couple of kilometers down to Mida Creek that took us all the way to the white sandy beach for breakfast. The experience was incredible! In the evening we did a meditation on the beach while the full moon painted a silvery bridge across the ocean.
I have never felt that I have only one yoga teacher, but a couple who are very important to my path in their own way. Petri is definitely one of these teachers, he is the reason I found ashtanga yoga in the first place, or more accurately his book. I have immense respect to how dedicated Petri is to his Guru´s, Pattabhi Jois´, teachings. He still teaches the practice as he has learned it form Guruji, without being too strict – as a matter of fact Petri is very open minded with his teaching. Petri is not the teacher to me through who I draw great anatomical insight, that´s not his style of teaching. Both Petri and his wife Wambui stress the importance of meditation in asana practice. There´s always a beautifully calm atmosphere in practice with him with space to concentrate in your own practice and meditation. In the past year or so I have noticed the longing for a clam and quiet surrounding for practice. For me workshops and intensives are for finding more insight on anatomical details and precision. Petri´s adjustments are in a league of their own and he has the hands of a healer – he has a history of over ten years of energy work and Karelian body alignment.
Petri´s wife Wambui is an excellent teacher as well, not only in asana practice, but as well in chanting, pranayama and meditation. I especially enjoy Wambui´s clear way of teaching chanting. There´s probably nothing as irritating as for a student to have to mumble away the Sanskrit words when you have absolutely no idea what you´re chanting and the whole meaning of it is lost in confusion.
Our whole group plaeded to Petri and Wambui to make this retreat an annual occasion as Koh Mak and Purple Valley are. I do not have to think twice, which of these three retreats is the best one for me, because I have never experienced anything more divine that the Treehouse, Watamu and Kenya. In two weeks you are completely re-charged. Above all arrangements being perfectly organized for you to just let your hair down and enjoy, the internet connection is super weak – a two week time out from social media does wonders to anybody´s head and I hope to keep a piece of this peace with me in my daily life.
Petri and Wambui are not yet sure if they will be organizing this retreat next year because they are having an addition to their little yoga family in April, it is totally up to this little baby wheter or not it is possible for them to organize the retreat next winter. So let´s hope for a super happy little baby!
From Treehouse we headed over to Tsavo national park for a two night safari, which I will be writing it´s own post about. A couple of words on traveling to Watamu, where ever you are flying from, you will take a flight to Nairobi, from there you will fly to Mombasa or Malindi and take a taxi to complete your travels to Watamu. I will be posting an article on some handy tips for travels as well.
If you are interested in Petri´s intensives and retreats you should know that Petri and Juha Javanainen have an intensive in Helsinki between 7.-11.12 , there´s still a couple of spots open for the Koh Mak January retreat and for the Purple Valley retreat in February. The traditional and super popular summer retreat will be in Kustavi, Finland again next summer.
Photos Katja Kokko and Henrik Johansson
Translation by Mariko Pajalahti