A few years ago, yoga was so distant to Kenyans. It has now become a popular way of seeking wellbeing with Kenyans combining it with dhow cruises, surfing or nature walks.
The Lamu Yoga Festival which was held two weeks ago continues to attract students and teachers from all over the world. With numbers like 350 students, 152 classes and workshops spread throughout the island and taught by over 26 teachers from all over the world, this annual retreat now rivals Thailand, India and Bali.
More Kenyans such as Gad Opiyo, the vice president of the Architectural Association of Kenya, who has been a yogi for the past eight years, are seeking out these retreats. He has been attending the annual Lamu Yoga Festival for the past four years.
“I like the intensity. In Nairobi, you might go for yoga once or three times a week while at a retreat, you can go for up to three for five classes daily, each lasting one to two hours,” says Mr Opiyo.
Mr Opiyo adds that in yoga retreats, “You get to try to different styles, about 20 to 30, with different teachers who have their own personal touch. It is a break from your daily routine and a great chance for introspection.”
Increased work loads, marital stress or other social pressures create tension in the body, and massage, acupuncture and yoga are great therapies. Given the known benefits of yoga, more people are turning to retreats. Others just go out of passion.
Places like Watamu Treehouse which hosted about 15 retreats in the past year alone were built as havens for yogis.
Paul Krystall, the owner and yoga teacher says most retreats are done at hotels whereby a teacher rents a room and teaches at the available space.
Watamu Treehouse is run by yogis. All the staff have been doing yoga every week for the past three years, and they also get teachers to come and train.
“The idea is to fully immerse yourself rather than attending a class once a week, and you really do get to feel the benefits,” he says.
The food is also vegetarian, fresh, low in sugar and you leave feeling energised.
The treehouse has merged yoga with other attractions for beach lovers, and rather than just teach yoga in their beautifully designed rooms, they do yoga on stand up paddleboards and meditation sessions on the beach.
‘‘We have great nature activities throughout the day, adding to the feeling of relaxation and grounding,” says Paul.
Given the growing business opportunities yoga provides, passionate students like Kunali Dodhia, who has been practising for the past two years, are seeking to spread the benefits by setting up a retreat.
“I am not a teacher myself but I have a background in events management and a passion for yoga. We have a retreat coming up in Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club from May 25 to 27, which I decided to host in collaboration with a Ugandan teacher called Payal Gori. She’ll teach the classes while I handle the logistics,” she says.
The yoga community in Kenya is growing at a fast rate. In the US, for instance, yoga and exercise mat business is projected to reach over $11 billion (Sh1.1 trillion) in two years, according to market research company Technavio.
“Perceptions have shifted and people now understand that it is a workout on its own. We aim is to reconnect to the five elements, and our guests can expect daily yoga and meditation classes with variations ranging from Vinyasa to Yin Yang Yoga,” says Kunali.
For newbies, the attraction of Kunali’s selected venue would be its proximity to nature as the resort overlooks Mount Kenya, which would allow for merging their holiday with fitness and wellness while also getting to enjoy the outdoors through activities like silent walks through nature.