When Africa is mentioned in any conversation, the first image that I envision would either be of endless stretches of savannah with lions chasing zebra or fierce tribes brandishing AK-47s chasing lions chasing zebra.
Yoga is the last thing synonymous with Africa.
When I arrived in Kilifi, on Kenya’s coast, I figured the typical activities of snorkelling, kayaking and other water sports would be the only physical undertakings. Lo and behold yoga was offered at the Distant Relatives Eco Lodge & Backpackers.
Maree, a South African yoga instructor, led sunset classes twice a week until she moved to Watamu and started teaching at Watamu Treehouse, about an hour north of Kilifi on the same stretch of Indian Ocean-hugging coast line. So together with Rohini, we hitched a ride directly to her new residency.
We turned off the tarred road by the big “T” sign and drove through the bush following a dirt road leading to the tall, white structure rising up above the canopy of the trees.
Josaphat, the house manager, welcomed us with a warm smile and showed us all the rooms in the Gaudi-inspired building. Pieces of glass were cemented into the white walls, large curves that spiralled up, following the staircase and a mosaic bridge across the pool.
Open, fresh air was sucked into our lungs from every corner of the maze-like tower.
“It’s a play-tower,” Rohini had exclaimed with child-like wonder. I grinned, nodding in agreement.
We were introduced to Paul, the American-born owner of the property.
“Every time I’ve rented a house, I planted trees,” he said, “but I would move out and come back to the house later—normally to find the trees cut. So one of my main motivations to own land is to plant trees and watch them grow over a lifetime or, through the generations.
When my father, Eric, and I bought the land where Treehouse now sits in the early 1990s, this plot was one of the few remaining in Watamu with the original coastal forest. The previous owner, Pat Donnelly, requested us to preserve the forest and we agreed.
My father’s wife, Nani Croze, is a passionate conservationist as well as an artist and she suggested using the small area that had previously been cleared for burning rubbish (a common practice in Africa) for making the ‘footprint’ of a few towers and building upward instead of outward.”
We were served lunch, home-cooked by Jackson, the Mzee (a term of respect for elders) that manages the house.
“Do you practice yoga?” Rohini asked the 65 -year-old.
“Yes,” he grins proudly. “It has helped my knee-problem. Before yoga, I struggled to climb all the stairs here. Now I do it easily. I practice every day with the staff.”
The spiraling staircase leads past rooms with names and themes such as Moon and Stars, Aqua, Sunrise, Starbed and Bahari. The entire tower is white-wall with panoramic views of the Indian Ocean, a short, 4-minute walk down a private path through the bush.
“The most important thing for me is that all rooms have a view of either the sunrise or sunset—and most rooms have a view of both,” Paul explains the philosophy behind the unique design of the house. “You normally cannot help but awaken before dawn, as the sky starts to turn golden and the orchestra of nature’s sounds pumps up the volume. The first few minutes of the day are so precious—and the perfect time to start your day right with whatever is most important to you. By the time you see the red sun coming over the horizon you are totally tuned in to the natural circadian rhythm of the planet.”
He wasn’t wrong. It was a challenge just to leave the room as the rising sun bathed the Indian Ocean in a glorifying, ‘Good morning, World!’ of orange, purple and pink. The water spectrum going from its deep Indian-blue with white caps of waves breaking over the outer reef barriers, the waters rolling in towards the white-sandy beaches of Watamu, the inner reefs lying in clear, turquoise waters.
Rohini and I hiked through the bush surrounding the Treehouse, opening onto a deserted beach. The tide was out, revealing the white sand that seemed to stretch all along Kenya’s eastern coast.
“Wow,” I breathed.
“On some of our yoga retreats,” he explains, “which we call ‘In Touch With the Elements’, we use yoga and meditation techniques and also let nature be our teacher to balance out the effects in our bodies and minds.”
The sun, sinking over the endless stretch of green, coastal forest, blazed it alight with a golden hue. A large orb spider had her elaborate web washed in gold.
Rohini and I stood on the rooftop, home to the Starbed room. A canopy of stars shone overhead, the Milky Way out in full-screen mode. We caught a shooting star that streaked across the night sky, our wishes already fulfilled.
“Treehouse is a living environment where the entire yogic philosophy can be put into practice,” Paul explains. “Of course, we practice yoga postures (asana) each day. But that is just a fraction of the yogic path which includes how we live in harmony with all around us and each other. How we direct our senses to the highest there is. How we make our life a living meditation. How we find our purpose and meaning in life and, how we connect and experience oneness with the whole of creation—this is yoga, the perfection of creation.”
Author: Simon OChen
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of Rohini Das