Nsa Ntuk in the Nomadness Travel Tribe Group on Facebook. I posted a photo from my trip to Ghana, she commented and although what she said was simple, something about her seemed really cool and I got the urge to send her a friend request so I did. As it turns out, she’s a traveling yogini, an actress whose work spans the U.S. and Nigeria (and if you know me then you know how I feel about Nollywood), producer, founder of Proud Journey, a high consumer of raw vegan foods and much more. I caught up with the bi-coastal, internationally fly beauty to find out more about her passion for yoga and travel.
Where do you practice yoga?
I practice yoga on my mat. And I take my mat wherever I go as I travel but I try to practice outdoors as often as possible. There is something inspiring about fresh air! But I also say I’m on my own yoga tour – when I hit a new city I ask for studio suggestions or yelp to see the closest yoga studio and I go check it out. I like to create a sense of adventure so when I can pair yoga and hiking I know I am in the right place too.
What types of yoga do you practice, how long has it been and how did that become your go to method for fitness?
I generally do Vinyasa yoga for a faster moving class but I also love Yin yoga for a more meditative and deeper longer held stretches. I give myself permission to explore different styles even though I have practiced over 4 years. I’m not against hot yoga but I have accepted that Bikram is just not for me.
As for when I started doing yoga to be honest, I really don’t remember the first class I ever took but it was at least four years ago — I just know that I kept doing it cause it felt right. However I know I became very intentional about my yoga practice in 2011 because I wanted to be very grounded in my body as I went to meet my long lost family in Nigeria for the first time. I was a little intimidated by idea of a whole new culture and language and set of expectations and I didn’t want to be off a beat. I did a 30 day challenge (self challenge) before I left and I felt amazing and centered. I remember missing my mat as I traveled and that’s when I knew. Yoga has been my foundation since then.
How did you start leading an active lifestyle?
I have two older brothers so I grew up wanting to be like them playing soccer for age six to 12 and every other sport available to me at Catholic school (as the only Black kid in the class I think I tried to live up to athletic expectations too). So I played and excelled in basketball, volleyball, softball, heck I even tried flag football in middle school! I also danced in high school and loved the stretching and graceful movement of ballet.
But as a young adult I have had that fall off period where I was not as active or taking care of my body. It think it happens to a lot of us in college where your mind is getting all the attention so other things get ignored: your body and even your spirit. When I started perusing acting I looked for ways to stay in shape from the gym to Insanity to Zumba. But as a high energy person I found yoga was really the best to balance me out. In the craft of acting, staying relaxed and grounded in your body is so important – it was that double benefit that keeps me practicing.
Also after traveling to Nigeria and eating new foods like my aunties were cooking for me I would come back feeling a bit bloated A.K.A. 10 pounds heavier! So instead of trying to please everyone I took leadership over my body got more involved in my auntie’s kitchen and started taking my mat with me.
What benefits have you seen from yoga in your body and your life?
Yoga has transformed my body in the most effortless way. I tried Insanity and the hardcore workouts but it was not as well received by my body. My sister was even concerned that I looked too muscular after 90 days of jumping and getting yelled at by Shaun T LOL! I think I was absorbing more strain that way and with yoga I feel strong but a butterfly suppleness…like I said that effortless feeling.
Yoga has also really helped me in my personal growth and spiritual journey. I have a tendency to be really critical and hard on myself but through yoga I have cultivated a deeper sense of self acceptance. When I have some negative thoughts or moments of doubt I basically work it out on my yoga mat. I also think it is a statement of spiritual gratitude to use the body I was given — how better to appreciate it than to use it!
What’s your diet like and why does it work for you?
After trying lots of stuff from Herbalife shakes to Paleo and high protein diets Jillian Michaels recommends, I have taken a different approach. I have gone to nature — organic fresh foods and my rule of thumb. With that I have been really having fun eating/preparing raw vegan food lately! So it might scare some people but it’s really an au natural approach — eating plant based foods without meat or dairy. The key motivating factor is that food looses a lot of nutrients once heated over 118 degrees so I have embraced this type of eating for last three months and felt intense high energy and satisfied in an uncanny way. I also dropped about 10lbs without counting calories and eating more often than any other regimented diet full of chemicals that trick your body.
What started this was a film I watched on Netflix, Hungry for Change which talks about how diet food can actual train your body to depend on harmful chemicals. They encouraged adding in more green juices and I just started adding in more greens to the point I went all the way raw vegan cause it felt so good. The idea can be intimidating but think of it like this – it’s eating more salads, smoothies and fresh foods that don’t have the dangerous toxins of preservatives. I will be sharing some of the raw vegan recipes I used on my upcoming blog at www.ProudJourney.com
List three things you’ve learned about yourself from being more mindful of leading an active lifestyle?
I have learned so much from parallels of yoga…
I don’t have to be perfect. It’s a practice so it’s just trying new things never a big competitive event to display perfection.
When I fall down I can laugh it off and try again – on the mat and in life. So I learned how to enjoy the process with playful determination.
My body and breath are powerful together — as I try new challenging poses I get excited about what my body is capable of!
What are your fitness goals for the rest of the year?
My intention for the rest of the year is to continue with my daily yoga practice and eat raw vegan 80% of the time. I don’t count my calories or dress size I count is how I feel in my body.
As an avid traveler, have you been to a yoga retreat? Where would your recommend people go?
Yes I love to travel and mixing yoga with that has been my lifestyle in a solo way! As I mentioned I started going back to Nigeria and on my last and final trip I brought my mat and practiced almost daily in an environment where yoga studios were not accessible. So I have lead a sort of solo retreat but I have always wanted to go to one organized by someone else.
I envisioned going to Bali or somewhere exotic but I ended up being very spontaneously lead to a yoga and writing retreat while I was in New York. It was based in Vermont so I got to hike in the Appalachian mountains in addition to yoga twice a day!
So the good news is — I am working on some retreats for 2015 and listing retreats to check out! It’s part of my new yoga focused social enterprise Proud Journey – in addition to sharing colorful African Print yoga bags that empower women in Africa, the goal is to inspire an on-the-go yoga lifestyle with cool retreats included. To be in the know check out the early notification list at http://new.proudjourney.com.
Share some advice for people who might be interested in starting a yoga practice.
I like to strongly recommend going to a studio that has some positive reviews on yelp that is not heated first. An older yoga teacher helped me understand the difference between heated vs room temperature the best. She explained that a heated room will give you a false sense of flexibility so you have to careful not to overextend your body. Some people love the heat and I do too sometimes but get grounded in the heat your own body produces first as you learn proper alignment. If you are nervous about joining a class look at beginner yoga youtube videos to get an idea of what yoga can involve.
Once you have a place to practice try to approach it with an open heart. Explore teachers and styles until you find what works for you. It’s not always about the “yoga booty” you might envision – there are so many lessons on the way you won’t want to miss!
If visit Proud Journey to find out more about how you can get involved in Nsa’s community-based yoga work, and for more information on retreats reach out to her atNsa@proudjourney.com
You can also find out more about Nsa’s work as an actress and producer at her official website.