Inspiring movement in the Ottawa Valley: Ro Nwosu

ABOVE: Renfrew resident Ro Nwosu is helping her community explore how they move, how they connect with the world around them physically, as well as mentally.

In many ways, Ro seems larger than life, and anyone who has met her won’t soon forget her. As a yoga instructor and lover of life living and working in the Ottawa Valley, for Ro, community, family, and a strong sense of self are key to it all.

Ro’s journey from a small maritime community of Newfoundland to the rugged whitewater region of the Ottawa Valley was pretty straightforward, and with a familiar tune many will recognize: she met someone and picked up and moved with them, landing in the Ottawa Valley.

At the time, Ro was looking for a simpler life to put down roots and offer the same community focus she had come to appreciate with her own family. Ro explained that Nigerians in general are very community based, and while she may have been rebellious of this as a teen, today she welcomes the strong sense of family and community that she was raised with.

“Nigerian culture is very ‘people coming together and learning from each other’ as much as possible, working out problems in the village, celebrating together and more,” she explained. “When you have a community, whether it’s where you live or what you do, it’s a way to have an extension of your family with you, no matter where you are.”

At the time when she settled in Renfrew, yoga, self-exploration, and so many other things that are now a pivotal part of her life were not even on the horizon. It was only after she delivered her now eight-year-old son, that she hit a hurdle that started her on that path, but it all started in the Ottawa Valley.

“There were people I talked to in Renfrew who were so nice,” Ro remembered the period after first moving to the area, and the challenges it brought with it. “But I didn’t know anyone when I moved there, and I had postpartum depression hit me pretty hard.” 

Lacking a support system, and living almost two hours away from her mother, and in a strange and new community where she had already encountered some racism, Ro struggled with depression. Ironically, it was that same postpartum depression that helped her to find her focus and discover what would soon become one of the biggest passions in her life: yoga. 

“I was always up late feeding my son and I found a yoga video that was playing on TV,” Ro explained. “It was very clear, interesting, and the things the person was saying made sense to me – they were talking about the breath, awareness, progress. When it was on the TV my son stopped crying and my mind wasn’t running in different directions either.” 

One day while Ro was struggling, someone from the local health unit came by to see her and Lincoln, and to see how Ro was managing post-delivery. The woman asked to hold the baby and told Ro to go take a shower, to do whatever she wanted for an hour. 

Ro showered and made herself something to eat, which may seem like small steps, but they had a tremendous impact for her. Shortly afterwards, she began practicing yoga at home, pushing herself to connect with her body and centre her mind. 

Previously, Ro had been cautious about entering the community, concerned that she wouldn’t be welcomed, but she realized she needed to make a change.

“I started to do more, I started to connect more, I visited the library, I went to the early childhood centre, looked for work. I found my mood just improved and I thought to myself that “If I’m going to be part of this community I’m going to let people know I’m here, and I’m going to let them know who I am so they have no reason to judge me because of my skin but my character good or bad.” 

This is when Ro’s Nigerian background really stood her in good stead. She explained that she would meet people at the Early Years Centre, or while dropping off resumes, and have a conversation with them, to find out how they connected in the community.

“It’s a big family thing to understand people’s history and see how they’re connected, how they dig their community,” Ro explained. “I kind of let people know where I’m at and to be honest I think that helped me out in the end.”

Meanwhile, Ro was continuing to practice yoga at every opportunity, and finally decided to take her yoga teacher training, and serve as an example for other members of the community. 

“It just sparked for me that I wanted to take the training and do more…it helped me mentally, emotionally and physically I felt like I had never seen a Black yoga teacher before,” Ro said. “In the Ottawa area I couldn’t find any at the time, in Renfrew there were none. I feel like community wise, I would like to see different types of people being reflected in the community in all activities, clubs, jobs etc not just yoga.”

Teaching fell in line with Ro’s calling of connecting with and helping others, but she also saw it as a way for Black people to see her actively involved in the community and maybe decide to move to the area, knowing there was a safe community space there for them.

For Ro, teaching is more than just helping people to learn about yoga. It’s bringing people together and helping them to explore how they move, how they connect with the world around them physically, as well as mentally. 

“My calling is to help people, to help them see the way they move is so unique to who they are,” Ro said. “I want people to come to class, learn, and take it home and pass it onto  others, any little bit of kindness I can give I hope gets passed on to someone else. Yoga has given me a tool to use when I notice my mental health isn’t doing well, and helped me see community from a different perspective.”

PHOTOS: Ben Hemmings Media