Muddy Meets Kristina Rihanoff
We chatted to the former Strictly pro turned yogini and entrepreneur about her passion for helping others to prioritise their health and wellbeing.
Kristina is best known for her eight year stint as a pro dancer on Strictly Come Dancing, the show that saw her teaching Jason Donovan, Blue’s Simon Webbe and err, John Sergeant to tango, but it was her partnership (not to mention that sexy rumba) with England and Northampton rugby winger Ben Cohen in 2013 that marked a turning point for the championship latin and ballroom star, when the pair fell for each other (who wouldn’t?) and eventually moved to Ben’s hometown of Northampton to start a family and a build a new business, high end wellbeing and fitness studio, Soo Yoga.
You’ve had an amazing career in dance, what drew you to yoga?
I was always madly into yoga. I was introduced to it for the first time when I moved to America from Russia at 23 years old and I became a yoga devotee. All through my competitive career I would be doing yoga three or four times a week. It was like a moving meditation, because it was physical but at the same time giving my brain the space.
I’d done Strictly for eight years when I fell pregnant with Mila, who’s three and a half now, and there’s this thing where you feel, oh, I have to reinvent myself, what should I do next? It’s quite difficult for a lot of people when they’ve had a career in sport or in show business. I know Ben was the same. You have these skills but they’re non-transferable in real life. He played rugby, he was the best in the world in his position, but what do you do with that? So moving here to Northampton and having a family here with Ben, I decided, while was on maternity leave I just really wanted to go into it and do my yoga teacher training.
What was the catalyst for creating a business in Northampton?
We have Ben’s girls as well, they’re 13 now, and this is their home. So we have three kids in the family and we wanted to create a space that would be welcoming for families with kids of all different ages. I’d just had a baby, and it felt like a natural progression and it felt exciting to create something new that would be fun with Ben, that would be perhaps a little bit ahead of its time.
What is the philosophy behind Soo Yoga?
Just being kind to yourself, that’s the main thing we’re trying to promote. It’s such an unusual concept. To give something to yourself. We need to love ourselves and give ourselves a bit of time. It’s not about selfishness, it’s about being more present for everyone around you as well.
Wellbeing and kindness – to oneself and to others – is central to what we are trying to do. For Ben it’s a very big thing, it’s about honoring his father [who tragically lost his life after a brutal attack] and helping others. Ben already does a huge amount with his anti-bullying foundation, Stand Up and, similarly, with Soo Yoga the aim is to provide a space where people can take meditation and mindfulness classes and so on.
And the main thing for us was having this space for families to come and work out. We do spinning, HIIT workouts, dance classes, it’s not just yoga, there is something for everyone. And we have a creche. Because we’re a family we wanted to set something up that we would have wanted. It’s about feeling good.
Does Ben practise yoga?
Poor Ben was my guinea pig when I was going through teacher training and I made him do crazy things. I took him to a hot yoga studio and he did a class with me and he said, “If I were a young sportsman now, I would definitely have done hot yoga.” You can feel just how much further your body goes. We’ve had cricketers and rugby players coming to us and doing hot yoga for six weeks before the season. The origins of yoga are in preparing warriors to focus their minds before battle, so until relatively recently it was a totally masculine pursuit, but these days 80% of people who come to yoga studios in the UK are women and men shy away from it, but we want to change that.
How do you make time to prioritise your own wellbeing?
[Laughs]. Well, I’m guilty of working too hard, but I do my yoga practise and we like to spend time together as a family, we go out to eat. We love going to the Smoke Pit, they’re really family friendly and do loads of vegan options, but right now Soo Yoga is definitely the focus.