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A holistic exercise for body and mind
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 23 - 06 - 2015

Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — In a bid to foster India's “best cultural export” yoga, a two-day workshop sought to explain that the ancient Indian practice transcends religion and soothes hectic lifestyles.
Many experts lined up to explain that yoga is a science and philosophy, not any religion with many defining it as “holistic exercise through energy and mind management”.
Mohammad Noor Rahman Sheikh, Deputy Consul General, introduced and welcomed the participants to the two-day yoga workshop, a precursor to the International Yoga Day celebrations, last week.
The International Day of Yoga Presentations, Workshop and Conference was jointly organized by the Consulate General of India and the Arab Yoga Foundation at the Consulate premises on June 12-13.
Sheikh, a practitioner of the healthy art of living for the past 25 years, said yoga is an ancient Indian philosophy that helps an individual unite his body and mind through controlled breathing and exercising through various postures.
“I hail from a place in India (Manipur state) where people generally are proficient in martial arts and some form of exercise…I practiced tae kwon do and yoga and this art form has stayed with me,” he said while introducing the theme of the workshop.
Relating an interesting anecdote, Sheikh said, “During the interview part of his Civil Services examinations, the interviewers did not believe that a Muslim was practicing yoga and they devoted nearly all the allotted time grilling me about yoga…and I passed without being questioned on other issues.”
He highlighted the fact that yoga is an invaluable gift of ancient Indian tradition of meditation and exercise developed among Indian ascetics but codified into a universal practice of set exercises by maharishi Patanjali.
After highlighting his personal journey with yoga, Sheikh welcomed the fact that this concept of healthy living has been given international status by the United Nations, which dedicated June 21 as International Day of Yoga.
Consul General B.S. Mubarak, while welcoming the initiative of the Arab Yoga Foundation (AYF) in holding the two-day workshop, extolled the 5,000-year-old physical, mental and spiritual Indian practice that has gained global acceptance.
“Yoga changes the physical and mental health of a person while enhancing the prospects of the person achieving oneness of body and mind.
“Everyone can embrace health and wellness by practicing this art of living, which offers peace and tranquility to a person in this materialistic world.
“It does this by helping us release stress and the best part is that it is tailor-made for everybody,” Mubarak said.
“This workshop is just a curtain-raiser for the International Yoga Day celebrations, and I thank the Arab Yoga Foundation for participating with us in this event,” he said.
Saudi Nouf Al-Marwaai, the head of the Arab Yoga Foundation, then highlighted the journey of yoga into her life and the establishment of the foundation.
“The foundation was established in 2010, though I started practicing yoga in 1998 when I was 18 years old. I suffered as a child with allergies and was repeatedly sick till it became such that I had problems with my joints.
“I tried everything till I got to know about yoga from a small book my dad had from one of his trips. He was the founder of the Martial Arts Federation in Arab countries and we were exposed to such practices from the East.
“We were living in Riyadh at that time, when I began practicing yoga. I wanted to practice something that could help me move slowly and gently.
When this form of exercise began helping me, I wanted to learn more. “But it wasn't easy to find yoga teachers or places to teach yoga.
I had to go out of the Kingdom to learn more. Today I am certified as a yoga teacher (2005) and am a member of the International Yoga Foundation (Italy) and Indian Yoga Foundation (Ahmedabad).
“I have taught yoga to around 8,000 students since 2005 and certified more than 150 yoga teachers since 2009,” Nouf said while describing her personal journey into the Indian practice, which she defines as a lifestyle and a means of healing and therapy.
She also claims that the foundation's aim was to put a standard of practicing yoga in Islamic countries. “I have managed to do that by holding workshops, seminars and spreading awareness to educate people,” Nouf stressed.
Nouf, a practicing clinical psychologist, also spoke on the impact of stress on the mental and psychological state of a person.
She highlighted the various disorders that afflict mankind, and how best to tackle it. “Anxiety, eating depression, palpitations, sleeping disorders, constant worrying, panic attack and social phobias are afflictions that can be helped by yoga, through its breathing techniques.
“Shallow breathing is one of the main problems as excess oxygen in the system triggers anxiety and modern lifestyles inhibits our health, but yoga helps tackle this,” she said.
At the workshop, Dr. Mahroof Mohideen, a practicing gynecologist who embraces alternative medicine and yoga in his allopathic practice, advocated regular practice of this ancient form of exercise as it harmonizes body and mind.
“Though I'm an allopathic doctor, I ask all to do yoga as it is one of the best alternative medicines. It helps as a preventive measure by enhancing one's immune system, while keeping a person fit,” Mahroof said.
Mahroof was speaking on the health benefits of yoga for all, but women in particular. “The different types of breathing and the series of movements through asanas (postures) derive wellbeing.
But it also instills long term benefits.” “The breathing, the loosening exercises, side bendings helps in alleviating a women's menstrual cycle, relieving lower back pain, lowering one's blood pressure, improved posture, weight loss and increased energy, and the best of all a glowing skin,” he elaborated.
“While doing general exercise you get tired, but with yoga you get energized. For yoga stretching can help maintain muscle tone with little impact on joints, and if you augment yoga with walking you can be sure to ease stress, cut anxiety and weight,” he added.
He said that there is an analogy between the postures of yoga and the actions when Muslims pray. “The gentle movements in our prayers is similar to the movements in yoga, for example our ruku, sujud are similar to some yoga postures,” Mahroof said.
He also cautioned, that yoga by itself is not a cure, but adds value in maintaining health. “It should be combined with modern medicine for an holistic approach toward treating diseases.
Coordination and collaboration with yogic practices helps in emergency treatment, but therapies must be modified to suit every patient,” he added.
Ms. Suzette Garza, a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher, spoke about the contribution of BKS Iyengar to the world of yoga. “It is not easy to find a good teacher for yoga, but I found one when I traveled to New York.”
“Today I find that the BKS Iyengar method is one of the preferred methods in therapy, for I've seen practitioners with problems get help.
“It is not a franchise, but a philosophy passed down from teacher to teacher and teacher to student. It also helped find the light within me,” Suzette said.
Ms. Samar Alwan, a physiotherapist, talked about neurological diseases and the impact of yoga therapy (MS, Alzheimer and Parkinson's management through yoga therapy).
“I have been practicing yoga for neurological diseases for two years and have found improvement in patients with these diseases,” she said.
“Happiness is an inside job,” she claimed, adding that “yoga affects the nervous system in several ways and this promotes happiness…”
Ms. Batool Sabaab, nurse and a certified AYF teacher, Ayurveda and yoga therapist, highlighted the detoxification effect of practicing yoga during fasting.
“In today's hectic lifestyle detoxification is needed to rebalance your body. Fasting helps in building our spiritual self, but along with yoga you can help your body system.”
“Yoga in the morning or on an empty stomach helps relieve the lymphatic system congestion. And it is our lymphatic system that removes waste…” she said, adding, “a simple lifestyle can help the lymphatic movements and yoga helps through breathing and stretching.”
Short separate workshops for men and women were held at the end of both the days. AYF certified teachers took the participants through various simple yoga exercises, breathing techniques and relaxation methods.
I'm overall happier now…
“I was stressed out and lazy. I was depressed and demotivated. I had a eating disorder (binge eating). If I didn't take control of my life, I would have been on the lower scale of obesity,” said Ms. Danna Algusaibi while showing all a picture of her in that state.
“I was not happy with life, and I was controlled by fear,” she said, adding, “At that point I knew I had to make a change.”
“It was then I found yoga. I also found a new awareness of my body and life. It looked difficult at start and I couldn't even do the easy postures.
It took my six to eight months before I found my energies increasing. “I lost 36 kilos by doing yoga. I've become more positive, and when I'm stressed out I hit the yoga mat. I'm overall happier now,” Algusaibi concluded.
A weight off my mind…
I was just 14 years old when I lost my father, but I overcame that depression, studied hard and after finishing college worked in real estate,” began Ms. Jasmin Mehri.
“I was in the rat race. But deep down within me I felt that this wasn't for me. I started putting on weight and soon I was practically obese after gaining 35 kgs.
I suffered from pain in the lower back. “It was at this junction that I found yoga. A friend introduced me to Nouf — my guru and my inspiration.
After practicing yoga, I got fit and I made the decision to quit work and become a yoga teacher. “Today I'm a yoga teacher and inspiring people to take better care of their health.
I got pregnant soon and again gained weight. “But soon after delivery, I lost weight through yoga and today am back to the normal weight,” concluded Mehri.

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