Yoga stretches its way into Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s Hanan Faiz Al-Shehri receiving her yoga certificate.
Updated 28 October 2016
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Yoga stretches its way into Saudi Arabia

Saudi national Hanan Faiz Al-Shehri is a one-of-a-kind exponent of yoga. Yoga is a collection of physical, mental and spiritual practices or disciplines which came from ancient India. Its concepts are known to many, but not many are adventurous enough to try it. At a session at her studio in Jeddah, she explained to Arab News the power of breathing.
She taught the class how to breathe in a way that relaxed their bodies. It was intense and required someone who is truly dedicated. Going by the response she is getting, it is easy to say that yoga is catching on in Saudi Arabia.
One wonders how the quintessential Jeddawi got into yoga. “It started,” Hanan explained, “by my being in a state of utter loss at a certain time of my life and I was watching the Discovery Channel with my dad. I was mesmerized by a kid, aka Buddha Boy, who was attempting a seven-year meditation.”
“It blew my mind how this person could just let go of everything known to him and commit to meditate and only meditate. I had been doing simple yoga on a daily basis, so it became a part of my lifestyle. It was a discipline I needed at the time. I looked over at my dad and said, ‘I’m going to Nepal.’ He saw the look on my face and knew I wasn’t joking. Twenty-four hours later, I was boarding a plane to Nepal.”
On arrival in Nepal, she was treated as a foreigner. “But the next day, I let go of all that and my guide took me to my first abode; it was something I never thought I’d experience. Seeing my new accommodations, all I could think to myself was ‘This just got real.’ My room was very small with only a mattress on the floor, some sort of bathroom and a window. That’s it! The whole purpose of being there is to learn to find yourself, through a spiritual path, channeling your positive energy and concentrating on the positive aspects of your life. It was the trip of a lifetime.”
Hanan said she had not always been an outgoing and adventurous person.
“I had some superficial life goals but I’d always leaned toward helping people. When I graduated from high school, I told my parents that I wanted to help people so I got a degree in nursing. A few years after that I moved into the corporate world and was engulfed by it. I kept moving up until I reached what I thought at the time was the peak of my success. Inside, however, I felt there was more to life than superficial surroundings. Nepal happened at that time; my whole perspective on life shifted and I have no regrets,” she said.
Hanan wanted to learn more and the only way was to get certified.
“I went to India and stayed for a month and a half at the Ashtak Yoga School. I was in a course so intense that you barely had time to do anything. For 12 hours a day, you meditate, do yoga and study. It’s not playing; it’s an aggressive and comprehensive curriculum.”
Yoga isn’t for everyone. In order to move forward in such a spiritual field as yoga, it requires not only time but tenacity and a drive to learn more.
“Yoga is not just movements and poses; it’s learning the proper techniques, perfecting them and knowing precisely how to perform them. At the same time, you let go of the negative, the bad, the ugly, the superficial and getting in tune with your inner self which is often lacking here.”
Did Hanan have a difficult time returning and helping society to get to know Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga? “Ironically it’s not society that is worrying but other trainers in your field. The first thing I always tell visitors is that we are all equal here; there is no hate and there is only peace. That is the essence of yoga, peace. What you encounter in the world is often not only disappointing but infuriating. There is too much competitiveness and you lose the true essence — peace, love, calmness — of becoming a yogi and an instructor. There was so much hate from outsiders and yet my students have shown enough love and appreciation to overcome the hate ten-fold. The reason is because I am good and confident enough to say it. I don’t need to be a part of an elite group to know how good I am; my training has taught me that I neither need it nor want to be a part of it,” she said. “To breathe is what I teach my students for just a couple of minutes; we train together as one, breathe together as one and let go of our baggage as one. No social classes, no nationalities, nothing. We are beautiful strong women and that’s what it is.”
The power that comes through breathing is an important aspect of her training.
“It’s the most relaxing and fulfilling part of my yoga sessions. To breathe is to live; there is the good and the bad but we exhale our toxins; we exhale our negativities and that makes us feel lighter, feel that we’re alive and a part of this great entity that is made to be happy.”
A number of yoga classes seem more interested in prices rather than the experience. It is hard to believe any school would only create a business out of such a spiritual journey.
“Numbers are just numbers and they have no relation to yoga whatsoever; to turn something as spiritual and beautiful as yoga into a business is an insult when yoga should be for everyone!” said Hanan.


From Havana to the UAE: Camila Cabello’s visit gives her a ‘special feeling’

Updated 17 February 2019
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From Havana to the UAE: Camila Cabello’s visit gives her a ‘special feeling’

  • Cuban-American singing sensation Camila Cabello's visit to the UAE left her leaving humbled
  • The singer's performance in Dubai was well received and led to social media postings about how loved she felt

DUBAI: Cuban-American singing sensation Camila Cabello, who performed at the RedFest DXB 2019 music festival in Dubai over the weekend, took time out before the show to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. 

The singer of the hit song “Havana,” which she performed at the Grammys last week, posted a photo on Instagram of herself at the mosque wearing a hijab, which is provided for all female visitors. 

“I wore a hijab to be respectful when visiting this mosque, and at the store this really sweet girl helped me put it on,” Cabello wrote on her Instagram. 

“We didn’t speak the same language, but she was smiling as she helped me, and it felt like she was a close friend.” 

Her Instagram caption began: “One of my favorite people, Anthony Bourdain, once said, ‘It seems that the more places I experience, the bigger I realize the world to be’ — it’s so true, I love the feeling of being humbled by traveling to another place and experiencing a completely different culture. It makes you realize how small your world is in comparison to how big the world actually is; how you’re only living one version in a million of the human experience. But at the same time travel makes you realize we’re not really all that different.”

Cabello, previously a member of pop group Fifth Harmony, added: “I can’t really describe it, but experiences like this give me such a special feeling of being really close to and really loving people.”

She continued her ode to the UAE on Sunday, posting a photo of herself in a long, flowing dress in the desert and urging people to travel “to a place that couldn’t be more different than what you know.” 

She wrote: “Never in my life did I think I would see a place like this. Getting to see places like this just makes me more desperate to see more.”

The 21-year-old singer performed at the Dubai Media City Amphitheater on Friday, along with rapper Macklemore. 

Her one-hour set opened with the 1980s-inspired ballad “Never Be the Same,” and included other hit numbers such as “Lost Control” and “Inside Out.” She closed the set with the chart-topping track “Havana.” 

Post-concert, Cabello tweeted: “I’ve got so much love to my fans from the Middle East. I didn’t realize there were so many of you out there.”