A yoga journey from illness to happiness

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A woman in one of her yoga poses. (Shutterstock)
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Saudi Arabia has approved Yoga as a sporting activity. (Shutterstock)
Updated 29 July 2018
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A yoga journey from illness to happiness

  • Nouf Marwaai’s health was one of the keys for entering the yoga world
  • Marwaai, an entrepreneur, is also the founder of the Arab Yoga Foundation

“Yoga is just a well-being system that has a traditional background. The values of the yoga tradition are not different from our culture’s values,” said the first Saudi certified yoga instructor, Nouf Marwaai.

Marwaai, who enhanced awareness of yoga in the Kingdom, was awarded the Padma Shri award, India’s fourth highest civilian award, by President Ram Nath Kovind in March this year. She was given the award, which is rarely given to foreigners, because of her efforts to make yoga accepted as a sports activity in Saudi Arabia and to popularize it. The event was held in New Delhi at the president’s house.

“The celebrations we had on the yoga day this year and previous years were organized by the Consulate General of India in cooperation with us, the Arab Yoga Foundation group. We started in 2015, when the UN approved the international day of yoga based on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is the greatest promoter of yoga and wellness for the welfare of people and society. I and the entire yoga community are very thankful to him for this initiative, as the whole world celebrated yoga on that day,” she said.

Marwaai is an entrepreneur who has lived between Saudi Arabia and India for almost 11 years and has some businesses in both countries. She is also the founder of the Arab Yoga Foundation.

After practicing yoga for seven years and being certified, she started teaching it and founded SAY school, which became the Arab Yoga Foundation by 2010. She has been practicing yoga now for two decades.

Her health was one of the key reasons for entering the yoga world. Since her birth Marwaai has suffered from many health issues and was not diagnosed properly until she was 17. During that year she was diagnosed with undifferentiated connective tissue disease and possibly rheumatic disease.

She said: “I was underweight, tired, and suffered from malnutrition due to the extreme diets they put me on for my allergies and digestive problems. Symptoms that I had suffered from were joint pain, weakness, chronic fatigue, skin rash, allergies, loss of focus, sleeping problems and stiffness.”

Marwaai had to leave school because of her constant fainting and illness. She decided to search for a sport that fitted in with her health condition.

She found one of her father’s books which talked about yoga. Her father was founder of the Arab Martial Arts Federation in the Kingdom, Tunisia and Egypt from the late 1960s. She continued her yoga learning process by buying books as well as DVDs.

“I also started a vegetarian organic diet. I was anyways vegetarian due to my severe allergies. I went back to finish high school in 1999, then went to university and graduated with high honors,” Marwaai said.

Her college years were a turning point for her while she was studying psychology and learning more about yoga.

“I could see a lot of connections between sports and well-being. Mental and physical health connections, the effect of gentle exercises and breathing control while performing exercises and relaxation. I understood the effect of stress on the health development of diseases, especially immunity and psychosomatic diseases. I decided then to study yoga, not only to read and practice,” she added.

Marwaai traveled to India for treatment and study. Today, she has a master’s degree in psychotherapy from India and a bachelor’s in psychology from King Saud University.

She said: ”The kindness of people in India impressed me. I felt at home. I also studied Ayurvedic medicine there while getting treatment for my disease. I was diagnosed with (lupus) finally after a septic shock in 2001, when I was admitted to hospital and my survival was at risk. I learned yoga and fell in love with the Indian culture. Living in Kerala taught me how to take care of my health. The culture is somehow similar to Saudi culture in family aspects and values. I felt at home and I can easily say that India is my second country.”

When Marwaai was asked about the struggles she faced during her journey of discovering yoga, she said it was difficult to find a yoga teacher or a center, so she decided to make people aware of yoga.

“Another struggle that I faced was the confusion of what license I can apply for to open a yoga center. But luckily now things have changed a lot when it comes to women’s sport, and thanks to Princess Reema bin Bandar, the president of community sports federations, who guided me and helped my initiative,” she added.


Oscars: the show must go on... without a host

Updated 59 min 44 sec ago
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Oscars: the show must go on... without a host

LOS ANGELES: Hollywood’s biggest night — the Oscars — is set to take place next month without a host for the first time in 30 years, after comedian Kevin Hart pulled out of the gig and no suitable replacement was found.
Though organizers have yet to confirm the plans, entertainment insiders say the show’s producers are forging ahead with preparations for the 91st Academy Awards on February 24 with no emcee.
If all goes ahead, it would be the first ceremony without a host since the 1989 gala — one widely seen as one of the most embarrassing ever, featuring an infamous duet between actor Rob Lowe and... Snow White.
As gala organizers struggle to overcome a steady decline in viewership, many say the failure to find a host is actually good news.
“It’s a blessing in disguise,” Tim Gray, awards editor at entertainment magazine Variety, told AFP.
“People have been saying for years that the format — the same since 1953 — needs to change and they’re trying to cut down on running time. So personally, I think it’s a great idea not to have a host.”
Hart, who is currently starring opposite Bryan Cranston in “The Upside,” was named to host the Oscars in early December.
But the backlash was swift — homophobic tweets he made several years ago reemerged, prompting an outcry on social media, and he withdrew just a few days later.
“I have made the choice to step down from hosting this year’s Oscar’s (sic)....this is because I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists,” he tweeted.
“I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past.”
So why can’t the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences find someone else?
The previous two shows have been hosted by late night funnyman Jimmy Kimmel. Comedian Chris Rock emceed in 2005 and 2016 and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres hosted in 2007 and 2014.
All have apparently indicated they weren’t interested in the gig this year.
“I think a lot of people, especially when it comes to hosting the Oscars ... think nowadays it’s not worth accepting (to host) because of the scrutiny,” Gray said.
“It’s kind of a thankless job,” he added.
“A lot of hosts have said it’s a difficult job because you walk into that room, there are 3,000 people, and all they want to know is who won in each category.”
In recent years, several hosts were raked over the coals. Actor Neil Patrick Harris got rumbled over his 2015 effort and said he would never do it again. James Franco and Anne Hathaway were a dud in 2011.
The Academy declined several requests by AFP for comment on the hosting situation or the show’s possible format.
But according to several trade magazines, organizers are considering having multiple A-listers — probably actors — introduce various segments and the award presenters.
“The Academy awards regularly had multiple hosts in the 1970s and 1980s and the telecast worked very well,” said Dave Karger, a special correspondent for IMDb (the Internet Movie Database).
“So if this year’s producers are able to book big stars to perform in skits and present the prizes, I don’t think the show will suffer at all.”
Gray said the big challenge will be how to make the show entertaining — both to those attending and for people watching on television — while sticking to the promise of a three-hour telecast.
“I think the hostless situation is going to force them to come up with something imaginative,” he said.
“And the fact that the show is going to be different could keep the energy going.”