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

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.

Book review: ‘Where the Bird Disappeared’ is a tale as old as time

Updated 22 September 2018

Book review: ‘Where the Bird Disappeared’ is a tale as old as time

CHICAGO: Taking a leaf from the real-life stories of Prophet Zakariyya and his son Yahya, Palestinian poet and writer Ghassan Zaqtan’s “Where the Bird Disappeared” is a beautiful yet haunting novel set in the village of Zakariyya, in modern-day Palestine.
Inspired by Qur’anic stories and political history, the novel talks about the relationship between Zakariyya and his best friend Yahya who not only share their names with the two prophets but bear a distant resemblance to their personalities and fates as well.
Zaqtan’s narrative is lyrical, heartbreaking and profound. Rooted in Palestine — a land that stood the test of time and would go on to become the hub of early and modern civilizations — the story is captivating enough to transport us to the hideaway monastery in Nuba Karam or the vineyards of Beit Jalla, the new homes for several villagers forced into exile.
Recalling the devastation and violence faced by those migrating from their homes and country, Zaqtan’s ability to take his readers through the same mountain paths and into the soul of his characters is a cause for applause. As Zaqtan writes of his central character, Zakariyya, “he felt he was walking inside a book, stumbling inside stories that had circulated in these hills since his birth. Journeys and names repeating themselves in succession without end.” And while the novel succeeds in digging deep into the annals of history, it also makes the reader realize how much impact the land of Palestine has had on the two characters and the various stories generating from the region.
Zaqtan’s tale is gentle enough to etch out images of each village, street or ancient structure that make the story and yet devastating enough that these get lost in the bigger picture. His brilliance lies in how conscious he is about the words used, while never losing sight of the historical context of his narrative or the love of the central characters for their beloved land.
Ghassan Zaqtan is an award-winning Palestinian poet, novelist, and playwright. He first published “Where the Bird Disappeared” in Arabic in 2015. It was then translated into English by Samuel Wilder and published by Seagull Books in 2018.