The fitness enthusiast behind Saudi Arabia's first yoga aerial arts studio

Making waves: Roa’a Al-Sahhaf has launched Saudi Arabia’s first aerial yoga studio. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 March 2020

The fitness enthusiast behind Saudi Arabia's first yoga aerial arts studio

  • Mother of three Roa’a Al-Sahhaf discovered her passion for gymnastics at a very young age
  • Jeddah-based yoga studio offers workshops and training programs for fitness instructors in aerial ar

JEDDAH: Over the past few years, yoga has surged in popularity thanks to social media. Now Roa’a Al-Sahhaf, Saudi Arabia’s first female circus performer, is making waves across the Kingdom with her newly launched aerial yoga studio Aerial Arts.
The 40-something mother of three discovered her passion for gymnastics at a very young age. Coming from a family of professional marathoners and sports lovers, Al-Sahhaf received encouragement to practice sports creatively and had an innate talent for athleticism.
“Growing up, performing arts has helped me express myself and emotions in a healthy way, taking away negative emotions, stress and sadness and transforming them into performances,” she said.
“My gymnastics teacher in school was the first to notice my natural talent for picking up moves.”
Given the Kingdom’s highly limited access to gyms and fitness studios, it was not long before Al-Sahhaf decided to launch the first aerial arts studio in the country.
“Most of my practice was done at home. I’d travel abroad to attend workshops and courses but end up at home,” said Al-Sahhaf.
“That’s when I realized that I need my own place, right here in my city, to practice, and a community to share my passion with, rather than jump from one gym to (another).”
The aerialist, who graduated from King Abdul Aziz University’s Faculty of Arts and continued her graduate degree in Islamic traditional arts at The Prince’s Foundation School in London, started giving classes and workshops at home to friends and family.
When her circle of passionate aerialists grew, the acrobat decided to expand across Saudi Arabia.
“It all started in 2012. I took a course at The Pole Spirit Paris studio shortly after watching my first-ever aerial performance in Paris,” she said.
“I traveled from Paris to Lebanon, and over the years I got 13 certificates that qualify me as a student, instructor, circus fitness coach and choreographer of aerial arts.”
Al-Sahhaf now holds coaching certifications from numerous highly regarded US and European institutes.
Her Jeddah-based yoga studio offers workshops and training programs for fitness instructors who also want to teach aerial arts.
“I hosted over 16 workshops in and around Saudi Arabia. When I first launched Aerial Arts, people were skeptical,” she said.
“Getting the paperwork done, finding the perfect location and introducing this new form of art were all challenges I had to overcome. But all it took was one class for people to realize how exciting this sport really is.”
Antigravity yoga, better known as aerial yoga, uses a hammock to support, either fully or partially, the weight of practitioners while they work on traditional yoga postures.
The silk rig helps improve mobility, flexibility and strength, while allowing a person to do more challenging poses without additional pressure on the shoulders, spine or head.
“Aerial yoga is perfect for those looking for something outside of a normal gym workout to stay fit,” she said.
“Aerial arts fitness has a special focus on three-dimensional movement conditioning, joint rotation and mobility,” she added.
“It helps build a strong core and offers great flexibility, poise and posture, all wrapped in one exciting workout that’s suitable for all genders, sizes and fitness levels.”
Al-Sahhaf is looking to expand throughout the country. “Meeting new people every day motivates me to get up in the morning and teach aerial arts,” she said.
“Seeing people’s reactions when they train for the first time, especially after mastering a very difficult pose, gives me a sense of accomplishment and encourages me to teach them more about themselves and what their bodies are capable of,” she added.
“I’m hopeful for Saudi Arabia, seeing that it’s now more involved in entertainment, and I dream that one day our growing community of aerialists will get to create a national Saudi circus and school of performing arts.”

This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. 

Missing your salon? How to care for your hair while you #StayHome

We speak to a hair expert on the dos and don’ts of at-home hair care. (File/Instagram)
Updated 30 March 2020

Missing your salon? How to care for your hair while you #StayHome

DUBAI: As salon-goers face the closure of spas, salons and barbershops, we speak to Haneen Odeh, founder of UAE’s Snob salon for her take on the dos and don’ts of at-home hair care.

Many men and women who rely on salon visits to keep their lengths healthy could be left wondering what to do between now and their next visit to a professional hair stylist. But just as important is what not to do (read: DIY trim job) to avoid ruining your hair and having to impose your own personal period of self-isolation once the pandemic is over due to a ruined haircut you tried to pull off in the bathroom mirror.

Don’t bleach your own hair
“For those who usually go to the salon to dye their lengths blonde, roots may be starting to show now. And while it might be tempting, I would strongly urge to not bleach your own roots. Lightening dark hair is a very complex multi-step process that requires years of experience and professional grade products only available at salons. Bleaching your hair incorrectly might result in burning and damaging your hair. Instead, opt for a root spray such as the L'Oreal Paris Magic Root Cover Up Concealer Spray. Otherwise, you can always conceal your dark roots with a headband or try wrapping your hair up with a scarf.” 

Do deep conditioning treatments
“Use this time to nourish your hair with a deep conditioning treatment. A lot of people simply apply it in the shower on wet hair for a few minutes and call it a day, but that way means that your lengths aren’t getting the full benefits of the product. Think of hair like a sponge, when it’s wet, it’s already full of water and cannot absorb anything more. So to make sure the product is fully absorbed into your locks, towel dry your hair after shampooing and then apply the treatment. Leave it on for 15-20 minutes and then rinse. You’ll see a huge difference.” May we suggest The Let It Go Circle hair mask from Davines, which is designed to boost hydration and revitalize dry and brittle strands?  

Don’t pick up the scissors
“When you’re bored, it might be tempting to pick up the scissors but, and I can’t stress this enough, don’t trim your own bangs or make any big changes to your hair cut on your own. It will inevitably go wrong and you will end up paying more to get it fixed in the long run. Try out some new hairstyles instead. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube so experiment a little and get your hair professionally cut once it’s safe to do so.”

 Don’t over wash
“The more you wash your strands, the more you strip the scalp of its natural oils, and that in turn makes the scalp produce even more oil, which causes you to wash your hair more often — and the cycle goes on and on. Now is the perfect opportunity to give your lengths a break and cut down on the washing. Your hair might get oily, but once the adjustment period is over, you will notice that it will require less frequent washing.”

Do try scalp treatments
“Too often, we pay attention to the lengths of our hair and give our scalp no attention. But caring for your scalp improves the overall health of your tresses, stimulates hair growth and gets rid of dandruff due to product buildup. Scalp treatments range from serums to salt scrubs, so pick a product that suits your hair needs. Le Labo's basil-scented Scrub Shampoo uses black sea salt and menthol to clear away dirt and cool scalps down.”