The ancient practice of yoga is known to bring the body and
mind together. Whether you’re practicing asanas at home, in a studio or at a
retreat in Bali, yoga is an escape from busy and chaotic lives. It not only
promotes fitness, but also reduces stress, anxiety and depression. From
enhancing flexibility and balance to improving heart health, the benefits are
Yoga in Saudi Arabia
For years, yoga was not permitted in Saudi Arabia since it was perceived as a Hindu spiritual practice. However, in November 2017, the Kingdom officially declared yoga as a sports activity, a reform that was welcomed by many. Sara Dulaijan is one of them. Although she was forced to give up her dream of a career in fitness for a corporate job due to social norms, her passion for yoga led her to become a Registered Yoga Teacher. SSS caught up with her about her yoga journey, overcoming barriers, and benefits of yoga that extend beyond the mat.
Read all about her inspiring story and how she defied the norms.
You are an inspiration to many women in Saudi and around the world. Tell us a little about how your yoga journey started. “Being a gymnast in elementary school, I was always passionate about fitness. I discovered yoga online around 2003-04 when I was in university. I enjoyed it and found it a great way to retain flexibility, so I continued practicing. Yoga as a career was a foreign concept in our society, so I had to give up my dream and get a corporate job. When I moved to Muscat, I got the opportunity to attend various yoga classes. In November 2018, I attended a 200-hours yoga teacher training program in Bali by Yoga East+West, led by Deep Kumar. After Bali, I realized my real yoga journey is just beginning. At this time, Saudi Arabia was transforming. I wanted be a part of this positive change and motivate people to open their minds and hearts to yoga. So, I moved back to Khobar and started teaching yoga full-time.”
What type(s) of yoga do you teach? How can people register for your classes? “Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin, Restorative, as well as meditation and pranayama (breathing techniques). I post info about my classes on my Instagram profile. People can register for them via the MINDBODY application.”
Coming from a restrictive culture, yoga must have surely changed your life positively. Any specific challenge(s) you have overcome? “Yoga made me realize that I’m capable of achieving anything I put my mind to, even the things I never imagined I would do. I used to be extremely shy and introverted. Yoga helped me to overcome self-doubts and boosted my confidence so much that now I’m able to teach it. Since I’m working as a freelancer, I’ve also learned to manage my time better and maintain my own practice.”
Being a woman wanting to pursue fitness in Saudi Arabia, did you receive any negative feedback? “I was constantly taunted – Yoga is not a workout. It’s not enough to pay the bills. Yoga is boring. How can you make a living out of relaxing and breathing? Get a real job. What people don’t realize is that it is a real profession. It resonates with me more than any job I’ve had in the past. My family has always been extremely supportive, and I’m grateful for that. It gives me great joy to share my passion with people. If you follow your passion, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
What does your typical home workout include? Do you do any other training besides yoga? “Practicing yoga and creating new routines for my classes. I’ve also started practicing Reformer Pilates because I find that it complements yoga by reaching smaller muscle groups and strengthening the core. I’ll continue pursuing my Reformer Teacher Training.”
What are your future aspirations? “I want to continue learning, attend more yoga teacher trainings and keep growing. In future, I hope to have my own studio where I can make yoga accessible to all.”
How is the demand for yoga currently in KSA? Are Saudi men open to the idea of practicing yoga? “There are more teachers and studios than ever before. People are more open to practicing yoga, the problem is understanding that yoga is a practice that takes time in order for it to develop. Yoga is no longer restricted to women. There are some amazing male yoga teachers in Saudi. The demand is picking up, and there is a need for male yoga studios in KSA to cater to this demand.”
In your opinion, what do you think will help bring about a change in the fitness culture in KSA? “Finding individual motivation to move, no matter what type of sport one chooses to practice. Since fitness is being adopted as a lifestyle now in KSA, instructors and workout spaces are widely available. All that is required from people is commitment and motivation.”
Any advice for beginners out there looking to start yoga? “You have to start somewhere – with an open heart and open mind. Understand your body and give yourself time. Your body and mind will realign, opening up to movements and poses. Take yoga up as a practice on its own or do it alongside whatever fitness routine you practice. The benefits are abundant for all. All you’ve to do is try.”
So, bring calm and mindfulness to your busy life, while
maintaining your health. Roll out your mats and get stretching!