Yoga stretches its way into Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s Hanan Faiz Al-Shehri receiving her yoga certificate.
Updated 28 October 2016

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.


Irish locals show their colors in Biden’s ancestral home

Updated 23 October 2020

Irish locals show their colors in Biden’s ancestral home

  • Biden’s family roots run deep in Ireland, with a heritage described as “roughly five-eighths Irish” by genealogist Megan Smolenyak
  • Ten percent of Americans claim Irish heritage — a 31-million-strong bloc vastly larger than the five-million population of Ireland itself

BALLINA, Ireland: Thousands of miles east of the White House in Ireland, a pop-art portrait of US presidential candidate Joe Biden towers over his ancestral hometown of Ballina, County Mayo.
In the town on Ireland’s rugged Atlantic coast, the Democrat’s distant relatives are thrilled to have one of their own bidding for America’s highest office.
“Obviously we’re 100 percent behind Joe Biden,” Laurita Blewitt, the former vice president’s third cousin, told AFP.
“We’ve got that family connection and we’ve got that friendship and relationship with him,” the 37-year-old said.
Biden’s family roots run deep in Ireland, with a heritage described as “roughly five-eighths Irish” by genealogist Megan Smolenyak.
She has traced his lineage to east-coast County Louth and Ballina — a town of 10,000 people, which is dotted with brightly colored shopfronts and bisected by the River Moy.
In 1851, Biden’s great-great-great-grandfather Edward Blewitt joined the legions of Irish fleeing famine and poverty for a fresh start in New York.
The mural was raised by a band of locals last month, and Ballina is twinned with Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Biden was born in 1942.
The 77-year-old politician has visited twice — first in 2016 when crowds turned out to see president Barack Obama’s deputy.
In 2017 he came back and turned the first sod for a new regional hospice — a cause near to his heart after his son Beau’s death from cancer two years earlier.
Biden wrote that when he dies, “northeast Pennsylvania will be written on my heart.”
“But Ireland will be written on my soul.”
He is mining a rich tradition of American statesmen touting Irish heritage.
In the 20th century, John F. Kennedy was most closely tied to the “Emerald Isle,” and had to overcome anti-Irish, anti-Catholic prejudice to win the White House.
But others including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama have all claimed ancestral links to Ireland.
Ten percent of Americans claim Irish heritage — a 31-million-strong bloc vastly larger than the five-million population of Ireland itself.
Those links helped give Washington an intermediary role in resolving the 30-year “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, a sectarian conflict that killed 3,500 in Ireland and the British province itself, before it largely ended in 1998.
Lately, Britain’s Brexit withdrawal from the European Union has threatened the cohesion promised by Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement.
US politicians have stepped in, warning London that a post-Brexit UK-US trade pact could be at risk if the peace is undermined.
Their alarm has reportedly been stoked by energetic briefing by the Irish embassy in Washington.
“The connections between Ireland and the US are incredibly strong,” said Ballina local councillor Mark Duffy.
“It is that soft power,” he added. “Ireland does definitely punch above its weight on the international stage.”