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.


Wuhan film captures horror and humanity at coronavirus ground zero

Updated 15 September 2020

Wuhan film captures horror and humanity at coronavirus ground zero

  • “76 Days” is premiering at the Toronto film festival
  • It is the first major documentary from the disease’s original epicenter to hit theaters

LOS ANGELES: Back in February, when few Americans were aware of a distant and oddly named phenomenon called coronavirus, two Chinese filmmakers strapped on hazmat suits and embedded themselves in Wuhan’s overrun hospitals.
There, they captured harrowing footage of terrified citizens hammering on hospital doors, medics collapsing from exhaustion, and relatives begging in vain to say goodbye to infected loved ones.
Now, those images have been edited together by New York-based director Hao Wu (“People’s Republic of Desire“).
Premiering at the Toronto film festival Monday, “76 Days” — named for the duration of the central Chinese city’s draconian lockdown — is the first major documentary from the disease’s original epicenter to hit theaters.
Shot in a claustrophobic, cinema verite style — without voice-over or direct-to-camera interviews — the film relies on the intimacy of the footage of doctors and patients grappling with a terrifying new reality.
Wu first contacted the two filmmakers, one of whom is anonymous for his own safety, after witnessing China’s early lockdown first-hand during a family visit for Chinese New Year.
The footage they sent him revealed how, in the chaos of the disease’s early weeks, they were able to get remarkable access — but at considerable personal risk and suffering.
“It was a horrible, horrible shooting experience for them,” Wu told AFP. “They were fainting, it was really warm. A few times [filmmaker Weixi Chen] wanted to throw up inside [his] goggles, but he couldn’t because once you throw up, once you remove your PPE, you have to get out, you could not come back again.”
“It was like shooting in a war zone,” he added.
Wu also had a personal motivation for pursuing the project.
His grandfather died from cancer soon after the outbreak, unable to find a hospital bed as resources strained under the weight of Covid-19.
“In the beginning I was angry with the Chinese government — I really wanted to find out who’s at fault, what caused this,” said Wu.
But once the pandemic spread — with exponentially greater tragedy — to other countries like the US, the desire to place blame was replaced by a desire to document how “as human beings live through this, how we can share this experience.”


Ironically, despite Beijing’s tight controls on information, access was in some ways easier in China. Privacy and litigation concerns proved far more of a barrier to filming in New York hospitals, Wu found.
Wuhan hospitals desperately lacking personal protective equipment initially welcomed coverage that could boost donations and volunteers, he added.
The film eschews politics and blame to focus on personal stories of tragedy and bravery, hope and despair, which repeated around the world after emerging in China.
Medics tenderly hold the hands of patients locked away from their families, and are distinguishable to viewers only by the colorful doodles they scrawl upon each other’s head-to-toe hazmat suits.
But it remains unclear whether the movie will ever be seen in China, where news about the pandemic has been tightly controlled since day one — leading to many in the West, including US President Donald Trump, accusing Beijing of a vast cover-up.
“I would love to show it in China, because I feel that for the entire country with Covid, it has been such a scar on the nation’s psyche,” said Wu, who hopes it could help his ancestral home to mourn its losses.
“Obviously right now most Chinese feel proud the country has been able to control it. But it is a trauma.”