The Daily Q

Is yoga the solution to your school woes?

Photo%3A+Ifath+Arwah+Sayed
Photo: Ifath Arwah Sayed

Photo: Ifath Arwah Sayed

Photo: Ifath Arwah Sayed

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, focusing on the sound of my breath and the rise and fall of my chest. Drawing in, holding, and letting out my breath felt like I was releasing the storage of tension I kept within. As I slowly stood up on the yoga mat and found my balance, I heard Jacki, my yoga instructor, asking us to smile at ourselves. How do I smile at myself with my eyes closed?  “Move however your body is allowing you to move in this moment,” echoed Jacki’s voice. I couldn’t let my body move the way it wanted to when I had deadlines to complete, meetings to attend, books to research and work to do after returning home at the end of the day. But as the eight women around me began to bend and twist to the tranquilizing sound of Jacki’s voice, I finally allowed my body to warm up and gently released the stiffness in my joints.

Like Jacki’s class, hundreds of yoga classes are held weekly around Qatar. The fast-paced, demanding transitions here have seemingly propelled the demand for stress-relieving activities.

 The rate of change in Qatar has been so intense, that as things speed up, people need to find tools to deal with stress. ”

As a form of exercise, yoga is said to boost respiratory health by focusing on breathing effectively, improves posture and balance with its dynamic moves, and invites calm because of the concentration and self-awareness that a person has to undergo to perform yoga effectively, making it increasingly popular in Doha.

“The rate of change in Qatar has been so intense, that as things speed up, people need to find tools to deal with stress,” said Valerie Jeremejinko, founder of Yama Yoga Studios at Al Waab and Asas Towers. The forensics of stress in Qatar are simple: excessive traffic, increasing workloads, weakening of the job market, the struggle of enrolling children in a limited number of schools and the new waves of expats in the country. This intensifies the need for meaningful interactions among people from diverse backgrounds.

“Given the nature of my job, I faced a lot of stress. Previously, this stress used to affect my health, but with yoga I have noticed that my body reacts lesser to stress,” said Kholoud Nasser Mohammed, a Qatari woman who works as an information technology manager. For four years, Mohammed practiced Ashtanga yoga, a method that involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of moves. Yoga helped Mohammed control her frequent back pains and stomach aches, complications that long working hours had induced.

 

Source: Northwestern University in Qatar Student Affairs

Yoga is also ideal for students. “Students can use yoga to de-stress as it allows you to gain awareness of your body through a series of movements and paying attention to your breath,” said Dalia Atef Rehal, director of student life at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. According to her, yoga is ideal for students because it can be practiced anywhere and can be designed to fit one’s schedule. “Even taking deep breaths and practicing a few stretches to gain focus before an exam can be seen as a type of yoga,” she said. Rehal is a certified yoga instructor and conducts yoga workshops for students in Education City. On account of September being yoga month, Rehal collaborated with Northwestern University in Qatar to provide free yoga classes to students.

 

Like Rehal, many women practice yoga in Qatar. Out of all the people that attend Jeremejinko’s yoga studios, about 90 percent are women, she said. “There aren’t a lot of sports that are so attractive to women [in Qatar]. Team sports are fun, but they are hard to maintain into your old age and gym gets boring after a certain level of fitness,” said Jeremejinko, a slim and toned 50-year-old Australian. Along with holding weekly yoga classes for students and running year-long training programs for yoga teachers, she works full-time at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar as the assistant dean of student affairs.

Apart from less fitness options for women, wearing an abaya or a hijab and going out for a jog does not seem very feasible in Qatar’s heat and conservative society, and many would even raise eyebrows at such a sight here.

But yoga can be respectful to Qatar’s culture and lifestyle mainly because it can be done privately. Yoga is also an adaptable form of exercise: Different forms of yoga cater to different age groups, body parts, health conditions, making it an exercise that women can consistently practice at various stages of their lives, even when they’re pregnant or right after childbirth.

Soaring obesity and diabetes rates only highlight the importance of fitness and health activities in Qatar, facts that the government has not overlooked. While this increases the popularity of yoga in the country, misperceptions about the exercise abound. Many believe that yoga does not involve a lot of physical movements, that it’s just sitting and breathing, which might make them choose other forms of exercise to lose weight, said Mohammed. People don’t recognize that yoga can be physically laborious for professional athletes as well, she added.

But the mantra and public campaigns advocating for actively engaging in a healthy lifestyle cannot be missed in Qatar, only adding to yoga’s appeal here.

When I wanted to lose weight, I didn’t imagine that yoga would help me do so. But after practicing it for over a year now, I went from being a yoga skeptic to an ardent lover of the practice. Not only does it help me feel confident about my body, it also proves a worthy break from my stressful student life.

I’ll see you at the next yoga class we have in EC.

 

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Is yoga the solution to your school woes?