Yoga offers both mental and physical benefits that can transform your life. Six women share their journeys of discovery.
“I was feeling ungrounded with the different time zones, shift schedules of mornings or evenings, and not knowing my place,” begins Melissa Ghattas of her time working as a flight attendant in Dubai. “Through the practice of yoga, I began to establish coherence, stability, and peace.” After discovering yoga in 2005, it took two years for the practice to shift her perspective, patterns, priorities, and direction. “Everything in my life turned 180 degrees; my whole social structure, my identity, my ego. It was a pivotal time in my life,” Ghattas explains. Traveling to India in 2009, she began her studies. “I spent four months practicing asana with Ajay Kumar and learning philosophy and pranayama with BNS Iyengar, before I embarked on my first 200-hour teacher training,” she says. Since then, Ghattas has completed thousands of hours of various teacher trainings and is now known for her dynamic vinyasa flow classes and her integration of yoga philosophy into her everyday life.
Business owner and yoga instructor
Dina Ghandour studied Ashtanga and Jivamukti yoga continuously until she took up teacher training of her own in 2015. A 300-hour Jivamukti yoga instructor herself, she now holds classes and private sessions across Dubai. Of the importance of yoga, Ghandour explains, “First, by becoming physically strong, you gain mental and emotional strength – and as you become more seasoned, you use the practice to maintain mental equanimity and realize the physical benefits are an added bonus.” At 15, Ghandour was inspired to try yoga after seeing her friend doing a headstand. “I ordered the very same VHS yoga video the next day and began practicing in my room,” she recalls, sharing that following daily repetition, she saw immediate improvements in her strength and flexibility. Years later, living in Abu Dhabi, she took up yoga alongside work. “I was going through a difficult life transition, having moved from the US to the UAE, to an intense job in PR and after a challenging breakup. My yoga practice, teacher, and community became my shelter and my salvation.”
Spiritual teacher and healer
“You can start yoga for health benefits, for better breathing, for a new relationship with the body, after a loss or heartbreak, for meditation purposes, or for an inclusive spiritual practice,” begins spiritual teacher and healer Carol Issa. “Yoga is a lifestyle and a philosophy; when you practice it for a period of time, I believe all these benefits reveal themselves as the practice unfolds.” An advanced Jivamukti and Kundalini yoga teacher, Issa launched Jivamukti Yoga in Paris and mentors at the Jivamukti Teacher Training Program and at Kundalini teacher training. After discovering yoga in 2000, Issa started practicing once a week alongside dance classes and Kali, a type of martial art, in Lebanon. Moving to Paris, by 2008 it had become an integral part of her life. Living between Beirut, Paris, and India, Issa still continues to practice and learn with her teachers. To name a few: Sharon Gannon and David Life, co-founders of Jivamukti Yoga in New York and Woodstock; Karta Singh in France; and Balu and Sharmila Desai in India.
Owner and manager of YogaSouk
Owner and manager of YogaSouk Beirut’s leading shala dedicated to Jivamukti and Ashtanga yoga, Tina Pakradouni first discovered the practice 14 years ago, a year after giving birth to her daughter. “I was constantly experiencing back and shoulder pain. I wasn’t able to do my usual exercise routine without pain. I was stressed and nervous most of the time,” she explains. She was looking for something that would help both physically and mentally and a friend suggested yoga. After exploring different classes and styles, she soon found her method in the form of a Jivamukti based vinyasa class. Searching for a more traditional Jivamukti teacher, Pakradouni met Rima Rabbat, who in 2016 became her partner and inspiration when they co-founded YogaSouk. “I founded YogaSouk because I believe that good quality yoga can impact positively on any person’s life. What you do on the mat makes you feel great but it is what happens off the mat all day that is amazing,” explains Pakradouni. As for those who have never tried yoga, she suggests, “Just come with an open mind, stand on the top of your mat, and let the magic happen!”
Founder of Arab Yoga Foundation
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Commerce and Investment officially approved the teaching of yoga as a sport in the country in November 2017. At the forefront of making this a reality was Saudi national Nouf Marwaai. “We worked with the General Sports Authority in regulating the system, creating standards for yoga teachers and practicing yoga in Saudi Arabia as a sport and a wellbeing practice that can help people,” she says. Because of this, in 2018 she was awarded India’s fourth highest civilian award, the Padma Shri. Growing up, Marwaai suffered from various illnesses and was diagnosed with lupus at 18. During this time, she discovered yoga learning through books and DVDs. “I found a lot of my symptoms started improving. Muscle stiffness, low vitality, fatigue, and my joints improved; they weren’t stiff anymore. My sleeping also got better,” she explains. Studying psychology at university, she noted the connections between yoga and the nervous system. “I realized what I was doing was not just an exercise but something more therapeutic,” Marwaai explains. After graduating she went on to study yoga, becoming a yoga acharya.
Ashtanga yoga teacher
It was after a health scare in 2009 that Joumana Saber reconsidered her lifestyle choices. She started to explore a more holistic way of living, which led her to the practice of yoga. Living in Montreal during this time, she attended her first class and it immediately had an impact on her. “I quit smoking overnight and signed up for a three-month unlimited package so I could learn and practice daily,” she says. Moving to Dubai in 2010, Saber continued to further her learnings with trips to India and hosting teachers in the city. This led her to open the first Ashtanga yoga studio in Dubai in 2012. “I firmly believe that yoga has the power to heal physically, emotionally, and mentally,” says Saber. “I am a true believer that movement is medicine, especially mindful movement paired with breathing.”
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Originally published in the June 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia