Jeddah: “Yoga is an addiction. Once you know how it beautifully unites the mind, body and soul, you can’t stop doing it,” says Saudi yoga instructor Amani Alandejani.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Commerce and Investment (MCI) approved the teaching and practicing of yoga as a sport since last year in November.
Hailing the ministry’s decision, Alandejani told Gulf News that the decision came at the right time because yoga has grown exponentially in the last 2 years in the kingdom.
The 28-year-old revealed that earlier Saudis believed that yoga was associated with Hinduism, and so did not consider practicing it.
“It’s taken years for yoga-enthusiasts and instructors like us to change the mentality of people around us that yoga is about meditation and exercise.”
A prenatal yoga class at Al Andejani’s studio.
Many doctors and physicians are now also advising their patients to do yoga because of its numerous health benefits, she says.
While there are no official statistics for the number of yoga centres in the country, the exercise has definitely gained popularity among Saudis and expats alike.
Men are also practicing the exercise but it certainly is more popular amongst women.
The 5,000-year-old ancient Indian “art of living” is known for increasing the body’s strength and flexibility, reducing stress and depression, burning calories and treating various ailments, among others. “Its mentally and physically rejuvenating,” said the Jeddah-based instructor.
Alandejani chanced upon yoga in Canada while holidaying with her family around 10 years ago. Married at a young age, Alandejani was looking for a way to escape from the stress of dentistry studies and marital responsibilities when she enrolled herself in a short yoga course — a few classes later she had fallen in love with the sport.
“Yoga not only strengthened my mind but also my body. It made me believe in myself and prepared me for challenges.” Alandejani said.
There was no looking back. Every year, Alandejani would visit Canada in her 2-month summer break to learn yoga. She also went to Dubai and Europe to attend 5-10 hour workshops to improve her postures.
When she became pregnant with her first child, Alandejani went to America to learn prenatal yoga. The health-enthusiast became so passionate about yoga that she quit practicing dentistry and decided to become a certified yoga instructor.
Alandejani acquired 200 and 500 hours of YTT (Yoga Teacher Training) certifications from the Arab Yoga Foundation. Alandejani’s parents and health conscious husband “understood my passion for yoga and let me pursue it without any problems. They also offered their full support while I juggled between my intense yoga certifications and nurturing my baby.”
It’s taken years for yogaenthusiasts and instructors like us to change the mentality of people around us that yoga is about meditation and exercise.”
- Amani Al Andejani | Yoga instructor
Around 6 years ago, the master yogi quietly opened an underground women-only studio in her house in Jeddah, and offered classes to family and close friends.
Word began to spread as women raved about the new exercise trend that ‘healed bodies and minds’ and Alandejan’s classes quickly filled up.
“Yoga is highly beneficial for women because it makes them aware of how their body functions, and understand the many changes it goes through during the different phases of her life,” she said.
Alandejani also offered prenatal yoga classes which became a hit with the expectant mothers.
“Prenatal yoga helps a mother create a strong bond with the baby, and find an emotional and physical balance. The breathing techniques help calm down the expectant mother’s nerves during delivery.”
But for Alandejani, its not just about how many women attend her classs, its important for her to know her students deeply before enrolling them.
They are required to share their lifestyle habits and medical history.
Saudi national Nouf Abdeen, 27, has been practicing yoga with Alandejani for around 8 months now and is overwhelmed by the experience.
“I learned about myself, and my body’s capabilities and flexibilities. I had no idea that I could do a headstand and a scorpion pose with ease. Yoga relaxes my mind, detoxifies the body, and makes me live in the moment,” she told Gulf News.
Maisam Tarabulsi, 30, joined Alandejani’s prenatal yoga class in her last trimester upon a friend’s recommendation.
“It was the best decision I made during my pregnancy as it calmed every cell in my body. It was exactly what I needed,” she said.
Starting her yoga instagram page in 2015, Alandejani now boasts 2,374 followers.
She hopes that youth will become more involved in yoga and wants to attract younger students to her classes.
“Ideally, I hope yoga can be adopted in schools. This will help sharpen the students’ focus and guide them towards a healthier and more centered lifestyle in the future.”