Jeddah: For Nouf Marwaai, yoga is basically her life.
“My life revolves around yoga. I teach yoga more than 8 hours a day between theory and practice, and I practice it 7 days a week. I’ve had only one proper vacation in 15 years. All my travels are to learn, teach or do something in the field of yoga,” she tells Gulf News.
She is credited with being instrumental in getting yoga accepted and approved in the country.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Commerce and Investment (MCI) officially approved the teaching of yoga as a sport in November 2017.
However, the 38-year-old yogi said was not an easy road.
Saudi Arabia's first certified Yoga instructor being conferred Padma Shri by President Kovind. PTI
She faced strong opposition from a certain people who believed that yoga was part of Hinduism.
To help with the legalisation process, the passionate and determined Marwaai approached Princess Reema Bint Bandar, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, in February 2017 to lobby her to get the sport approved.
“I presented the medical, scientific and economical facts about yoga. I told her about the strong yoga community of Saudi Arabia that I had created in the last 15 years, and the thousands of yoga enthusiasts of all ages in Jeddah, Riyadh Dammam, Makkah Madinah and Taif, who were actively yet quietly practicing at home or teaching privately in their home studios. And that there was a strong need to regulate yoga as a sport,” she said.
The princess then extended her support to Marwaai’s yoga campaign because she “believed in it as a sport and as an important wellness community practice.”
Marwaai has coached more than 3,000 Saudi and expat yoga enthusiasts in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
She also founded the Arab Yoga Foundation, the first official yoga foundation in the Gulf region.
Her passion for yoga began at the early age of 19, when she was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease.
She was restricted from heavy sports and strenuous activities due to extreme muscle and joint pain, fatigue, stiffness and inflammation.
But she did not just want to take the illness lying down.
“I will wanted to lead an active lifestyle and practice a gentle sport,” she said.
On a visit to a local bookstore in Jeddah, Marwaai stumbled upon a small book on yoga.
She bought the book and started practicing the postures from it.
Soon, she was addicted to it.
To increase her theoretical and practical knowledge of yoga, Marwaai first went to Australia and then India, where she mastered the art of yoga with renowned Ashtanga and Hatha (types of yoga) teachers at various authentic and illustrious yoga schools.
Yoga had a life-altering effect on Marwaai as she not only started leading a healthy and active lifestyle but also felt fresh and energetic.
“Yoga is a systematic practice and control of movement and breathing, which has a very positive neurological effect. When I do yoga, I disconnect from the world. It’s just my mind and my body on the mat. I forget about my disease and my problems. The stretching postures calms the muscles and joints spasms,” said Marwaai.
After completing her higher education and yoga certifications, Marwaai decided to make it her career.
With the support and encouragement from her parents, Marwaai at 24 started teaching yoga.
At 26, she started campaigning for yoga by appearing on television shows like Rotana Khalejia, Rotana Sayyadati and Saudi national TV.
With a degree in clinical psychology, it was easy for Marwaai to speak about various mental and physical health issues, and how yoga’s exercising and meditating techniques could help overcome those problems.
“Speaking about yoga on Saudi channels was not at all an issue because yoga was not banned; it was just disapproved by a certain section of people. Back then yoga was a new concept, so there were people who were interested in it,” she said.
When asked if she has achieved complete perfection in yoga, Marwaai said: “No one can perfect yoga. We can only perfect our discipline.”
Who is Nouf?
Nouf Marwaii is Saudi Arabia’s first certified yoga instructor.
She is the founder of the Arab Yoga Foundation in Saudi Arabia and was instrumental in making Yoga legal and get official recognition in Saudi Arabia
She has recently been in the news after India honoured her with the prestigious Padma Shri award—the fourth biggest civilian award in the country.
Nouf Marwaii with Narendra Modi. Twitter
Pictures of her receiving the award and posing with Indian premier Narendra Modi are the main images on her Twitter page which boasts around 2,462 followers.
Just this week Marwaii led Dubai’s International Yoga Day celebrations as the chief guest.
She led thousands of yoga enthusiasts performing yoga to mark the day at Dubai’s Zabeel Park, said Consul-General of India in Dubai Vipul.