With all the upcoming stress of exams, projects, and travel plans with the family, how can we find ways to release that tension, and relax? To mark the International Day of Yoga, on 21st June, we spoke with Qatari yoga instructor and owner of Niya Yoga studio, opening soon in Qatar, Jawaher Al Fardan.
What sparked your interest in yoga? How long have you been practicing?
I went to my first yoga class ten years ago, but it wasn’t until I began studying mental health and wellbeing in London that I understood what an amazing practice it is. When I realized how healing a tool it can be, I knew I had to keep learning and one day share it with people in Qatar.
What style of yoga do you specialize in?
I’ve trained in various disciplines of yoga and I love the different elements they all contain: the strength of ashtanga, the precision and alignment of Iyengar, the stillness of hatha, the free-flowing movements of vinyasa. My personal style is a combination of all these different styles, with particular emphasis on the breath. To me, breathing with awareness is a fundamental part of the practice. It teaches you to stay present and grounded, no matter what surfaces in life.
How did you obtain your certification?
I’m an advanced yoga teacher, having undertaken 500 hours of training in LA, Bali and India. It was an intense process which lead to a lot of personal self-discovery. The whole experience was incredibly humbling.
Are you teaching yoga at your new studio?
I’m going to be teaching some classes, but I will also have other full-time instructors working at the studio with me.
What are the effects of yoga on the body?
Yoga is a full body practice. It’s a great way to build strength and flexibility, as well as improving coordination and balance. There are many different styles so it works for people of all ages, whether you’re a teenager or approaching your 60’s.
Are there any mental benefits to yoga?
It gets really interesting when you look at all the positive ways yoga affects your mind. The yoga poses (asana) themselves are only a small part of an extensive philosophy that teaches us how to lead positive lives and how to escape from the mental chatter we all experience on a daily basis. The body and the mind are so intricately connected that it all weaves together.
Can you give us some basic yoga moves or tips which can help us reduce stress?
Slow, steady breathing is one of the best ways to reduce stress. It takes your body out of fight-or-flight mode and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is a more balanced state to be in. Try inhaling through the nose to the count of three and then exhale through the nose to the count of five. Sun salutations are also a great way to get out of your head and into your body.
How popular is yoga among Qataris?
Yoga is getting more popular with Qataris. The difficulty in the past has been one of access, with few yoga studios available in Qatar. But as you can tell from its popularity in UAE, Jordan and Oman, there’s a lot of scope for yoga to keep growing in the Middle East. At Niya Yoga, we’re going to offer women-only classes as well as mixed classes, and we also have a beautiful room for private sessions with one of our experienced instructors.
What do you hope to achieve through your studio? What message or awareness are you hoping to convey to future students?
I hope that the studio will encourage people to connect in a healthier way. Rather than large indulgent meals being the focus, you can go to a yoga class and then catch up over a green juice or raw meal at Evergreen Organics next door. It’ll be a welcoming community where everyone can experience a sense of belonging, a sense of coming home.
We know you’re opening your studio in collaboration with Ghanim Al Sulaiti and his healthy restaurant, how did that come about?
Ghanim and I share very similar ideas about how important it is to eat healthily. We both had independent plans to set up vegan cafes and then decided to join together to create Evergreen Organics. We inspire each other and both have different skill-sets so work really well as a team.
What are your future plans for this collaboration?
We have a lot of plans with Evergreen Organics. We were thrilled with how positively it was received at the International Food Festival at the MIA and despite the fact it hasn’t opened there’s been so much interest and support. Keep watching this space!
What advice do you have for people interested in trying yoga for the first time?
I know some people find it a little intimidating when they first go to a class, but remember everybody was a beginner once. Private classes can be beautiful when you’re just starting out as the teacher can focus totally on you and your individual needs and requirements. It’s worth trying lots of different classes so you can see which style and which teachers resonate with you most. Ultimately, a yoga class is a welcoming space that invites you to begin a journey of self-discovery that can last a lifetime.