by Reem Algharabally
Fifteen years ago, if you wanted to learn yoga in Kuwait, it was highly probable you would have found your teacher through word-of-mouth and would have arranged classes at home. If you were lucky, your gym or beach club might have offered a weekly class.
That has all changed now. Yoga classes are being offered in parks, at beaches and new yoga studios all over the country to fit every budget. Kuwait is experiencing its own yoga boom reflecting the international rise in the popularity of this ancient practice. Local teachers are getting their teacher training certifications and studio owners are getting creative with licensing their spaces.
As recently as two years ago, this was not the case. There were no dedicated yoga studios in Kuwait when the Yoga Center of Kuwait opened in Burj Jassem in 2013.
“When we first opened, the scene was not what it is now,” says one of the founders Jana Al Naqeeb, a former ACK event manager and science blogger, The Generalist. “You can see from our social media, we wanted to put facts and information about yoga and the different styles available. It is very different now. Everyone now knows what yoga is and mainstream TV and radio people are talking about it.”
The Yoga Center is a Zen-like sanctuary with soundproof studios, luxurious changing facilities and a yoga shop – rare in Kuwait – selling fashionable yoga clothes for women and high quality eco yoga mats.
However their licensing as a health club means they cannot offer classes to men: under Kuwaiti law all gyms not affiliated to a hotel require gender segregation. [continued…]
Yoga teacher Shaikha Al Sabah who founded Dar Atma yoga studio in 2014 rejected licensing her studio as a health club despite strong pressure. “This was not a place to do exercise, it is not a gym, it is a place to where you learn to do yoga – it’s a teaching institute.”
After a long bureaucratic process Dar Atma was licensed in December 2014 and hosted the first yoga teacher training in Kuwait with the Kashmir Shaivism School of Yoga
They now offer both mixed and women-only classes in their studio in Salmiya with its large windows and sea views. Alongside their timetable of popular vinyasa styles (a dynamic, flowing practice) they also offer yin, restorative and Yoga Kurunta – a rope wall, allowing the practitioner to hold prop-assisted inversions.
“Now in Kuwait and worldwide the trend is Vinyasa,” Shaikha says. ”We are an anxious and stressed people, so basically we need fast Vinyasa. It releases all of that energy, but once you get over that, there is more. You realize that you are not young forever and everyone needs to do yoga regardless. Anyone who can breathe can do yoga, because yoga is your breath,”
Yoga Center and Dar Atma are boutique-style yoga spaces, intimate with beautiful interiors and this is reflected in their pricing. But many donation-based and free classes have also been popping up in Kuwait.
Computer Engineer and Freelance photographer Nawaf Al Ali moonlights as a yoga teacher and has been running a popular free Friday morning yoga class on a grassy section of Jamal Abdulnasseer Park in Rawda. As of May he plans to offer classes in a new location – the recently opened Al Shaheed Park in Kuwait City. His Yoga in the Park sessions attract people of all ages, nationalities and skill levels.
“The idea of weekly Yoga in the Park is to spread awareness of yoga to the public,” Nawaf says. “The popularity of yoga has increased greatly after the birth of social media. A lot of people first come to it for the wrong reasons; from ‘wanting to be flexible’ to ‘following the trend’. But as they start practicing everyday, slowly they start realizing that yoga is more than just striking a pose. It is a spiritual practice that brings balance to your physical and spiritual life.”
This experience of approaching yoga for its physical benefits, but finding that it helps bring peace to both mind and soul, is a common one.
Joseph Fiannaca, a French teacher at the American University of Kuwait and part-time yoga teacher, has a similar story to tell.
“I first tried yoga in 1996. I was absolutely not prepared and never went back,” he says.
Many years later he tried it again at the Marina Hotel. “At the time I was into weight training and I decided to try the yoga class and I discovered I could not do any sun salutations. My whole body was stiff. I was going to the gym and I had a body that I liked with strong muscles, but there was no flexibility, no grace. I felt a disconnection between the physical body and something else, which I later discovered, was the energetic body,” he says.
After doing his teacher training in Mysore and Rishikesh in India, he now teaches donation-based classes from his home to small groups, but does not advertise. He specializes in Nada Yoga – using sound to create a meditative, relaxed state.
“It is great to see this yoga trend in Kuwait, but we have to bear in mind that yoga is state of mind, it is not something to add onto our to-do list,” Joseph says. “The more people who deepen this understanding, the more they will discover who they truly are. Once you know that we are all interconnected with this extraordinary capacity of loving kindness inside us, there will be no need for expectation, desire, ambition. We need to remove all those layers we have built around us and reconnect with our true self.”
Interior designer Line Risom also felt that the yoga classes in a gym did not address what she needed from a yoga space and transformed a room in her apartment into a tropical paradise with a feature wall of palm tree wall paper and sea-colored furniture, where she hosts yoga classes with guest teachers. It has become a community, which she calls Asama Yoga.
“We often talk after class, we plan trips together and we have even designed a line of yoga bags together,” she says.
She feels comfortable opening up her home to yogis. “Many people have come through. We try and accommodate beginners. Asama yoga is there for whoever wants to practice.”
She feels when the time is right she will take steps towards opening an official yoga studio and become a teacher herself. But in true yogic style, says she is not going to push it.
“Things happen at the right time. In 2005 I tried to open a yoga and creativity center but it didn’t happen. The idea of a yoga studio in Kuwait was still very fresh to everybody,” she says.
Terri Alexander, who started to teach yoga in 2002 after 20 years of self-taught self-practice, is a home studio veteran and observed how yoga has developed in Kuwait over three and a half decades.
“The young people now are really looking into an alternative way of life. This generation is more empowered and independent with their decisions towards their health,” Terri says.
Influenced by her training at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune and the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Terri specializes in individualized, therapeutic yoga. She has a reputation in Kuwait for teaching yoga to people with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and scoliosis of the spine.
Every yoga teacher interviewed in this article was asked if yoga was a haba – the Kuwaiti word for “trend.”
“Even if it’s a haba, it is a good haba,” says Shaikha from Dar Atma. “And the ones that have the right intention will stay on the path of yoga”.
The yoga scene in Kuwait is developing rapidly with more yoga studios being launched and pop-up yoga classes and events being planned. The only way to keep up is to keep your ear close to the ground. Here are contacts for some of the teachers and studios mentioned in this piece:
Yoga Center of Kuwait: theyogacenter.me
Dar Atma: Follow on Instagram @daratma_kw
Nawaf Al Ali: Follow on Instagram @mazajent
Asama yoga: Email [email protected]
Terri Alexander: Visit www.terrialexander.com.