It’s now been three months since I arrived in Dubai. I’ve enjoyed the experience immensely. I love this initial period of moving to a new city. Being able to explore the city with all the enthusiasm of a traveller, but with the knowledge that favourite spots can become regular haunts.
Many people have been asking if I like it here and how I am settling in. Some people wonder, Dubai residents included, what I think of a city often characterised by is excessive materialism, superficiality and artificial environments. Of course, these elements exist, but after living and travelling to many different mega-cities around the world, I have come to the realisation that people are people. The sooner you can make meaningful connections with people, the greater capacity you have for enjoying your new home.
This is where I feel particularly blessed with my new life in Dubai. I moved here with a purpose, to teach Ashtanga yoga at a new yoga school, the Yoga Room. I was immediately welcomed with incredible hospitality and warmth by the studio owners, teachers and students. Since then, I’ve been honoured to be part of growing a wonderful community of yoga practitioners. The common desire for physical and mental wellbeing, for exploring one’s inner landscape is what binds us together, transcending cultural, age, gender and class status boundaries.
(Me and studio owner Joumana with student Iwan from Malaysia)
Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky to have the chance to teach in a few different countries, meeting students from many different backgrounds. I don’t need to travel to do this in Dubai, instead in one class alone almost the whole world is represented! We have students from Britain, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Germany, India, Italy, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Spain, Switzerland, Sudan, Russia and Turkey to name just a few all practicing along side each other. Probably the only other time I have seen this much diversity was when I assisted at the Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, where the room is filled with Ashtanga yoga practitioners from around the world.
(Local media writing about our growing community of Ashtanga yoga practitioners!)
It is also the first time I have taught yoga in a Muslim country. I have always loved listening to the call to prayer. I think the idea of stopping what you are doing, and giving thanks to God five times a day is an amazing practice. I am considering trying it sometime but it seems quite a daunting task. I read recently a comment by religious scholar Karen Armstrong that while Christianity is very much about belief, Islam is more concerned in the “doing”. The religion is founded on belief and supporting practices – of prayer, pilgrimage, fasting and giving alms.
To me this has incredible synergy with a yoga practice – particularly the Ashtanga yoga method. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the guru of Ashtanga Yoga would say “99% practice, 1% theory”, meaning that the yoga is to be experienced, in the “doing”, getting on the mat daily and practicing with a sense of devotion.
I recently had a lovely conversation with a Pakistani-American student about this idea. We were talking about the upcoming month of fasting, Ramadan, where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. She has been fasting and doing her daily prayers for the past 17 years (not all Muslims do this). Ironically she said it was her yoga practice that led her to deepening her commitment to her faith. She was already practice yoga everyday when her uncle commented, that if she can do yoga, then she should be doing her prayers, as really it is the same thing.
I loved hearing this story as to me it encapsulates the true meaning of yoga. It is not a religion, but it is the science of religion. What ever your faith or religion, yoga can give you the tools to deepen and further explore your spirituality. And even if religion or spirituality are not words you identify with, just the daily “doing” of your yoga practice, will begin to give you a glimpse of some of life’s deeper meanings. Insha’Allah.