19 January 2012

Social Workout Spotlight Features Yoga in Cairo

Here is an interview that was part of
Social Workout FEATURE

Challenge Spotlight: Our Yogi in Cairo

Oliver R. posted to Yoga Journal 21 Day Yoga Challenge

When we launched the Yoga Journal 21-Day Challenge, we figured we’d allow for the creation of teams. We knew some yoga studios might want to join the challenge as groups, but we had no idea that we’d end up with 128 teams (with so many wonderful team names!) from all over. We were certainly not expecting a yoga teacher living a few minutes from Tahrir Square in Cairo to set up team Yoga Revolution. Naturally, we were curious, and we struck up an email exchange, plying our yogi with questions. What came back was the following beautiful tale of one woman’s unlikely path from pumping iron in Phoenix, AZ to teaching yoga and meditation in Cairo, Egypt. Introducing Darla H. of team Yoga Revolution...

I started practicing yoga in 1993. I was living in Phoenix, and I was a buff body builder and hot-shot extreme mountain climber. My friend told me, hey Miss Fit, I’ve got a class that will kick your ass. He took me to a kundalini yoga class taught by a skinny little man. By the end of the class, my ass was officially whooped, and so began my practice of yoga. I studied many styles, but in 2000, found myself at the feet of Yogi Bhajan in Espanola, New Mexico. I lived in the Espanola ashram from 2000 to 2007. All in all, I had ten years of the ashram life, and I am now in recovery. Smile. But that's another story. 
I’ve been living in Cairo since 2007. Following yogic traditions, I rise before dawn to practice yoga and meditation. I also teach yoga across the city, holding classes in studios and private homes. Yoga is becoming very popular in Egypt. I know of four studios that have opened since I moved here. I started teaching here in 2008 at a Middle East modeling school and agency. Oddly enough, very few of the students were models. 
It often seems like I have just as many men as women attending my classes, but probably the ratio is more like two to one, with more women. My husband is Egyptian, so his friends have introduced me to places that are suitable to teach yoga. Most of the students who attend my classes are Egyptian nationals, but it’s also very international. For instance, in one class, there was a young woman with punked out hair from Iraq, a man from Beirut, a 72-year-old man from Italy, two women from France, as well as several from Egypt.
As I learn Arabic, I try to instruct in Arabic. Sometimes it can be very funny if I mis-pronounce a word. Many of the women in my classes are veiled. Many of the Muslims, men or women, who attend my classes tell me that the meditation practice has intensified their prayers, as Muslims pray five times a day. 
About two years ago, I began teaching at a yoga studio in an expat area of Cairo. Most of the students who attend the studio are western expats. (Shout out to the Breathing Room in Maadi and my fellow Yoga Revolution my team members!) 
There are certain perceptions about life here after the revolution. My friends in the States think that when there is violence, we are all caught up in the street fighting . For sure, when we went through the Arab Spring in January, the entire country was gripped by the news. Everyone stayed home. We were all in shock and had no idea what would happen. As this year progressed, the protests continued, becoming violent at times, but the city kept moving and breathing. We carry on to our jobs and shopping. We deal with crazy traffic from rerouted streets. 
In November, my friend wrote to me in panic when protests turned violent. He wanted to know if I was in Tahrir and if I was okay. “Yes. I’m just fine,” I wrote back. “I wasn’t in Tahrir because I was a few streets over buying fabric for my curtains." (Not to be flippant, but it's not like we have our twitter feeds running constantly to get posted on what's happening in the streets.)
There was no yoga in Tahrir Square. I was in Tahrir during and after the revolution, so I guess I brought the spirit of a yogi. But the environment was not conducive to any kind of yoga or meditation. Even though my husband is Egyptian, I am a westerner, so I am merely an onlooker to the revolution. I live about half kilometer from Tahrir, so we walk there. 
Things have certainly changed over this last year. The one year anniversary is in 11 days. Many of my friends are the intellectuals and revolutionaries of the revolution. I’ve created yogic warrior workshops that I will be starting in Cairo and at the Red Sea. I had always wanted to do such workshops, but was very timid to start. I think going through a national political revolution, I’ve cast aside all shyness and realize the time to start is now. My message is the revolution inward. Time will tell. We’re only on the first revolution.
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